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Restaurants & Bars 14

Bordeaux Tasting @ Fringale March 18, 2003

Spencer | Mar 26, 200305:01 PM

1989 & 1990 Bordeaux Tasting at Fringale, March 18, 2003

On March 18, 2003, Fringale in San Francisco hosted a private tasting of 1989 and 1990 Bordeaux and a matched dinner of Kobe beef. There were eight of us in attendance: Paul, Robbie, Joel, Monserat, Vince, Dave, Melanie, and myself, Spencer. For a novice Bordeaux drinker such as myself, this was quite an impressive experience. Somehow, out of this group of experienced wine aficionados and chow hounds, I managed to most closely match the average scores, and so I’ve been asked to write the report.

The event was planned by Paul, a regular at Fringale (570 Fourth St, San Francisco. 415-543-0573. link below). Paul arranged with chef Gerald Hirigoyen to have a tasting of wines that would compliment a special arrival of Kobe beef. The wines and dishes were planned together.

The event started with a silent blind tasting of eight wines from four Bordeaux chateaux, one each from ’89 and ’90. Attendees had been informed of the wine selection, and had been sent tasting notes and scores from both Parker and Wine Spectator. After a discussion of the results of the tasting, the wines were enjoyed over the course of the dinner. A ’90 Sauternes accompanied desert.

Château Haut Brion ’89, ‘90 Pessac-Léognan
Château Leoville Barton ’89, ‘90 St. Julien
Château Pichon-Longueville ’89, ‘90 Pauillac
Château La Conseillante ’89, ‘90 Pomerol
Château Filhot Crème de Tête ‘90 Sauternes

Amuse of Poached Foie Gras with a Raspberry Port Wine Reduction and Frisee
Chanterelle Mushroom Tart with Manchego and a Garnish of Crème Fraiche
Citrus Sorbet
Seared Tenderloin of Domestic Kobe Beef with a Cabernet Reduction
Pommes Anna
Sautéed Denuded Asparagus
Seasonal Cheese Selection with Fresh Fruit
Mousse au Chocolat with Whipped Crème, Sauce Anglaise and Roasted Almonds

The tasting portion was universally enjoyed. All bottles were in good shape. Service was excellent. Wines were opened beforehand and properly poured by the attentive staff. Fringale provided functional stemware; two of us brought our own Riedel glasses. Towards the end of the tasting water and bread were served. Table talk was frowned upon, although allowed for the one wine which didn’t show as well as the others.

Wine year town Parker WS Robbie Joel Montse Vince David Spencer Melanie Paul ranking
Château Haut Brion 1989 Pessac-Léognan 100 97 4 2 3 3 1 3 3 2 1 (21)
Château Pichon-Longueville 1990 Pauillac 96 97 2 4 1 4 7 1 1 6 2 (26)
Château Leoville Barton 1990 St. Julien 92 93 1 1 8 2 6 2 6 1 3 (27)
Château Pichon-Longueville 1989 Pauillac 95 98 3 7 7 1 2 4 5 3 4 (32)
Château La Conseillante 1989 Pomerol 97 90 6 5 2 7 5 6 2 7 5 (40)
Château Leoville Barton 1989 St. Julien 90 92 7 3 4 6 4 7 7 4 6 (42)
Château La Conseillante 1990 Pomerol 97 90 5 8 6 8 3 5 4 5 7 (44)
Château Haut Brion 1990 Pessac-Léognan 96 94 8 6 5 5 8 8 8 8 8 (56)

In email exchanges afterwards, the last place of the ’90 Haut Brion was re-evaluated: “The ‘90 Haut Brion has a bad smell when it was first poured, but after about three hours, the odor had gone and the wine improved significantly. Had we re-ranked the wines later, I believe it would have risen to 5th, knocking down the other wines”

My personal reaction to the wines follow:
nose taste feel
HB 89 old wine nose, tobacco, leather, smoke good full balanced tannins and acid
PL 90 light diaper, stewed carrots, cedar more tannic, thinner
LB 90 honeysuckle, stewed sour cherry, bubbling medium-dark chocolate old, slightly bitter good mouth, finish, smooth
PL 89 light old, dry leather english muffin toast, apple tobacco light, smooth, balanced, rolls around
CN 89 fresh bed sheets, chemical perfume, diaper, steel, brine canned fruit, especially pear, pineapple
LB 89 seared herb-butter steak, grilled mushrooms, risotto with parmesan rubber, raisins, cheap Turkish figs light
CN 90 almost Pinot Noir, candied strawberry, straw-rhubarb, foliage, vines strawberry, fresh (not toasted) white oak thinner, more acidic
HB 90 raw cake batter, wet leather, saddle soap, wilting flowers (hyacinth?), figs flowery-rotten metallic linger

With the tasting over, notes were compared, and the Hundred Point Wine was declared our winner (although, unlike the two runners up it received only one first vote). Although this wine had been declared “legendary” or “perfect” by Parker, it was not the favorite of all… One weighed in “I thought it was good, but I think I need more experience in tasting mature Bordeaux before I can appreciate these things. Frankly, I've been more impressed with Ojai Roll Ranch and Henry's Drive Shiraz than I was with the Haut Brion. That's either the opinion of an heretic, or that of a bumpkin.” These worries were rebuked by another, who cautioned “Your preferences are for more powerful, ripe and fruit forward wines. The majority of modern wine drinkers are with you. Do keep in mind that a numerical score of 100 indicates a perfect wine in terms of its QUALITY - it's not a guarantee that you happen to like the STYLE of the particular wine.” Long live diversity and different wines!

Finally, an hour after scheduled, dinner was presented.

The foie gras was served sandwiched between two slices of toasted baguette with the wine reduction, looking much like a PB&J sandwich. The wine reduction overpowered the light flavor of the foie gras, which showed mainly as a smooth, fatty texture. And I thought all that peanut butter I eat went to my pancia….

The mushroom tart was delicious, and although rather salted, seemed to be enjoyed by all. The mushrooms were so full of flavor that we thought truffle oil or truffles themselves had been added. The Manchego, hidden between the buttery crust and the rich mushrooms, was a delicious note.

Citrus sorbet was offered to cleanse the palate.

The main course was a large chunk of domestic Kobe beef, served over potatoes with asparagus on the side. The pommes anna were rather heavily cooked, seeming more potato-chip than pomme frittes. The asparagus was peeled and lightly cooked, retaining all flavor and texture. The beef? A wonderful, smooth, rich tenderloin of Kobe beef from a producer in San Antonio. All agreed it was delicious; many of us could not finish the exorbitant portion.

The chef Gerald Hirigoyen came out to visit the table during the course of the meal.

Cheese. Yum.

The chocolate mouse was served with sauce anglaise in martini glasses. This elicited some laughter, as the mousse, pushed into the glasses with a wide-mouth pastry bag and then drenched in the sauce anglaise, looked rather (ahem) base. The pairing of chocolate mousse and sauce anglaise with the Sauternes after the cheese was less successful than the earlier pairings of Bordeaux and Kobe.

Overall, the dinner was excellent. The service was fine, especially given the challenge of having some eighty (eight red, one desert, one water for eight people) glasses on the table and the corner location in this small restaurant. The food was tasty and complimented the wines. The portions, in true American style, were too big: few of us finished either the Kobe or the desert, and some not even the foie gras or the mushroom tart. The tab for the food (the wines had been contributed by the attendees) came to $128 each, service included.

We all survived the evening intact, although some reported light sleep and strong dreams as a result of the rich wines and large portions of beef.



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