January 24, 2015, my wife and I hosted a very special fund-raising dinner at our house. And given our penchant for details, things were bound to be off the charts epic.
I met Marcel Vigneron a year back at a 2009 Bordeaux dinner, and ever since have been looking for an excuse to have him cook at our house. For those of you who don’t know, Marcel was the original Executive Sous Chef at The Bazaar, and also cooked at Joel Robuchon. He’s been on numerous Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars shows and was the star of his own series, Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen.
I might like modernism in my food, but when it comes to the decorative arts my wife and I agree things have been on a downhill slope since the mob stormed Versailles. We’re both history buffs and have gone to some length to recreate the fantasy of a 1730s Italian villa. So, in that vein, guests are welcomed into the Chinoiserie Drawing Room for champagne and snacks.
And a classical setting deserves a classical ambiance: a harpist playing baroque pieces!
All wines are from my cellar and served by 2/3 Master Sommelier Chris Lavin. By 2/3, I mean he’s passed 2 out of the 3 of those torturous tests detailed in the Somm documentary. Which really means he’s an amazing Sommelier.
It should be noted that going back and forth Chris and I chose about 40 wines from my cellar and arranged them into a rough progression by “type.” i.e. bubblies, brighter whites, white burg, red burg, etc. Then he dynamically chose to organize these into flights by making up interesting duos or sets to play off both each other and the food.
I’m not a big believer in rigidly pairing at a dinner like this. With 18 people, there is no way to predict in advance the consumption rate, so the pre-planning needs to allow for a flexible rate of consumption if one doesn’t want to leave a lot of wine sitting on the table unfinished. We used a system with 3 specific stems (Riedel Sommelier Chardonnay/Chablis, Burgundy, and Bordeaux) and 2 general stems (Riedel Degustazione Red, which I think is a great general glass). Flights were all 2 or 3 wines and people could either finish old wines, move them “down glass” or pass on a flight. With this many wines many people (particularly the ladies) needed to take a breather.
NV Bochet-Lemoine Champagne Les Grimpres 1955. An amazing, rare, acid bomb of a champy.
Marcel’s culinary assault begins with a number of snacks.
Endive Boat. smoked trout, cucumber, dill. Bright and fresh.
NV Pierre Gerbais Champagne L’Originale. 89 points. clear and bright with a pale lemon colour and presence of many small bubbles. The nose is clean and fully developed, showing medium(+) intensity aromas of green fruits (green apple, pear), MLF (cream, butter) and yeast (bread dough, brioche). The wine is off-dry in the mouth with a high refreshing acidity. It has a medium alcohol and a medium body with a creamy mousse. It has medium(+) intensity flavours of green fruits (green apple, pear), MLF (cream, butter) and yeast (bread dough, brioche). The finish is medium(+).
Topped egg. salmon roe, chive. Salty and rich.
2005 Gramona Cava III Lustros Gran Reserva. 88 points. Clear and bright, pale lemon colour and presence of small bubbles. The nose is clean and developing, with medium- intensity aromas of neutral yeast and simple green fruit such as green apple and pear. It’s dry in the mouth, with medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, medium body, creamy mousse and medium intensity flavours of neutral yeast and simple green fruit like green apples and pear. Medium finish. It’s a good quality wine, fresh and easy to drink with good overall balance, bit it lacks complexity and the finish could be longer. Other vintages have been better. Drink now, but it has enough acidity and concentration to develop more complexity in 1-2 years.
Mushroom “tart”. goat cheese, thyme. Lots of lemon zing.
2011 i Clivi Collio Ribolla Gialla Spumante Brut. Another unusual bubbly.
Marcel and team slave away in the kitchen while we enjoy ourselves.
The table is set, and with Riedel Sommelier stems too, as it should be. The walls of the dining room were painted by my mother from photos we took in Italy.
2013 Veyder-Malberg Riesling Bruck. 95 points. These puppies are so rare the professionals have barely reviewed them, but this dry riesling is a total knockout. The purity of expression is off the charts, and that’s without even getting into the searing acid finish,
2007 Lur-Saluces “Y”. Parker 94. The rare dry wine from the world’s greatest sweet producer is an unusual find. These are made to age, and this one was no exception, still showing all it’s baby fat. The 2007 Ygrec has a light, fragrant nose with apple-blossom, pink grapefruit, citrus lemon and just a touch of cold granite. Good definition. The palate is bright and lively, a lot of energy packed into this Ygrec, with citrus lemon, green apple, a touch of lemongrass, very harmonious and smooth towards the finish that display superb persistency, a hint of fiery lemongrass lingering in the mouth.
2009 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc. Parker 98. Smith-Haut-Lafitte hit a home run with their red Pessac-Leognan and came very close to perfection with their dry white Graves. Possibly the best dry white the estate has produced since the proprietors, the Cathiards, acquired the property in 1990, this wine exhibits a sensational fragrance of buttered citrus, honeyed melons and a touch of grapefruit, lemon zest and orange rind. It also displays grapefruit on the attack and mid-palate as well as real opulence, terrific acidity and length. Drink it over the next 15-20 years. Astonishing!
Hamachi carpaccio. avocado, olive, citrus, watercress, wild rice, ponzu. A nice mix of flavors and textures. Marcel’s food is light and playful, with bright flavors. He doesn’t use a lot of butter or heavy ingredients.
A duo of Raveneau MDT!
2002 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre. Burghound 93. This too is very opulent with a richness and breadth of aromas that is dazzling in their sheer range. Big, powerful, very masculine and exceptionally intense flavors blessed with huge extract but despite the size and weight, this also has the best acid/fruit balance of any of these 1ers plus this absolutely coats and stains the palate. In fact, there is an interesting textural quality by virtue of all the sap yet the finish is quite dry. A great effort that explodes on the backend and lingers for minutes.
2009 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre. Burghound 93. Subtle wood sets off aromas of flowers, oyster shell and tidal pool that complement perfectly the racy, pure and strikingly well-detailed medium plus weight flavors that brim with minerality on the delicious, mouth coating and impressively long finish. This beautifully vibrant and concentrated effort should drink well young and age well too plus it’s more classic in style than many wines from this vintage.
Salmon crudo. brussels sprout leaves, apple, pomegranate, lime. A really fabulous dish. The sprouts had no bitterness, and there was a pronounced citrus and the strong pomegranate flavors to complement the rich fish.
1993 Robert Ampeau & Fils Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières. Burghound 92. A fully mature and expressive nose of elegant secondary fruit and floral aromas introduces intensely mineral-driven, pure and beautifully well-detailed middle weight flavors that possess excellent depth and fine length. This is drinking perfectly now and should continue to do so without effort for at least another decade. Tasted only once recently.
2004 Henri Boillot Bâtard-Montrachet. Burghound 95. Perhaps the most backward and reserved wine to this point as the nose reveals only hints of white flower and green fruit aromas that are framed in a subtle touch of pain grillé but the flavors explode on the palate as there is a chewy texture to them yet there is ample minerality present, particularly for Bâtard. This too is blessed with abundant dry extract and a finish that won’t quit but for all of the size and weight, this is impeccably balanced. This has that “wow” factor and in terms of style, it’s almost like a muscular Chevalier.
Pumpkin soup. nutmeg creme fraiche. An amazing soup. Like a sort of savory pumpkin pie!
And in the spirit of pairing, double 97 RSV.
1997 Remoissenet Père et Fils Romanée St. Vivant. 86 points. Our bottle was slightly corked. Not horribly, but enough to mar my enjoyment.
1997 Alain Hudelot-Noellat Romanée St. Vivant. 93 points. The nose just jumps from the glass. Plenty of spice, red fruit and a lot of earth. The wine is cloudy with amber edges. More spice, ferrous notes and tart tart cherries on the finish. Kind of reminds me of a young Leroy. Not sure how much it will improve, but a very interesting drink right now.
Just one of four types of bread from the bakery at Maison Giraud. We had Baguette, Pain aux Olives, Pain de Campagne, and Brioche Fine.
Butter from Normandy. If Republique can do it, so can we! It’s funny how many people are blown away by how much better good French butter is than our usual American fare.
And a pair of Clos Vougeot Musigni.
1990 Gros Frère et Sœur Clos Vougeot Musigni. 92 points. Rich, smoky nose with a supple, well balance flavor of slightly tart cherries mixed with currant and medium length finish. This is an extremely elegant wine and I would definitely buy more. This wine is at its peak, but shows no sign of age at all. Delicious.
1984 Gros Frère et Sœur Clos Vougeot Musigni. 87 points. This good wine from a terrible vintage won’t win any awards, but it drinks so much like strawberry jam that I happen to love it.
Nesting egg. rocket, radish, cashew dressing. Check out this presentation. The coddled egg is set in the crispy nest and is complimented by the zesty salad below.
1989 Château Lynch-Bages. Parker 99+. The 1989 has taken forever to shed its formidable tannins, but what a great vintage of Lynch Bages! I would rank it at the top of the pyramid although the 1990, 2000, and down the road, some of the more recent vintages such as 2005, 2009 and 2010 should come close to matching the 1989’s extraordinary concentration and undeniable aging potential. Its dense purple color reveals a slight lightening at the edge and the stunning bouquet offers classic notes of creme de cassis, subtle smoke, oak and graphite. Powerful and rich with some tannins still to shed at age 22, it is still a young adolescent in terms of its evolution and will benefit from another 4-5 years of cellaring. It should prove to be a 50 year wine.
1970 Bodegas Olarra Rioja Cerro Anon Gran Reserva. 92 points. Surprisingly young. Gorgeous and interesting nose with a slightly weak mid palette and a long pretty sour cherry finish. Most people thought it was some odd pinot noir and had no idea it was so old.
Miso black cod. celeriac risotto, brown butter, charred broccoli. This is an unusual dish. The cod was buried in there between the risotto and the broccoli, which was baked with olive oil and spices. The whole bit was topped with grated nori which enhanced the “sea” factor.
1993 Roagna Barbaresco Riserva. 90 points. It has a soft and inviting nose. The palate is supple and round but with sneaky structure. Roses, some balsam, tar, and savory notes. This is on the muscular side of Barbaresco but with a suppleness and sweetness that draw you in. Fresh and balanced, with good depth, there is no part of this that stands out, but it all comes to a greater whole, and while its no barn burner, it is in a really nice place right now. My only nit to pick is that the tannins may outlive the fruit here. Mid peak and while I am sure this will hold for quite a while, it is in such a nice place right now that I see no reason to hold it for holding’s sake. Lovely.
1990 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia. 92 points. Nose to die for. A wonderfully mature, sleek Barolo with no hard edges and classic flavors of tar, black fruits tree bark. Medium-bodied and pure elegance rather than concentration and power. Lit up like a candle when the pasta wiyh white truffles was served.
Linguini “carbonara.” parmesan, black pepper, egg, smoked mushroom. The quail egg is filled with cheese. Dump and stir and this resolves into a scrumptious combo of smokiness and richness.
Left to right, Sam, Marcel, and Shanti help use liquid nitrogen to whip up an intense, smooth, frozen form of sorbet.
Nitro sorbet. Pomegranate. Tastes just like pomegranate juice — not surprising as that’s its only ingredient!
1998 Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume. 92 points. The nose is gorgeous, lots minerality, slightly oxidative notes of bruised apple, also lemon pith and orange blossom. On the palate it’s sweet and silky but with a tart, zingy acid component. Lovely balance of flavors, part citrus but also with more of the apple, a touch of limestone, and honeyed pear. Lengthy, tapering finish that lasts for a long time. An outstanding wine.
Cheese plate. Not only were all four cheeses great (We made a family outing of tasting — I mean selecting — them at Andrew’s Cheese Shop), but the chefs arranged and decorated to great effect. The plate is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen!
1960 Barbeito Madeira Bual Reserva Velha. Doing it’s intense madeira thing, this wine was an amazing pairing with:
Flourless chocolate cake. coconut lemongrass orb, hazelnut butter, gold. Wow! What a “cake.” The rich chocolate (more like a ganache) paired amazingly with the refreshing and almost Thai-flavored orb, plus the hazelnut just kicked it up.
Mignardises. pate de fruits, macarons, nougat, brigadeiros. I love these little desserts, so we sourced all this stuff ourselves.
Roy Rene Nougat de Provence, flavored with honey and lavender.
Hawaii Pates de Fruits, guava, ginger, and coconut.
Brigadeiros, Brazilian chocolate/dulce de leche deserts in milk chocolate, dark chocolate, vanilla coconut, pistachio, and lime. Sourced from Simply Brigadeiro.
Macarons from ‘Lette Macarons. Chocolate, vanilla, coconut, raspberry, and almond.
Bundt cakes to go from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Can’t have a truly epic dinner without “parting gifts.”
And we even printed up the menus.
The wine damage was significant. 21 bottles for 18 people.
But what was really epic was the length. Nearly 7 hours for dinner! I don’t think all the guests knew what they were in for, but everyone had a fabulous time. Marcel’s cooking was on point and inventive, and no one went home hungry. In fact, the “wafer thin mint” joke was bandied about more than once.