Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Fourth Annual BYO at A L'Os

My tasting group has been the cornerstone of this blog, pushing the envelope on wine prices and styles and in the process educating my palate in ways a wine class could never achieve. But the reason our group has continued for more than five years is that this is first and foremost a group of friends.

This friendship, and wine, brought us together for our Fourth Annual "grand tasting" at a BYO Restaurant, Montreal's À l'Os. No scoresheets tonight - just great food, conversations and vinous treasures from our respective cellars:

1988 Château Branaire-Ducru (Saint-Julien)
1999 Pio Cesare Barolo "Ornato"
2001 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa)
2002 Domaine Chevalier Père & Fils Corton "Le Rognet"
2003 The Standish (Barossa)
2004 Domaine l'Aiguelière Côte Rousse (Coteaux du Languedoc)
2004 no. 2/3 Trio Infernal (Spain)
2004 René Rostaing Côte Rôtie "La Landonne"

But before I get to the wine, I want to say a few words about what was the most impressive Montreal BYO I have ever had the chance to dine in. Very French in style, but what impressed me was an obsession with balance - of flavours and textures - that signify a chef with complete dedication to his trade. An impressive soup of cauliflower and watercress to start - beautiful creamy texture and balance. This was followed by a blood pudding that was insanely light and fluffy, served on a bed of cooked apples and a dab of cream on top (it looked like a dessert) - Wow! The main of filet mignon with seared foie gras (an error - I asked for the mushrooms - but I didn't complain about the freebie) - simply flavourful and stunningly textured, surely the greatest steak (and foie gras) I have ever had. And I couldn't pass on a dessert of fresh figs and balsamic vinegar ice cream. All with impeccable service (despite a rowdy crowd). This was, without a doubt, THE best table to pair with your cellar that I have dined in in Montreal (but noticeably pricier). A hearty shout out to the chef!

Oops, nearly forgot the wine:

Our first pour was Pramod's 2001 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve (Napa). Rather predictably high-end Napa on the nose, with spicy vanilla, violets, dark berry fruit, white pepper and gobs of oak. Somewhat atypical on the palate - a big tannic wallop up front, but rather lighter and more elegant than the nose suggested - should soften up nicely with cellaring. Great, but I don't remember a lot of discussion around this one.

Next up was Lloyd's ancient 1988 Chateau Branaire-Ducru (Saint-Julien), a fourth-growth that is showing very well as it enters its third decade. It didn't go over well at first - some cellar stank I guess - but that blew off to reveal a sublime blend of mushrooms and prunes, cedar and old leather, black earth and vegetal notes. Elegant, light and earthy on the palate with crisp fruit and spicy oak - for me it was the most memorable, and most food-friendly, of the evening...ahhh, old Bordeaux....

Next up was Cosme's 2003 The Standish (Barossa), one of Australia's top shirazes. Meaty blueberries, tar and liquorice, flinty vanilla, violet and cherries on the nose. Luscious and well balanced with big, velvety tannins and a never-ending finish, but a touch fruitier and more extracted than my current preferences. I, and most of my peers, were rather ho-hum on this one tonight.

A wine that did generate a lot of discussion was Ash's 2004 Domaine l'Aiguelière Côte Rousse (Coteaux du Languedoc) - big stinky cheese notes (in a good way), spicy new leather, and slate on the nose, a delicious velvety texture with crisp fruit and a lengthy finish. I would say "Bordeaux-esque", but perhaps less polished (in my opinion) than some of the other wines tonight. I expect that will be resolved with some cellar time...

Next up was another controversial wine, Cam's 2004 no. 2/3 trio infernal (Priorat). Made from 100% carignan, this modern-styled wine showed leathery dark berries, tar, and minty alcohol. Lighter-bodied with a modest finish, I found the alcohol just too hot, but otherwise no rough edges. I have to agree with David's QPR comments on this one. Drink now.

Since nobody was scoring I declare my 1999 Pio Cesare Barolo "Ornato" the "winner" - hah, I finally won! A gorgeous nose of tar and rose petal, black pepper, and flinty blackberries. Muscular - an elegant muscular - with a very long finish, it was the first decanter emptied.

As if that weren't enough we poured Chris' 2004 René Rostaing Côte Rôtie "La Landonne" for the finale. Candy and flowers on the nose, tea and wet stones as well. Elegant, with crisp fruit and a minerally palate - a deceptively long finish, will be amazing in a few years.

I forgot to mention the 2002 Chevalier Corton, a wine that showed up hidden under Cosme's chair (insurance in case no one brought a Burgundy, I suppose - Barry could sympathize). He relented and shared with all, but I didn't take notes as I thought this was the 2005 we had recently.

I won't cover Chris' Hungarian dessert wine - it was DRY! Sorry, that's like salami for dessert. It may have been good, but I was SO not in the mood for that.

Whew! Did I say this was a great evening?

(BYO 2007 at Yoyo, BYO 2006 at Bistro l'Entrepont)


Shea said...

Sounds fantastic. I've been wanting to try Rostaing for years. It sounds great. If I'm ever in Montreal I'll have to try that Restaurant!

Joe said...

pretty hard to find a bad wine in that bunch, that is why I raved about the restaurant so much - that was the surprise upside! Do you have BYOs in BC?

Shea said...

Nope. Yet another reason Vancouver is frustrating. Beautiful, but very very frustrating.

Edward said...


Fresh figs in winter! Maybe they came from Australia :)

I've just put my order in for the Brokenback. Mine was a 2005 also - perfect for a rematch early next year.

Joe said...

Ed - I forgot to ask the chef where he got them...:) I hope that Brokenback didn't cost you too dearly! I look forward to it.

Edward said...


It cost me $A240 dollars. (The Brokenback was $A17 and then I 'had' to find another 5 bottles in order to escape the freight charge!)

Joe said...

Way to save money, Ed - that is exactly how I justify so many wine purchases...