It was $40, down from $80.
And it was 10 years old, the traditional opening of the drinking window for most Bordeaux.
And it was from Jonathan Maltus, a "flying winemaker" whose wines we've enjoyed for what they were in the past.
And we were in the mood for something merlot-based.
And it wasn't that good, at least not what we wanted.
Food: Hanger steak with sautéed shallots and bacon with vanilla mashed potatoes and mâche
Hanger steak, that lovely funky, gnarly beef, made a return appearance after a too-long sabbatical in the Ney household. Medium rare with a shallot-bacon topping. Salty goodness.
Vanilla mashed potatoes was first discovered by Mrs. Ney about three (?) years ago after perusing some Thomas Keller recipes. And holy crud! That's sex on a plate! You'd think it's just mashed potatoes and you'd be wrong. These aren't mom's potatoes. These are the most silky, delicious, vanilla-spiked dollops of beauty incarnate I've ever tasted. And carry with them about 2,000 grams of fat. It's in the top 20 of things I've ever eaten. And they're freakin' mashed potatoes!
From a food standpoint, we were sitting in the cat bird's seat.
Then the wine happened.
Wine: 2000 Chateau LaForge St. Emilion Grand Cru ($40 - Binny's)
90% merlot, 10% cabernet franc. Reddish-purple in the glass. Truffles on the nose right now, turning to macerated plum and dark berry. We had high hopes to start, mainly because we opened a Trader Joe's Right Bank an hour or so before just to see what it's like. The 2002 Chateau Coucy ("That's what she said!") tastes like we were drinking a tree. After that, anything would have seemed like heaven.
Maltus has about 12,000 labels. We've loved his Australian operation, Colonial Estate (Exile and Émigré), which uses old vines previously used by Penfolds Grange. And you have probably seen his Chateau Teyssier label around town. He has vines in Napa and the Languedoc as well. Basically, he comes in and buys up neglected or failing houses, modernizes them and pumps out moderately-priced wines (for the most part, his "garage wine" Le Dôme is not, shall we say, cheap) in a style that's representative of the area.
The LaForge has been praised by many critics for its complexity by some press (Decanter and Tanzer) and seen as a nice upstart. Um...we didn't get that.
More gravelly than silky, the wine didn't have that plushness we wanted and usually get from Right Bank Bordeaux. The generosity of the fruit faded in and out and only very occasionally did I get a big mushroom hit. Wasn't seamless, a bit clunky and still oaky. A crumbling cork might have led to a wee bit of oxidation but the wine tasted proper, like this was the true expression of what it was supposed to be. It just didn't come together, like a very moderate step up from a table wine.
In many ways, I think we've been lucky with Right Bank wines. By latching onto Clos Fourtet and Chateau Fombrauge early on (and rather accidentally), everything will always be compared to those in this price point.
Pairing: Wanted so much more
Oddly, it was better with the greens than anything else. The subtle bitterness of the mâche wasn't too bad at all with the LaForge and that was where I got the mushroom hit.
It just didn't work with fat in any form at all. Vanilla mashed potatoes, for us, has been a pretty great pairing with Right Bank in the past. Perfect, actually.
LaForge, after the initial good press (Maltus has only been making it since 1998), was released for upwards of $150. That's dropped dramatically of late, down to $50 for the 2006.
Seems like they're still figuring out what LaForge wants to be.