Tango and Cocktails
Collegiate Bordeaux competition and The Black Grouse comes to Brooklyn
Few things thrill me more than men in ceremonial purple and white puffy hats and robes. The Commanderie du Bontemps (Medoc, Graves, Sauternes and Barsac) brought out their high hats to conduct and judge the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup, a wine tasting competition between leading business schools and top U.S. universities, held at the French Consulate.
Eight college wine teams competed for a trip to Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Pauillac, France, where the winners will enter an international contest in June. The Commanderie members read out ten questions with multiple choice answers. They were far beyond your 101, “What grapes go into the Bordeaux blend?”
Classified as a Second Growth in 1855, Chateau Lascombes, located in the Margaux appellation, takes its name from:
a) the Marques de Las Combes, a Spanish nobleman who died here in 1625
b) the site where the estate was built, the place named “les Combes”
c) its first owner, the Knight Antoine de Lascombes.
On 25th of May 1787, Chateau Haut-Brion received a visit from a famous person. Who was it?
a) Thomas Jefferson, who was to become the third President of the United States
b) Catherine II, Empress of Russia
c) Louis XVI, King of France
Answers: c and a.
Next, the students tasted three flights of wine blind to identify the AOC and vintage—a difficult task even for a wine professional. University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Wharton Business School were the two winners, who will be off to France in June. A wine soaked dinner followed with bottle after bottle of top flight Bordeaux: 1999 Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande (Grand Cru, Pauillac); Smith-Haut Lafitte 2001 (Grand Cru, Graves); 1996 Chateau Dauzac (Grand Cru, Margaux); and Chateau Guiraud (1er Grand Cru Sauternes).
After all that Bordeaux, it’s always nice to have a cocktail.
The Tango and Cocktails event was held at Michael’s (24 West 55th Street), a longtime canteen of the publishing world and power set. The restaurant has just instituted a very interesting cocktail and bar snacks program. Mixologist Michael Flannery has come up with intriguing spirits combinations and cocktail names like the Latin Lava, Your Sparkling Eyes and Red Hot Ruby.
Because it was light and festive, I was partial to Your Sparking Eyes, which combined Campari, Dolin Dry Vermouth, grapefruit peel and a large top-off of Bortolomiol Prosecco. After a few of those, I worked my way through sips of six cocktails, which got progressively stronger from The Ice Melter (Louis Royer VSOP “Force 53” Cognac) to a hot drink of mulled white wine, spices and Santa Teresa 1796 Rum (from Venezuela’s oldest rum producer).
Halfway through tastes of the unusually delicious Cupid’s Arrow—a whole raw egg, Santa Teresa Rum and Fonseca Bin 24—and Winter Rendezvous—Louis Royer Cognac, Carpano Antico Vermout and Bonny Doon Framboise—I looked over to see tango dancers enraptured with each other in a seductive long dance. Was it the cocktails that inspired such passion? I’ll have what they’re drinking.
kyle dean reinford
The Scottish always put on a great party. The Black Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky representatives came to town to showcase scotch cocktails and barbeque at Mable’s Smokehouse in Williamsburg. I can testify that scotch and succulent smoked ribs are meant for each other. The Black Grouse is a smokier version of the Famous Grouse.
My two favorite scotch cocktails were “A Grouse in Hand,” a light frothy cocktail with a wonderful strawberry and whisky flavor and “Presbyterian Revenge,” where The Black Grouse created an interesting union with Cynar, an Italian bitter aperitif liqueur with artichoke as its main flavor note.
kyle dean reinford
A Grouse in Hand (created by Max Messier)
One and half oz. The Famous Grouse
Three Quarters oz. Strawberry Ginger Shrub
half oz. Lillet Rouge
Quarter oz. Lime Juice
***Shake all ingredients and strain over ice. Top with club soda and a lime twist.
Presbyterian Revenge (created by John McCarthy)
One and half oz. The Black Grouse
Three-quarters oz. Cynar
Quarter oz. Lemon Juice
Quarter oz. Simple Syrup
One Dash Grapefruit Bitters
***Shake and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Top with a splash of soda, garnish with a grapefruit twist.
photo courtesy of jamie falkowski
After several nights of cocktailing, it was exciting to get back to really serious Bordeaux tasting. In fact, the main Commanderie du Bontemps questioner from Lafite competition, Emmanuel Cruse, held his own tasting lunch at Le Bernadin for his winery Chateau d’Issan.
The Grand Cru Classé D’Issan is one of the top chateaux of Margaux, so my first thought was, “How would they pair Cabernet-driven Bordeaux with the delicate seafood for which le Bernadin is so noted?” Well, they only tried with one course, the olive oil poached escolar that came with a red wine bearnais to bridge the wine and food—not too successful a match, I must report. But the next two courses worked for Bordeaux, a pistachio crusted rack of lamb and selection of strong cheeses.
The Chateau D’Issan is a 17th century fairytale chateau surrounded by a moat. Old chestnut trees line the long road into the castle. Cruse’s grandfather bought the chateau at the end of the war in 1945 and ran the estate from 1947-97. It’s a medium sized property by Margaux standards with120 acres under vines. They produce 10,00 cases of Chateau D’Issan, from vines with an average age of 35 years and about 7,000 cases of the second wine, Blason D’Issan, with 18-year-old vines.
At the time that Cruse’s grandfather purchased the wine property, Chateau Cheval Blanc was also up for sale. At that time no one cared about the Right Bank (the attitude was to banish thoughts of that other bank: Who’d want to go there anyway?) Apparently, the grandmother, who had a strong personality, nixed the idea of a purchase by saying, “I think they have too many mosquitoes over there on the Right Bank.” She wouldn’t hear about Cheval Blanc. “Ah when you look at Cheval Blanc now…” said Cruse, still regretful of his ancestor’s folly. “Oh well, no one is perfect.” Ironically, they purchased Chateau D’Issan, which is surrounded by a moat and has lots of mosquitoes.
Warning: what follows is for wine geek Bordeaux enthusiasts only. Here’s a run down on the vertical tasting from my notes as we worked our way from 2001 to 2009 of Chateau D’Issan. These are aromatic Margaux wines have seen many good vintages. Cruse’s running joke was that on the Left Bank in the past decade there have been so many claims to great vintages. ‘Vintage of the century’ is a term thrown around a lot.
*2001—Underrated for this great vintage. Under the shadow of the great 2000’s, which had more structure, but they had pleasant aromas and are ready to drink now.
*2002—Not the vintage of the century. After a bad summer the vintage was saved by a warm fall. It has the highest percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon against only 22% of Merlot. The ‘02 has a bad rap, and no one wants to try it. It will be good to drink in 10 years.
*2003—They call this Napa style Bordeaux because of the hot weather in France. It is interesting to drink now. Only the Right Bank did well in ‘03. This lacks acidity and has a huge amount of extraction yet it is pleasant ready-to-drink vintage.
*2004—It has a classical style and is one of the two “vintages of the century.” 2004 is the best value to find in Bordeaux because people want the 2005.
*2005—Great vintage. “Everyone made a great vintage that year, even Burgundy,” jokes Cruse. Good weather, no rain and early harvest: Vintage of the century.
*2006—Cruse is most proud of the ‘06, which was a challenging year. A top European wine writer felt it was the best wine made in Margaux that year. Whereas the ‘05 vintage has power, the ‘06 has elegance.
*2007—It was another challenging vintage with bad weather. It won’t age as well as the ‘05 or ‘06 but it is a full-bodied wine to drink now.
*2008—‘08 and ‘09 are like ‘88 and ‘89. ‘08 is a classic and will be better than ‘04.
*2009—This is a beautiful perfumed wine with spice and exceptional flavor. It has power and exuberance. And Cruse’s prediction on 2010, which is still in barrels, is that it will be slightly better than ‘05, probably the next “vintage of the century.”