Sunday, February 12, 2012

and to drink with the sea cucumber


2009 Château Faizeau Vieilles Vignes | AC Montagne-St. Émilion


2007 Abbona La Pieve | DOCG Barolo

Where one disappoints, another redeems. In wine and otherwise, so we drink some more. Food and wine are one and the same, but it's precisely that that causes so much anxiety. One can never flourish without the other, but first, they have to prove themselves marriageable.

When you think about sea cucumber, don't think about it so much as strictly seafood; it's such a singular experience in flavour and texture that to try and categorize what it is would only lead to confusion. Ch'ng Poh Tiong, the Singapore-based wine writer who regularly contributes to Decanter magazine, once wrote an article about how the firm texture and subtle flavours of sea cucumber lends itself well to mature Bordeaux. I'm inclined to agree - older red wines do seem to be a more friendly companion to this dish. You don't want a wine that cuts through the palate. Rather, you want to find something that sort of wraps around the food, bolstering its flavour.

Faizeau Vieilles Vignes has always been a great example of what merlot from great terroir can achieve. Always ripe, but with structure; as the name suggests, the wines are 100% merlot from fantastically old vines (oldest planted around 1910), aged in about 50% new oak. The consulting enologist is none other than Michel Rolland. The wines have always been fabulous, just walking that tightrope of ripeness, purity of fruit, structure, and most importantly, freshness. The alcohols always hover around 14.5 - 15%, but are never intrusive. So it's with some degree of alarm that I'm noticing a distinct change in the character of the wines, starting from the 2007 vintage. The first vintage of Faizeau I tasted was the 2001, and having tasted each subsequent wine, it always maintained a certain freshness of fruit. The 2007, however, began showing signs of over-extraction, that cheap, candied fruit on aroma and palate. 2008 and now, the 2009 follow that style. I'm a bit worried. Is this a new direction for Faizeau, or a (temporary) aberration? The wines are increasingly losing their personality, that beautifully chalky merlot distinctiveness.

La Pieve's Barolo helped save the evening. Classic (and authentic) nebbiolo aroma, earthy red fruits, minerals, rose petals. Great freshness. Lacking some texture of some of the finer Barolos, but delicious nevertheless. Fine-grained tannins grip the palate. The structure has a way of firming up the texture of the sea cucumber, and the pure fruit flavours enhance the subtle marine flavours of the dish. And with the crisp bamboo shoot, my goodness; simply divine.


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