In what looks like a refurbished private home in the tony side of Vancouver, lays this gem of a restaurant, Le Gavroche (1616 Alberni St.). For foodies, this is the place and the owner, Manuel Ferreira, has been wowing clients for decades.
For wine lovers, the list is deep with lots of excellent selections, (including Douro wines) culled over the past thirty-one years of Le Gavroche's existence. "It’s very easy to be disappointed with a $200.00 wine that tastes like $50.00. But to find a $50.00 wine that tastes like $200.00 … " Manuel Ferreira
My good friend Blair Curtis was kind enough to organize an offline during this year's Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, at Le Gavroche. It turned into a themed night chosen by what the participants wanted to ante up, which turned into dueling flights of Dominus & Shafer Hillside Select, kind of evening, paired with six courses. I had not eaten much and had little wine in the past few weeks, so this was going to be quite a test of my stamina.
The guests included some of the usual suspects and it was great to meet several new members of Blair's wine posse too. I enjoy his friends and the companionship matched the caliber of the food and wine. We started off the evening with a nice young bottle of bubbly, as all such degustory celebrations should start off that way, right?
1996 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Brut Millésimé Rosé - France, Champagne - Medium golden colored, with lively scents of minerals, rhubarb and brioche. A fine mousse and ample acidity, the tension is near perfect. 15-20 years of pleasure ahead at the minimum. Low in RS and a solid example of a young Rosé Champer with guts and a lingering citrusy finish. 92+ points
Along came our 1st course: Fresh Spotted Prawns, Wilted Arugula, Spiced Lemon Butter Sauce. It was perfectly paired with:
1994 Chalone Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve - USA, California, Central Coast - From a well-stored magnum, whose appearance seemed younger than its years. I mentioned it was presenting like a fine Meursault, drinking a point right now. This is an old-school Chard (and Pinot) producer that back in the days of Dick Graff, often times nailed it. I'll never forget when I learned of his fatal Cessna accident in '98. On a brighter note, this beautiful rendition of Cali Chard performed at peak, exuding a youthful vibrancy, a richness in the mouth and a modicum of oak seasoning. Long, smooth, bright and with a hint of toast on the finish. I only wish my remaining 750s would drink this well as the Reserve bottling was spot on in 1994 but 750s I've had are a bit more evolved than this. 93 points
2nd course: Duck Confit, Parsnip Puree, Port Orange Reduction was enjoyed with the first wine of our Dominus flight. And what a great way to start off the red fest.
1991 Dominus Estate Napanook Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley - With good friends here in late Feb. (including Blair) I opened the last bottle of my case of this wine; like losing a great lover, now that it's gone. Evocative notes of cherry pipe tobacco, dried herbs, red currants, underbrush and leather. Texturally sublime, deftly balanced with exceptional purity of fruit and with a staggering aftertaste of sweet cassis. Precocious at 19, this is a fantastic wine at peak and on a happy long plateau. Several of my bottles wound up as great ringers in blind flights of Bordeaux finest, the 1991 often times besting them all. 96 points
Having the great pleasure to try this up against the 1994, yet again, these two together would make for a fantastic evening of wine drinking, anytime.
1994 Dominus Estate Napanook Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley - If the 1991 is Audrey Hepburn, this is Michelle Pfeiffer in her Catwoman outfit; sweet, seductive but cunning and edgy. Typically I defer to the 1991 but not tonight, the 1994 won me over with its old world profile. Concentrated blackcurrant and ripe blackberry fruit with excellent typicity of Cab and intensity in the mid-section, with a sexed up playful mouthfeel to boot. Crisp acidity and powerful tannins provide the sound structural framework and exude the decade of drinking pleasure that lies ahead for this beauty. A jaw dropping juicy finish scored an extra point. 97+ points
3rd course: Cavaletti, Smoked Boar Bacon, Fresh Lobster, Parmesan Cream - One of my two favorite courses on the night. I loved its decadence and it made for a fabulous pairing with:
1996 Dominus Estate Napanook Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley - Meaty, beaty, big and bouncy. This had difficulty following in the massive footsteps of the legends that came before it. Old school Napa Cab from a not so great vintage. Nonetheless, although the nose was reticent with just a note of cedar and graphite but lacking fruit; the flavor profile delivered a softer underbelly than the older wines with black licorice, tar, tobacco and I remained undecided whether the fruit was red raspberry or black cherry-centric. Easy to drink, well-balanced but the finish lacked the vibrancy and length which I expect from Dominus and it ended dry and with a cedar and tobacco leaf laden aftertaste. I don't see this making for old bones. 92+ points
1997 Dominus Estate Napanook Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley - I've always been enthralled with this fine young teenager, having had it in a couple of verticals and as recently as late February up against the 1991. An ethereal nose, purely Bordeaux-like in its scented sensibility proffering smoky plum, cinnamon, meat, and pencil shavings. The acidity stands out as brilliant and the tannins remain refined, if not a bit tame. Tremendous lingering finish and lots of upside potential here. 95+ points
4th course: Salt Spring Lamb Rack, Roasted Garlic Rosemary Demi - If I had only eaten this one course, I would have been well sated, literally. This was a meal unto itself, with 3 enormous chops and I was in heaven. Perfectly grilled and fortunately, the garlic part of the demi was rather tame. Lamb and just about any red and I am a fan. When its this tasty; I was the last at the table to finish.
1993 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select - USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District - Someone cancelled the day before the event (possibly two) and with their empty seat, we were missing the 1994 Shafer Hillside. Ow! (inside joke). The 1993 brought us quickly back to the New World and Napa would not be a tough blind guess. Fragrant spicy cinnamon, raspberry and an undertone of pine. I like this wine quite a bit for near term consumption and forgetting others on the table, this would be welcome on my table tonight. It is soft and sumptuous yet full-bodied and bodacious. Delicious in a ripe raspberry, juicy-not-jammy style. In synch with adequate acidity and tannins which took a back seat to the fruit, yet it delivers moderately concentrated flavors for a Hillside. More elegance than power at this point, a bit of alcohol was evident on the aftertaste, just short of hot. It's best to drink this over the next several years. Others seemed to like this a bit more than me. Maybe it was the Dominus still in my cerebrum. 91 points
1996 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select - USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District - The 1996, together with the lamb, now that's a pairing. There's nothing wrong with a young, massively fruited CA Cab with breeding, on occasion. Espresso, kirsch and blackcurrant aromatics delighted my proboscis. The spine of this wine will keep it fresh for another 15 years with ease. The tannins are anything but shy, actually on the astringent side, with boisterous black raspberry and boysenberry flavors dominating the wine's silhouette. Count me as a fan. 94+ points
Someone tried to sneak in a ringer, but it was immediately torpedoed and for me, it was so shrill and oaky that I just dumped it out without penning a note or a score. It was a 2006 Big Ass Winery, Big Ass Cabernet Sauvignon. I never heard of it, which means nothing. Blah at best. Maybe on its own … nah. In retrospect, low to mid-80 point range. Whoever tried playing this game, forget that this was a 2006 ... ah, never mind.
5th course: Assorted cheeses - nice to enjoy later, but we still had red wines and I didn't want them to be dead wines, so I waited for late in our dessert wine flight.
1995 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select - USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District - As good as the 1996 is, this dwarfed it. In fact, I remember doing a "complete" vertical with John Shafer (Doug's father and the founder/winemaker of the firm) and I had this and the 1994 just a point apart that day as they truly showed amazingly close. I remember John saying that his son had made the "greatest" Hillside Select of all, with the '99 vintage. High praise and that was the only time I ever tasted it. Sadly that Ow guy was a no-show, so I did not get to try these two side-by-side again which was something I was very much looking forward to. The 1995 is so much younger than the 1996. Extracted, dense, ripe and chewy. Mind-blowing intensity and complexity in the mid-palate yet, this is a brilliant and young Cab. There is the requisite acidity and powerful, grippy tannins. I would say this will drink beautifully at 25, even 30 years of age. A head turner. 96+ and I may have been a point stingy here.
1997 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select - USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District - This is one of the BIGGEST CA Cabs, I've ever had, although the 1999 when I had it in around 2003 was like someone sitting on my shoulder squeezing grape/berry pie down my throat, not too unlike Vintage Port cask samples. Anyway, I truly enjoyed tasting this after having had the uber-delicious 1997 Dominus. They are polar opposites. You have to like this style of ooze monster to begin to appreciate what this beast is all about. I typically don't like over-ripe Cabs (e.g. Pride) I understand this was a polarizing type of Cab and in its enormity there is succulence and richness, with jammy black fruits intermingled with vanilla, and palate crushing waves of cassis on the prolonged aftertaste. The one thing I found missing was complexity; as it was so berry fragrant and fruit forward, it will require another five to ten years of bottle age to show true greatness, watch out! A very long lived Cab with two decades of fine drinking. 97+ points
6th course: Grand Marnier Soufflé - hard to say no to this delectable and feather-light soufflé. I am never a fan of soufflé, but this one was spot on!
2001 Marc Tempé Gewurztraminer Mambourg Vendanges Tardives - France, Alsace, Sigolsheim, Alsace - A finely tuned Grand Cru Gewurztraminer. Amber in color and the nose may have been one of the wildest of the entire evening to this point. Lychee and honeysuckle, over-ripe Seckel pear dominated and delighted the nasal landscape. Fine purity of Gerwurz but lacking the panache of the great ones. Smooth and supple with zippy acidity. A fun wine to pear with the soufflé, but I felt it paired better with the cheese. 90 points
N.V. Artur de Barros e Sousa LDA (ABSL) Doce, Extra Reserva, Madeira - ABSL was established back in 1921 and is one of the few remaining old school producers on the island. I hand carried this back and have never seen a full tasting note on this wine and doubt there are more than a handful in North America. It is produced in the Canteiro method and shows that quality level in this rare bottle, although not all that old for a Madeira. 18% alcohol was refreshing to see on the back label. Decanted about 30 hours ahead of time, this showed a medium tea color w/ golden edge. Lots of lemon, dried apricots, almonds and toffee on the nose. Although I am guessing that this is a Verdelho, Bual blend, I really don't know. Light and silken across the tongue with vibrant, citrusy acidity. More citrus on the palate and only a gentle warming dose of sweet apricot marmalade, and a crème brûlée caramelization to the rich flavors. The finish was extraordinarily long and those that "got" this really seemed enamored. It won me over and when I visit the brothers in two weeks, I'll be buying more! 94+ points
N.V. Manuel Eugenio Fernandes Madeira Verdelho "More than 40 Years" (Portugal, Madeira) - This had a full 48 hour aeration in decanter. Eugenio's the founder, had this bottled for his 96th birthday by the Madeira Wine Company in April 2002. There are two versions, one 48 years in wood and another 52 years in wood. This is the 48, which I prefer. I like to open this last in an evening of wine because it is so shockingly dry for most people with razor sharp acidity, that it is a "love or hate" thing. I fall into the former camp and buy it every chance I get on the island. It leads in with polite whiffs of scintillating VA, mahogany, hazelnuts and later emerges a toffee essence. Dreamy and creamy on the palate in a very light bodied silky and caressing manner. I always taste lime zest and grapefruit citrus flavors, but what I enjoy most is the awe inspiring length which even for those that don't enjoy Madeira, is undeniable in its lasting palate impression. This will outlive me by about … a century! 93+ points
All I can say is thank you to Blair, his generous friends, and to Mr. Ferreira for providing one of the most fun and hedonistic food & wine evenings I have ever had in Vancouver. Le Gavroche rocks!