Chinese food and aged Bordeaux?
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
29 January 2018
I recently met with friends at a Chinese restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland where we enjoyed 1970 Palmer and 1975 Trotanoy among other treasures with Chinese food.
“Heresy” you say?
The crazy spice and umami intensity often associated with Chinese food obliterates the soft finesse of a nearly 50-year-old Margaux from a high yield vintage with no second wine, right?
It depends on the restaurant and the level of spice.
The restaurant we enjoyed over a long lunch is Q by Peter Chang.
Peter Chang is an award winning chef specializing in Szechuan cuisine who has cooked for restaurants throughout cities in the American southeast and the Washington D.C. area. Born in Hubei Province and trained in China, Chang cooked a meal for former Chinese president Hu Jintao. He moved to the United States to work as the chef at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. Over the past few years, Chang has inspired a group of fans in Internet discussion boards, such as DonRockwell.com and Chowhound.
Q , which stands for Qijian, means “flagship” in Chinese.
One could say that his Peking Duck at Q is the best in the competitive Washington D.C. food market. The duckmeat we enjoyed was at once savory and delectable, and of a fine texture. And not spicy: a perfect foil for fine Bordeaux. Selected from top quality breeders, the ducks are prepared through a five-step procedure resulting in fatty richness but never greasy. Home-made pancakes, soft and smooth, accompanied by scallions and sweet bean sauce add to the tasting experience although I only used the sauce sparingly.
The side orders with a bit more kick accompanied the opening Champagne very well. Indeed, savory dumplings and especially a “dry-fried” eggplant (small, skinless eggplant batons dredged in cornstarch, deep-fried, stir-fried with seasonings and then topped with chilies, garlic and cilantro) went very well with two opening bottles of Champagne, for example, while the duck and a red snapper in sweet and sour sauce accompanied the wines. I preferred the duck as a match however. Later we ordered a sumptuously creamy egg yolk-based bun to go with the excellent de Fargues 1986.
Tasting notes: As usual, if in bold, I liked in particular. If red and bold, even more. If underlined, too? Wine nirvana!
Vilmart Cuvee Rubis Rosé Champagne: This is mostly Pinot Noir, 90%, and comes across as a more vinous Champagne, more like a red wine than a bubbly, but the bubbles were there indeed, providing pleasing texture to the lip smacking, rich, raspberry and strawberry galore flavors. A fun way to kick off a fun day! Thanks Kevin for this bottle. 91
Dom Perignon Oenotheque 1996 – The initial impression was one of smooth finesse, with burgeoning truffle notes, but still fruit driven and fresh. Clean and precise throughout, and at first not nearly as expressive an experience I have had with this bottle before, but perhaps a good thing, as it developed with time in glass, expanding in richness but always subtle in express and maintaining a lime driven focus. Not as sumptuous as previous editions at least initially (I brought the bottle), but one thing is for certain: the bottle was emptied fairly quickly 😊. 97
Château Palmer 1970 – Popped and poured. A bit of volatile, at first. But, like an old summer house you have not visited for a year (or several years?), it mostly blows off as one enters a most delicate and elegant palate: a yesteryear wine, with no “Alter Ego” existing, and of higher yields. And of course 1970 was a bumper crop, so yields were high. Distinct notes of mint and basil, some light truffle and forest floor aspects, with a hint of bandaid – just a hint – remaining. Overall refined and smooth on the palate. Expands a bit in glass, with optimal drinking about one hour later in glass. It thens turns quite minty in profile. A fine bottle, and a lovely expression, if not as concentrated as, say, the 1966 I had enjoyed in December 2016. Thanks to Chris Bublitz for this fine bottle. 93
Château Trotanoy 1975 – Popped and poured. At first it did not seem nearly as impressive as what I had described as a “100-point wine” that fellow wine drinker Kevin Shin brought to a dinner a few months ago in Washington D.C. at Black Salt restaurant. But I do believe that that previous bottle – coming from the same “batch” Kevin said – had been decanted beforehand, because this second experience grew into the red wine of the lunch, if not the wine of the lunch! Compared to the Palmer, a deeper and riper sweet plum and dark fruit nose, presaging richness and depth. Over time in glass – I stress, over time – it got better and more multilayered, because the pop and pour impression on the palate is underwhelming. Within about one hour in glass, a gloriously ripe and truffled aspect dominates like perfume, and then turns to fine dark chocolate (not a modern caricature of chocolate, but elegance enveloping the opulence). And as last time, I just wanted more of it. Thanks Kevin. 98
Château Cos Estournel 1990 – Popped and poured. Spice box nose and eminently drinkable. Brambly red and dark fruit aromatics merge pleasingly to the tertiary. The palate? Very smooth, nuanced and robust. Robust is the word in fact, as there is excellent mid palate energy and verve. Flavors combine ripe fruit, fireplace ashes, touches of leather and certainly loads of fine milk chocolate. I suppose the 40% Merlot in the blend gives off this richness. Could this lack the concentration of latter vintages such as, say, 2010? Sure. But time has treated this wine well and today this 1990 is suave and smooth. Maybe not as opulent on the finish, as a “great” wine would be. But the chocolate like finish made me feel like a kid in a chocolate shop, and I just kept on enjoying it. Thanks Assaf. 95
Château Léoville Las Cases 1990 – This bottle, which I brought, was barely half emptied by the end of our gathering, and I should have taken it back home with me to see how it would have developed the next day. But maybe Assaf can report on that? 😉In any case, after being popped and poured, the impression was of a “muscular wine” and questions around the table: “When will this be ready?” Even a 1990! I mean, 1990 is a very warm vintage. And yet this wine was more primary than one would imagine. Over time in glass, we admired its many attributes: Bright, dark fruit, even if not as concentrated as latter vintages like the 1996, the 2009 or 2010. And yet for a 1990, this is so young, with very clean and pure Cabernet expressions of cedar and burgeoning cigar box. It impressed me more intellectually than it did hedonistically. And if you have any, do not rush to open. I still recall comparing this with the Léoville Poyferré 1990 and preferring the latter. 95
Maison Trimbach Clos Sainte Hune Vendanges Tardives 1989 – Popped and poured at the very beginning just to check for faults. At first it seemed closed in and rather monotone and even a bit musty, but it was not corked by any means. We decided to give it more time in glass, which indeed added contours and spicy expression. Still, it was outshone by a far more expressive and interesting Sauternes just afterwards. I do believe that better bottles of this exist. 90
Chateau de Fargues Sauternes 1986 – A gorgeous color and far brighter (less matte) and youthful in appearance than the Clos Ste Hune. The nose was complex and beguiling at once, with banana pudding, quince, fresh pineapple, white peach and botrytis induced cinnamon. The texture was velvety and pleasing, with a palate enveloping aspect that was balanced by acidity and freshness. Hard to resist! And a great Sauternes to end the tasting, thank you Assaf. 96