Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dinner with Peter Liem and Friends

Brooklynlady and I left the little daughter with her grandparents in San Diego and went to Portland for two days and one night. It was a real treat to spend adult time together visiting such an interesting city. And by coincidence or supernatural power (you decide), Peter Liem happened to be in Portland for his friend's wedding. Our visits overlapped, and so along with a few of his friends, we met for dinner at the excellent restaurant called Three Doors Down.

Peter's friends are also serious wine folk, so there were several amazing wines on the table. Three Doors Down has a great wine list, but they are friendly with Peter and his group and allow them to bring in their own wine.

When you dine with Peter Liem you can expect to drink good Champagne. We began with the 2002 Champagne Raymond Boulard Extra Brut Les Rachais. Peter brought this over from France, as it is not available yet in the US. This is Boulard's first wine made from biodynamically farmed grapes, and although it's a mere child, it is obviously an incredible wine. The nose is so very delicate with lovely floral and mineral aromas, and beyond that a tightly coiled core of energy that demands many a quiet year in the cellar before it will reveal its true nature. I hope I have the opportunity to revisit this wine one day, it is a sheer and elegant thing of beauty.

We then opened the 2002 Benoît Lahaye Champagne Millésime (another bottle checked in his suitcase). I won't try to summarize Lahaye as a grower and wine maker, as Peter did this so well a few months ago. After the Boulard wine, this one was powerful and intense, but in a good way. The aromas and flavors really spread out and fill the nostrils. This is red fruited juicy deliciousness with a great acidic and mineral spine, and I bet it would be beautiful with something like duck breast and confit. I left this one standing in the glass for a little while and it opened up quite nicely - another one to lay down for some years.

BrooklynLady and I brought along a bottle of 1998 Vilmart & Cie Cuvée Création. We opened this bottle just before our appetizers arrived and much to my dismay, the wine was a bit of a mess. It was positively funky - cheesy, really. Yes, this wine smelled like ripe cheese. We waited a few minutes and aerated, but still pretty funky. Is this normal? Apparently not. The wine was showing "far more evolved than previous bottles I've tasted," according to Peter. That's probably polite for "this is usually very good wine, but this bottle kind of sucks." It was only at the conclusion of our meal when people were chit-chatting over a shared Tiramisu (honestly - the finest that I have ever tasted) that the wine began to show well. Pete (not Peter) poured himself some and said it was terrific. And he was right. The nose was now a generous and clean basket of roasted hazlenuts, maybe some marzipan too. And it crept gently across the palate, elegant and noble. Delicious, and yet very confusing on the whole. Here is Peter's profile of Vilmart, by the way.

And now, red wine. We started with an old wine from northern Piedmont, the 1961 Vallana Spanna Podere Tre Torre di Traversagna. Not a typo - that's 1961. This wine was born 47 years ago. I have no idea how to decipher Italian wine names, so I'll share what I learned about this wine: Vallana is the producer, Spanna is another name for Nebbiolo, and Traversagna is one of the crus in which this producer grows grapes. Thinking about it afterwards, I realized that this might be the oldest wine that I've ever tasted. But in the glass it felt vibrant and young. It had such a lovely perfume, so clean and well defined. Elegant chamomile aromas mingled with well-worn road tar, and beyond that there was something on the nose that the next wine also shared, something that for lack of a better word I will call poignancy. By this I mean that the essence of the wine burst forth from the glass as if it had something incredibly important to say, and it must have your attention. It was just delicious and thought provoking, and I remember what it smells like right now as I type this.

We ended our meal with a Grand Cru Burgundy from my birth year, the 1971 Prince de Merode Corton Clos de Roi. I got lost in this wine - I forgot to eat. BrooklynLady too. She tasted and spat all night like a cautious pregnant lady, but with this wine she drank. And how could she not? It had that same sense of poignancy to the aromas with penetrating animal, caramel, spice, and surprisingly fresh and youthful fruit. So graceful on the palate, such a textural joy. An entire story in the mouth with a strong plot, good character development, and a gentle and profound denouement. This is the whole point of cellaring good red wine from Burgundy, I suppose. A reminder not to touch my 2005's for a long time.

It got late in a hurry and we all had important appointments in the morning, so we agreed to shelve the 1985 Diebolt-Vallois that had been patiently waiting for its cue. We thanked each other for the company and the wine, and careened off to our beds with cherries and earth still tickling our nostrils.


Jack Everitt said...

I was at a tasting with a Vilmart bottle that was quite cheesy, so I understand exactly what you're saying. And, it's great that it eventually blew off.

I'm glad you got to try a Vallana. I had a glass of my second one ever just 12 days ago: 1958 Vallana Spanna Traversagna at Acquerello in SF. Like the first I was treated to a few years ago, this one was wonderful...quite young and fresh. I believe these wines were released from about 10 years ago, or so, direct from the winery. (And yah, you know me, I have three different ones in my cellar...one of these days kind of things.)

And a great old Burgundy - nothing like that, eh?

Director, Lab Outreach said...

I had a cheesy bottle of Vilmart recently as well. Same cuvee and vintage. Maybe it's something to do with a certain disgorgement lot? Our cheese one also lost some funk with air, but was never really great.

The cheese smell is probably an unwanted by-product of malolactic fermentation (isovaleric acid). But as usual, I'm just guessing.

Your summer vacation sounded pretty awesome.

Welcome home.

Unknown said...

Not to ever question Peter (always a bad idea), but ditto on the Vilmart cheesy notes. In fact, I've had that experience at a Terry Theise tasting. Would suspect bottle variation, but with enough consistency that it's clearly not an isolated phenomenon.

Deetrane said...

What a great post. You have quite a talent!

Joe said...

Congrats on hooking up with a fellow writer on the road! I had never pictured champagne with duck, confit or otherwise - that sounds very cool, will try that sometime. I recently had an 02 Florent de Merode and one of my respected wine buddies opined that there was something special in that bottle that would take time to show through - maybe it needs another 30 years in the bottle? Welcome back, just got back myself...

Brooklynguy said...

so it seems as though this cheesy opening is a normal thing with vilmart. maybe it's only with their top cuvees, because i never noticed it in their NV brut.

old burgundy = YES. hard to leave them alone when they're young though.

Jack Everitt said...

Checking my notes, it was the 1998 Vilmart Cuvée Creation; at the TT trade tasting here in SF. So, I think it's just this wine, not a general thing.

Anonymous said...

Again, Many thanks Brooklynguy
for your comments,
and particularly about the 2002 Rachais, recently dégorged - on June, if I have a good memory (please, see on the back label).

And Thanks to Peter for bringing this first bottle 2002 Rachais in USA.

We are waiting for sending some cases to Washingtown, so you had the privilege to taste this first 2002 Rachais in USA.

In fact it's the second Rachais made with biodynamically farmed grapes.
The first was 2001 Rachais ... more complex and open than 2002.
2002 Rachais is maturing very slowly compare to 2001.

Next realese will be 2004 Rachais, actually more open than 2002, but still confused with aromas and flavours.
So, several months of maturation are still necessary to give a perfect harmony of the body.

We have no 2003 ... the spring frosts of april 2003 damaged all ( the biggest part) the chardonnay, we harvested just few liters of 2003 Rachais.

Do not wait that the 2002 Rachais mature in the wine-shop of your regular merchant ... because there are many insistent requests from France and abroad about this cuvée, just few bottles in each wine-shop and few hundreds bottles in each country.

Again Many thanks,

All the best,


Deetrane said...

Hey Francis B - I unfortunately did not get to taste any of your legendary wines.

So, does your earlier invitation to come visit your terroir extend only to Brooklynguy, or can we all come?!!

Anonymous said...

Deetrane asked :

'' ... So, does your earlier invitation to come visit your terroir extend only to Brooklynguy, or can we all come ? ''

When I say as a guest,
that mean (in french expression) *private* invitation visit + tasting + *a traditional lunch* at my sweet (bubbly) home.

Yes, of course for a visit and tasting you can all come,
and you are welcome.

If you add a tour in the vineyards (+ around 1 hour) of an usual visit ( a regular small visit of the cellar + tasting = around 2 hours), it's necessary to plan a week before,
because we are small growers :
growing grapes + making wines + all the usual french papers,
and some other works...
we have a busy life, so it's necessary to plan our time-table.

Yes, you are all welcome.

Best sparkling wishes,
Bien amicalement,

who is not a legendary grower.

Deetrane said...

Merci beaucoup, M. Boulard! Amusez-vous bien sur la côte. Par hasard, avez-vous choisi passer les vacances en Normandie especialement pour manger le Camembert accompagné par le Champagne?

Anonymous said...

Je suis rentré de Normandie depuis 2 jours.
J'aime la mer, j'aime pêcher à la ligne et à pieds dans les rochers, c'est la principale raison du choix du bord de mer.
La Normandie est calme et paisible.
On trouve encore facilement des produits artisanaux et fermiers : fromages, cidre, charcuteries.

En vacances nous consommons des produits locaux ...
pendant 10 jours c'était donc cidre fermier, pommeau, camembert -livarot - pont-l'évêque, sablés d'asnelle, charcuteries du cochon de bayeux, huîtres d'asnelles et d'isigny, poissons, tourteaux des merroirs Bessins, et moules de Commes récoltées de mes mains sur les rochers.

C'est vrai, c'est authentique, c'est du vécu,
ce n'est pas une légende.



Brooklynguy said...

or any of us out there who don't speak French, here is my attempt to translate the above conversation:

Deetrane: thank you very much M. Boulard! Have fun (). By the way, have you ever gone on vacation in Normandy, especially for eating Camembert with Champagne?

Francis B: Well that is a well timed, yet odd question Deetrane. As it happens, I returned from Normandie merely two days ago. I love the sea, fishing, walking in the rocks. Normandy is very tranquil. One can easily find artisanal products - cheese, cider, charcuterie.

On vacation we ate plenty of local products, for 10 days it was cider, Pommeau, Camembert, pont-l'évêque (washed rind delicious stinky cheese), sablés d'asnelle (???), oysters, fish, tourteaux des merroirs Bessins (???), and mussels grown by hand under the rocks.

It's a true and real experience, authentic. Not a myth.

Take it easy dude,
Francis B.