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A Napa evening (followed by the suffering)

January 24, 2010

This entry sure took a long time in coming, but more of that later. The opening of the the brand-new Imperial Treasure flagship restaurant at Paragon had long been eagerly awaited by its legion of loyal fans (ie. people like us), so much so that when we finally did manage a private seating there on 14 January 2010 with a Napa theme, we were ready to whip out all superlatives in anticipation of a heavenly meal. Lester, decked out gaily in pink pin-stripe with matching pink (and white polka dots) tie and looking way too busy, seemed barely able to contain his excitement as he suggested a few specials and we were set. Kieron had been dying to showcase a Napa ‘special’ which he had arranged to be shipped back from his cache with Bordeaux Index, hence the theme and, to try to prove that Napa wines are worth their every cent, the wines were blinded.

We began with yet another 2006 Kistler McCrea Chardonnay (unblinded; courtesy PS…who’s complaining?), which lived up to its lofty expectations. This was pale lemon yellow, producing a very complex bouquet full of buttery notes, roasted cashews and almonds, brimming with rich minerality that ran deep. Dry, weighty, broad and intense, developing a creamy texture with time, ending on a slightly grassy austere finish, maintaining its poise and wonderful balance throughout. Beautiful, as expected. As good as this was, though, side-by-side comparison with a 1998 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet “Les Clavoillon” (unblinded; courtesy David) immediately revealed why the top white burgundies are so special: the lovely fragrance of white flowers in full bloom, the lifted aromas of sweet vanilla – rich, creamy and buttery. On the palate, however, this wine was less concentrated and expansive than the Kistler, offering more of stony minerality than sheer fruit. Overall, its elegance cannot be faulted, a cardinal feature of Old World charm. Excellent.

Red #1 (courtesy Don), sporting a bright red, exuded a dominant nose of varnish (…yes…), rosewater syrup and red fruits. Heavily scented, almost Burgundian in character. A young wine, undoubtedly, judging from the primary flavours on the palate. Well balanced, its velvety tannins gripping the palate firmly, showing good depth and concentration, but rather short on the finish and yet to develop further complexity. I must say I liked it.

Red #2 (carried back by Hiok from a cellar door purchase), deep inky red with a bright rim, displayed the strangest bouquet of all – a thick metallic note, reminding me of emulsion and, even more strikingly, of anti-parasitic syrup (albendazole comes to mind) that parents love to force on their kids in the good ol’ days. Huge, monolithic, obviously a wine in its infancy, dense and weighty, full of primary fruit flavours, ending in a sweet finish. It seemed disjointed and short initially, eventually becoming more focused with time and food. Still, however, its harsh bouquet didn’t agree with some of us. If a wine can make one recall instantly of anti-parasitic syrup, that’s a serious repulsion. A pity.

I had decanted Red #3 hours ago at 12 noon at home, allowing it to air for 6 hours before pouring it back into the washed bottle, the reason being that I remembered my last impression of this wine some 3 years ago was that it’s a huge tannic monster. I had an initial sip just after it was popped. It tasted downright metallic and horrible, to be honest. By the time we had it, the wine had had another 3 hours of airing in bottle. By then, it had mellowed, perhaps in fact way too mellowed, for it was surprisingly muted on the nose, the flavours of raspberries and sweet licorice coming through only on the palate. Rich and concentrated, but unfortunately not distinctive, lacking in depth and secondary development in spite of almost 10 years of bottle age. Quite a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps I shouldn’t have aired it for so long.

And so, finally, we moved on to Red #4 that Kieron had brought. Indeed this was something quite special from the first whiff. An evolving red, with lovely lifted aromas of red fruits and other worldly fragrance, almost Burgundian right down to its character on the palate – quite harmonious, good depth and definition, weighty yet elegant, beautifully balanced with plenty of Old World charm, finishing long with tightly-knit tannins. A wine of great finesse and class, from a Brit in Napa. Kieron loves to relate the story of how he’d chanced upon the winemaker Sir Peter Michael at The Vineyard at Stockcross, Newbury in Berkshire, the latter’s private hotel-cum-spa. Ahh…some folks seem to have all the luck.

The lineup that evening was obviously rather uneven. The key question was: would we have recognised them as Napa, if double-blinded? To be honest, the character of the terroir of Napa Valley still remains elusive, as evidenced by the fact that Napa wines can be outright fruity, or moulded into something almost Burgundian (viz. Red #1 & Red #4) or almost Old World (Dominus easily come to mind). I suppose we can’t always be drinking the same old grand cru classe. An occasional foray into the New World would be welcome, warts and all.

And how about the food?? Not great, I’m afraid. The pig’s ears (gelatinous and served cold) wasn’t special, the beef rather ordinary, and the Peking duck not particularly inspiring. Worse was to come. After two episodes of watery GE that night, I tried going to work the next day with my whole body racked with chills, myalgia, and a splitting headache. The nausea finally got the better of me mid-morning, and I had to retire, literally. The GE continued for all of Friday and Saturday, ensuring that my misery for the weekend was complete. Must be the century egg, which didn’t seem quite right. That’s it. I’ve had enough pairing of chardonnay with century egg. I’m not gonna do that again in future.

Red #1: 2004 Meyer Vineyard

Red #2: 2005 Regusci cabernet sauvignon

Red #3: 2001 Beringer Private Reserve cabernet sauvignon

Red #4: 1997 Peter Michael “Les Pavots”

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