There is just one year I organized the 187th of my dinners in London. A journalist from the Financial Times who attended made a glowing article in the supplement to his diary: « How to Spend It. » He suggested that a new dinner should be made in a club of amateurs of wines, the « Club 67 Pall Mall ». He created the link between the club and me and after sometimes incredible adventures, the dinner was set up.
The founder of the club having announced that dinner for its members, one of them with whom I correspond by mail, unable to attend the dinner, wondered if we could have lunch together during my stay. I planned to lunch at the club on the eve of the 198th dinner to be held in this place, to see if the way of cooking of chef Marcus Verberne is compatible with the needs of older wines. It is therefore possible to access his demand. He tells me that he will bring many old wines and I brake his ardor because tonight I have dinner with many wines, the day before the dinner in this club.
Leaving the Eurostar I go directly to the 67 Pall Mall club where I am greeted with a rare kindness and broad welcoming smiles. Bottles of the dinner will be filed in the cellar and I already explained to sommeliers conservation guidelines and service of my wines. I ask the chef to make us the menu of his choice that would give a good idea about his treatment of the dishes. We will be three for Jordi, the person who wanted to have lunch with me, is accompanied by a London wine merchant.
Judgments on the cook will not be on the head of talent but the value on the adequacy to ancient wines. Monkfish croquettes are perfect for an aperitif. Razor clams with chorizo are to be avoided because the chorizo is dominant, own to stifle wines, lobster Thermidor is perfect, the sweetbreads with morels need not peas. Pork is tasty. When considering what we did after the meal, we saw that this pre-meal was needed to refine the presentations, but the adjustments will be easy to make. The desire to cooperate between the chef and me is obvious. The climate is ideal.
My unknown correspondent other than by mail brought a Bâtard-Montrachet Owner Etienne Maroslavac 1969 bottled by Alexis Lichine . The color of wine is extremely young, the one of a very blond wheat. The wine has a lovely lemony acidity, a sign of youth. It has a pretty bold. There is a bit of beeswax but that is not a problem. The wine is very pleasant.
The Ruchottes-Chambertin Thomas Bassot 1947 is corked. One feels in the mouth a good material but the cork is there and the wine disappears gradually.
Jordi, my correspondent, wonders if he opens his reserve wine and after reflection it is what is decided. But the Château Palmer 1937 offers a nose of an unpleasant vinegary. The case is closed, it is a bad day for this new friend. The smell of wine improves an hour later but the taste will remain hopeless.
To compensate, Thomas, the friend of Jordi orders Sassicaia 1996 by the glass. It has a very rich nose of black fruit, palate of black fruits and offers a pleasant velvet. It is a very fine wine. There is a small metallic taste. Does it comes from Coravin system, it should be to check.
I brought a bottle of a beauty that moves me. This is a Château Chalon of producer unknown 1934 half bottle. The label states « Chateau Chalon » without any other text, which suggests that this is a wine of merchant labeling and a glass medallion engraved on the bottle also indicates Chateau Chalon. The bottle is beautiful and the wine is of a rare youth. The nose is extremely powerful, intense, rich, suggesting a strong yellow wine. The palate is softer and sweeter than the nose. It is a wonder, an endless aftertaste, and I invite the founder of the club, Grant Ashton, come drink with us. He is very amiable, enterprising. He exhibits his club five hundred wines that can be tasted by the glass, using the technique of Coravin replacing air with an inert gas that keeps opened bottles of wine. This figure is amazing.
Grant will get a bottle. I see it as a 1947 Château Cheval-Blanc with a plastic cape. While Grant wanted us to show that we judge if the label seems genuine, I thought he offered us to taste. I therefore thank him to react as a prince pouring a glass for us.
The label examined by Jordi is likely to be authentic because the label paper, printing and grainy are reassuring. On the palate the wine shows every sign of being of this time. I do not really feel the taste of Porto so characteristic of this wine, but despite a lack of energy, everything tells me it must be a true Cheval Blanc 1947. The recent 47 Cheval Blanc that I have tasted had signs of weakness. This one seems to be in continuity.
Club 67 Pall Mall is located in a beautiful building. The dining room is on the ground floor of the building with light wood decorations but the eye is drawn to the countless windows where lie prestigious wines of the finest appellations. Grant, probably with some accomplices, has invested huge sums to offer enthusiasts a cozy place where you can bring your wine, drink without eating or eating. It emerges from this place a friendly atmosphere of the best effect.
The day after, after a crazy dinner of 11 wines for six persons, it is time for my dinner.
The 198th dinner is held at 67 Pall Mall Club, a club of amateurs of wines in London. Events are common and as an example, tonight as we keep dinner of ten people in a pleasant lounge, Richard Geoffroy, the man of Dom Perignon, will host a dinner on the theme of Dom Perignon P2 (second plenitude), for thirty members of the club. I will visit him in the great room assigned to his dinner and Richard wil come visit us and bring a wine that we will add to our program.
At 4 pm I open wines, observed by Terry, head sommelier of the place, who will do an absolutely outstanding job. The nose of Cheval Blanc 1961 is surprisingly discreet and nose of the Arche 1914 is to die for as it is incredibly captivating. I thought the bottle was refilled because the level is in the neck but it is clear that the cork is original. No wine worrying me, I await the guests who are almost all unknown to me in the beautiful bar and club room of the restaurant, with Tom, the reporter by which the contact was created with the club.
I rarely had my dinner with such a cosmopolitan meeting because we will count a Norwegian, a Finnish, a South African, an Irish, three English, a woman with Chinese and Australian origin, one French and me. All are members of the club except the French, his English friend he invited and me. Not knowing anyone except my faithful friend French who attended 12 dinners and Tom, I introduced myself and explained the philosophy of my dinners. After these explanations, we go to dinner.
The rectangular table with four out of every length and one at each end makes it difficult for common discussions and as it is natural, three or four small discussion groups are formed.
The menu composed by Chef Marcus Verberne is: crumbed monkfish medallions with mayonnaise / Smoked Inverawe sea trout on blini & salmon caviar / Pan-fried hand-dived Isle of Mull scallops with mashed potatoes and garlic butter / Lobster Thermidor flight wind / Pan -fried lamb’s sweetbreads with morels / Roasted squab pigeon with buttered spring greens / Fresh mango / Orange Madeleines.
The work session that we had yesterday with Marcus had beneficial effects and the chef has proved inspired and adapted dishes to the old wines.
I had to explain that in my dinners wine is conceived with the dishes that is assigned to it and the first champagne gives a spectacular display. I explained that wine is served only when the dish is served, but as we were thirsty Champagne Krug Vintage 1979 was served while we had nothing to eat. The champagne appears older than it should be, a little tight and strict. The croquettes monkfish arrive and save the champagne, dashing, toned, bright and racy as 1979 must be. This dramatic transformation hit all the guests.
Then we have two champagnes served together. Champagne Dom Perignon 1959 is all in suggestion, elegant and romantic but able to show some power. But the Champagne Pol Roger 1947 is a monster of vivacity and energy. He slams like a young champagne glaringly. I point out to my guests having two simultaneously as mythical champagnes and who show by their better days is a rare privilege. For some it is an absolute discovery and my table neighbor, South African, who had never drunk champagne of more than twenty years is dazzled as he discovers a world that was foreign to him.
I spoke at length of my wine opening method which also benefits the young wines even if designed for old wines and wine following will give a vivid demonstration. For the Montrachet Bouchard Père & Fils 2000, if it had been decanted instead of being opened with slow oxygenation, would never give this serenity, this subtle and brilliant achievement. This Montrachet is indeed in a state of impressive grace. This is the quiet strength. This wine is a reassuring fullness focusing its message on fun, lemony acidity being joyful.
Both Bordeaux come together. The Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1945 balance and the strength of a 1945 wine is particularly expressive and convincing. This is not the case of Château Cheval Blanc 1961. At the opening, it is the only wine that posed a problem for me as its perfume was discreet or almost extinct. On the palate, the wine lacks strength. So, as I found that the capsule is a capsule bottler and as the cork has nothing printed, it is quite easy to wonder if the wine is the original Cheval Blanc. I informed nobody of my doubt and I did well because I myself serve the dregs of the bottle and I then with striking evidence I had the true value of Cheval Blanc 1961. It was so striking that I lend my glass to the charming Chinese and Australian guest who has always rejected the lies when she drinks wine. She does not believe that the wine can transcend at this point. If that binds reassures me about wine, it is clear that this Cheval Blanc did not match my expectations.
We discussed around the table on the order of serving wine, that I always use, Bordeaux before Burgundy. This choice is not shared by all, and Henri Jayer Echezeaux 1984 will get everyone to agree on the accuracy to proceed in this order because this wine is dazzling charm and subtlety. This is a great wine from Henri Jayer, one of the very best of the ones I drank, made by this magician. The wine is incredibly bourguignon with subtleties, bitter that play with the palate. It is incredibly seductive but plays to put you in a puzzle. It is a wine that I love at the highest point.
When Terry, the sommelier who will work a high level throughout the meal, serve me the first drops of Echezeaux Joseph Drouhin 1947, I said, this wine smells like cheese. It’s so strange that I smell the glass of my neighbor to see if this is not the glass that is in question. But no, it is the wine that has that smell. The material of the wine is rich but the pronounced scent limits pleasure and I’m sensitive. A guest had not to be influenced by the odor since this will be the first wine of his vote.
Richard Geoffroy who joined us and a charming sommelier pouring everyone a glass of Champagne Dom Pérignon rosé P2 1995, we can notice that at this stage of the meal, the presence of this sensual but conquering champagne is possible. Call it a break in a story. While so far all the dishes have agreed to wine, the sweetbreads do not shine because of a too sharp sauce. It is advisable to drink sublime Echezeaux Jayer having calmed one’s palate.
With the Vega Sicilia Unico 1970 we are on land that all diners know because this wine is incredibly young. It is 45 years old and we would give it less than ten. It is stunning with lovely notes of coffee and a perfect minty finish. It is a frank and happily delicious wine.
Both Sauternes are served together and I’m struggling to focus on the Château d’Yquem 1985 for I am struck by the scent of Château d’Arche 1914 Crème de Tête. At the opening it was amazing with a bouquet wildflowers as would a Chartreuse. This impression is still alive now but the scent paralyzes me. I tell my guests at my 4th dinners we had remained frozen to the scent of a Suduiraut 1928 which forbade us to drink as flavorings, such as rattlesnakes, tetanized us. The emotion is the same with the wine of an incredible seduction in thousand perfumes with the image I form small grains of sugar soaked in red fruit that we would throw in the air as we throw rice grains on a just married couple. This wine is fascinating exceptional charm and taste is that of a sauternes up nicely distributed to exotic fruits.
Returning to the Yquem, I am surprised that it is so charming, full, happy and fat in the mouth. The older 1914 did not kill the young by its perfection. It even highlights it. Mangoes in pure slices work well with Yquem and I had a winning idea by asking Marcus to make madeleines with candied orange. The combination with the Château d’Arche is to die for. What a journey with this surprisingly sensual 1914!
Now we need ten participants to vote. They will vote for the best 4 wines for them. Seven wines were included in the rankings which is a good result. Even best is that five wines have at least a first vote: the Château d’Arche four times first, the Pol Roger and wine of Henri Jayer two times first and the Montrachet and the Echezeaux Drouhin once first.
The classification of consensus would be: 1 – Chateau d’Arche Crème de Tête 1914, 2 – Champagne Pol Roger 1947, 3 – Henri Jayer Echezeaux 1984, 4 – Vega Sicilia Unico 1970, 5 – Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1945.
My ranking is: 1 – Chateau d’Arche Crème de Tête 1914 2 – Echezeaux Henri Jayer 1984 3 – Champagne Pol Roger 1947 4 – Vega Sicilia Unico 1970.
What about the dinner? I discovered yesterday that club that I did not know. I met the chef yesterday for the first time and this is having lunch I studied his art of cooking. I hardly know anyone among the guests and the staff of the place. This leap into the unknown is a success. Grant said, « you are at home here, » the guests said, « when will be the next? « .
Terry made a high-class wine service, Marcus has adapted its cuisine to the requirements of the old wines. This 198th dinner was a great success.
(pictures of this dinner are in the article just below, in French)