This is the departure for London to make two of my dinners in the 67 Pall Mall club where I already had a dinner eight months ago. At the Gare du Nord, nothing moves. I get information on my phone: « all trains are blocked at the Gare du Nord ». Then I hear a loudspeaker saying « no train can leave and we cannot give any information ». Then it’s « the 15:13 train is canceled. We will inform you when we can give you information. » It would seem that it was a catenary that was ripped off by a regional train. Like hundreds of people, I try to change ticket by queuing at the counters of the Eurostar. At the rate of changing tickets at the counter, I could still be there tomorrow. Then arrives an agent who says to a small group: « if you were registered on the train of 15:13, I can put you on the train of 16:13 ». I cling to that hope. My ticket is changed. Then begins a wait, again without explanation. It is only after an hour more that I can embark on the train that remains at the dock. The stress created by the lack of information is intense. Finally the train moves, with 2h30 delay. On landing at Saint-Pancras, life begins to smile again.
A good night’s sleep later, I meet for lunch two American ladies, my friends, accompanied by one of their friends whom I do not know, who will all participate to the first dinner. We’ll have lunch at the Avenue restaurant. The wine list is rather thin. The only real nugget is a Chateau de Pibarnon Bandol 2012. On a Scottish beef tenderloin, the wine is very nice. The second bottle of this same wine is infinitely better, more lively, more typical, evoking the south and the garrigue. Such variation on such a young wine is difficult to imagine. What will happen tomorrow night with wines that have many decades more if such variations occur?
I go to 67 Pall Mall Club at 3:30 pm to open the 207th dinner wines. A journalist from the magazine The Economist had planned to interview me during the opening of the wines and as the quorum of the dinner was not reached, I had announced to him that I invite him to dinner tonight.
Terry Kandylis, the excellent chef-sommelier of the club, has prepared the bottles in the cellar, vertical for two days so that the possible sediments rest at the bottom of the bottles. The space he reserved for me in the cellar to open the wines is very small and the temperature in the cellar is very cold, probably too cold.
The perfumes of the wines are absolutely enthusiastic, with, in the order of the happy surprises, the Guiraud 1893 dazzling and glorious, complex to infinity, the Vega Sicilia Unico 1936, combining red fruits and chocolate of a wild youth and Haut- Brion 1928, with a magnificent red fruit. The only uncertain wine is the Haut-Brion 1961, which needs to hunt scents of dust that do not seem to have to subsist.
The cork that has created the greatest problem is that of Haut-Brion 1928 totally glued to the glass which I was able to extirpate into pieces as an archaeologist who would find the remains of a dinosaur. Other corks disintegrated but everything went out as it should.
It is therefore very confident that we go back, Dan the journalist and me, to the club bar for me to answer his questions. The club proposes five hundred wines by the glass thanks to the intensive use of Coravin, this syringe which allows to pump wine through the cork and to replace it by an inert gas which allows to preserve the wine without any oxidation linked to the sample. Dan will offer me a glass of Bonnes-Mares Domaine Comte de Vogüé 2006 with a nice liveliness followed by a glass of Chambolle-Musigny Domaine Comte de Vogüé 2005 more discreet but still nice to drink even if it is very young and less noble than the previous Grand Cru.
At 6:30 pm, time of the appointment, my American friends all beautiful are of an absolute punctuality. We are quickly seven and the last two give me cold sweats because they had never responded to my emails. When I finally see them arrive, a heavy weight is released and dinner can begin.
While we were waiting for two latecomers on the 207th dinner of wine-dinners at the 67 Pall Mall Club, which made me fear the worst because they were supposed to have paid their participation directly at the club, Terry the sommelier had pulled me by the sleeve to present me to the charming daughter of Corinne Mentzelopoulos, owner of Château Margaux and the son of Paul Pontallier who managed for many years the wines of Château Margaux. This happy encounter is promising others. What a happy surprise! I leave them after exchange of business cards and evocation of rare moments shared with their parents.
We are finally nine in the small room called the library whose glass cabinets of the four walls are overflowing from the floor to the ceiling of prestigious wines. There are four women of whom the three American I know and an English who accompanies a Finnish shareholder of the club. Another English is also a shareholder of the club, an English whose dress evokes the Christmas festivities with representations of the Virgin Mary of Russian inspiration, the journalist Dan and me. For two Americans, it is the fifth dinner they attend, for the Finnish, it is the second. The others are new participants.
The Champagne Brut Imperial Moët & Chandon 1952 is drunk in the library. It is of extreme comfort, warm, wide, showing that it is of age since its taste is that of an already old champagne with a bubble almost nonexistent but a nice active sparkling. It is warm and generous and a warm appetizers in the shape of delicate cromesquis to the discreet taste of white truffle suits him.
We go down into the Saint James room which was reserved for us, beautifully decorated for Christmas with a nice decorated pine tree and table motifs in the same tones. All the glasses are on table with the vintages of the wines inscribed on the feet of the glasses. Terry Kandylis makes a very nice welcome speech.
The menu created by Marcus Verberne the chef of the club’s restaurant is: Canape, Champagne & truffle arancini / Tuna tataki with sesame / Langoustine tartlet / Pan-fried fillet of John Dory with sauteed girolles / Veal sweetbread, crispy bacon, sauce soubise / Roast fillet of venison, pomme dauphinoise, cavolo nero, Chocolate jus / Stilton / Saffron pannacotta with mango.
The Champagne Krug Vintage 1969 when it is drunk alone shows a certain acidity and vivacity much greater than that of the Moët. When you taste raw tuna, the transformation of champagne is spectacular. It widens, loses its acidity to gain in roundness and complexity. It is an extraordinary champagne, full, with an extremely strong personality. It is a pleasure to drink such a lively champagne.
On the vol-au-vent of langoustine, we have two wines that all oppose even if they share the same name. The Corton Charlemagne Eugène Ellia 1993 is romantic, fluid, all in suggestion. Its delicacy charms everyone.
Next, the Corton Charlemagne J.F. Coche Dury 2001 is a bomb. Its nose is of petrol like a wine of the year and in the mouth explodes. It is so powerful but at the same time complex and friendly that I fall under its charm, as it represents the ideal taste of the Corton-Charlemagne interpreted by Jean-François Coche-Dury. When one has the chance to taste this confidential wine in its most accomplished form, one can only love it. The 1993 accord is on the dough of the vol-au-vent while the 2001 agrees with the heavy creamy sauce of the lively and delicious dish.
On the saint-pierre we drink two Haut-Brion, the youngest of whom has been put in the eventual succor of the old one, but the oldest will be the most brilliant. The Château Haut-Brion 1928 comes too cold from the cellar and a little tight. It will take several minutes for him to deliver a delicate velvet. His nose had impressed me in the cellar. It is more contained now, having not found expansion due to the cold of the cellar. When his velvet arrives, he creates with the fish a chord of first size. One feels that the wine is large, but not sufficiently blossomed.
The Château Haut Brion 1961 is an unpleasant surprise. I was expecting an outbreak to come after an uncertain nose at the opening and in fact the scent is dusty, or even a little corky. The wine exists, but we are far from what a 1961 should give since it is a glorious wine in this mythical year. Being extremely sensitive to the performance of my wines that I consider my children, I am a little upset. Fortunately the very good Saint-pierre helps considerably the two wines.
With the excellent sweetbread there is only one wine, the Côte Rôtie La Mouline Guigal 1973. It’s time for a perfect red. The perfume of this wine is of a Burgundian delicacy. The wine is subtle and racy, delicate like a Volnay or a Pommard. We can of course recognize a Rhone wine but with the delicate accents of a fragile year, which suits him perfectly. This wine is of subtle pleasure.
I had told the whole table the joy I had in smelling the Vega-Sicilia Unico 1936 in the cellar and Dan had witnessed it. Also, when Terry first serves me a glass of this wine, I am amazed. The color is that of an earthy water, as if the red was completely depigmented with the red color fallen at the bottom of the bottle. The lower part of the bottle that will be served is actually much darker but these colors are awful. How could this wine which had enchanted me disintegrate thus? The nose evokes chocolate, coffee and alcohol. A guest will find him accents of Madeira and will judge it delicious on the venison. I am appalled and it is a good thing that Dan can testify to what we felt. The wine is drinkable despite its color, but we are far from what I expected.
Fortunately, the Vega-Sicilia Unico Ribera del Duero 1960 has not the slightest sign of a defect. It is a Vega Sicilia at the summit of its glory, pure, full, with the color of a bright red, pigeon blood, opulent and lively. It is a great wine that shines even more due to the blood and tasty character of the cuissot. Despite the performance of two brilliant wines, the 1973 and the 1960, I am not happy enough and find that two sublime out of five, is not enough. And when I’m not happy, my guests notice it, even if I try to make my best smile. The bright 1960 is a real comfort.
The stilton is perfect with just enough fat and bitterness. The 1942 Chateau d’Yquem with very dark color is delicious, very bitter orange peel with a rare distinction and subtleties just suggested. It is a discrete and refined Yquem with infinite length in mouth.
Château Guiraud 1893 is glorious, already by its color which is of a clear mahogany. It looks like a sun as it shines. In the mouth it is the generous exotic fruits that abound. The dessert with the mango lacks a little vivacity but the wine is self-sufficient, perfect and accomplished. It’s a lesson that this 123-year-old wine, lively, young, rich in mango and vibrant beyond all.
It’s time to vote. We are nine to vote for our four favorite and eight wines will appear in the votes which is almost unexpected given the imprecisions of some wines. Five wines will have the honor of being named first, Guiraud 1893 three times, Corton Charlemagne 2001 and Côte Rôtie 1973 twice each, and Yquem 1942 and Vega 1960 once each.
The vote of the consensus, compilation of the votes is: 1 – Côte Rôtie La Mouline Guigal 1973, 2 – Vega-Sicilia Unico Ribera del Duero 1960, 3 – Chateau Guiraud 1893, 4 – Corton Charlemagne JF Coche Dury 2001, 5 – Champagne Krug Vintage 1969, 6 – Chateau d’Yquem 1942.
My vote differs from consensus. It is: 1 – Chateau Guiraud 1893, 2 – Corton Charlemagne J.F. Coche Dury 2001, 3 – Champagne Krug Vintage 1969, 4 – Vega-Sicilia Unico Ribera del Duero 1960.
This is the first time that I find such a large gap between the impression at the opening and the wine that is served. While I wanted to show the journalist the benefits of the « Audouze method », it was far from convincing. The explanation could be that the opening made in a very cold cellar, instead of blossoming the wines tightens them. So I told Terry that for the next dinner I will open the wines in the dining room, as I usually do.
Marcus Verbene made a brilliant menu that we had developed during my visit a month ago, when I came for a vertical tasting of the champagne Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill. Marcus was warmly congratulated and I felt glad to have been able to make a meal so adapted to the wines. The best combination for me is that of the tuna with the Krug 1969, followed by the agreement of saint-pierre with the Haut-Brion 1928. In a cheerful and cosmopolitan atmosphere, with exemplary service and despite some slightly wounded wines, it was a happy and appreciated dinner.
(pictures of this dinner can be seen on the same article in French version) (see just above)