The 228th Wine-Dinners Dinner is held at the Akrame Restaurant. I had seen the chef a dozen days ago to develop the menu with him. The wines had been delivered a week ago and put standing up, in cabinets at a good temperature, the day before by Benjamin.
I almost never do dinners with theme on a region, a year or a domain because what interests me is to make « real » dinners, whose theme is the dinner itself. The 150th dinner featured twelve wines from 1947. It was the only time. The desire took me for this dinner to put only 1978 wines, thinking that if it is true that « when we love we are still 20 years old », why cannot we say that « when we love we always have 40 years » ? As we are eleven instead of ten I added a wine to the program that had been given to the registration of each. By caprice, I added a 1979 instead of a 1978, to escape the constraint of an intangible rule.
When the day arrives, a Norwegian journalist who is attending the dinner is present at 5 pm so that Nina, the photographer who accompanies him, can photograph the opening operation of the wines. At this time when we are almost mid-October, it is 26 ° and a beautiful sun shines. Three of the corks tend to sink as soon as I prick the tirebouchon. I have a little uncertainty about the perfume of Ausone 1978. The three exceptional perfumes are those of Chambertin, Hermitage and Yquem.
In the very narrow room, the table reserved for us is all in length, according to a plan where the number of seats for each side of the rectangle is: 5 – 1 – 5 – 0. Such a plan in length will create three zones of discussion, one wing, the other and the center. As it is interesting that everyone speaks with everyone, why not use the tables that are in the yard to create a much more square table that will be according to a plan: 4 – 2 – 3 – 2. It looks like the construction of the game plan of a team of football but this is the number of seats per side of the rectangle of the table. Benjamin looks at the weather on his smartphone and there is a 30% chance of rain. Benjamin says, « if it is 30% you can take the risk ». So we set the table with four glasses for each place, and the first drops of rain fall. In the yard there is a large sunblind and two large umbrellas. These three shelters do not cover the table and the seats. Chief Akrame arrives and says « dinner inside ». But the shape of the inside table is frankly dissuasive. Benjamin looks again at the weather with Alissa and the waiter Marc who will do a high quality service of the dishes and also the wines and he says to us: «it is the last cloud seen from the sky, and after this cloud there will be an open sky. » The temptation is great to have dinner outside. But to be sure that everyone is safe under the blinds of insufficient surfaces, it is necessary to rotate the table by 90 °, which will better protect our heads. So the staff has to clear the table and furbish it again. The involvement of the restaurant team is exceptional. While the whole team of the restaurant works I see another weather forecast opened by one of the guests arrived in advance which indicates: « from 20h to 23h, rain ». Change again is no longer possible. We will be in the yard.
Our table is particularly cosmopolitan. There is the Norwegian journalist, a Dutch friend who lived in London and settles in Paris, an American globetrotter who lives in Oregon, an American of Indian origin who lives in California with his American friend, a German of Israeli origin living in London and there are five French. It promises a nice atmosphere.
The aperitif was planned standing but the fine rain also prohibits this. The presentation of the dinner is done while we sit. I had opened an hour before the meal Champagne Dom Perignon 1978 and very curiously a black liquid dirty my hands when I took off the cloak, and the cap itself broke when I shot it to open it. It is with a tirebouchon that I extracted it, without appearance of pschitt. Such a presentation of the bottle should not exist for a champagne of this age. In the mouth, the champagne is pleasant, without being thundering. It has no defect but it does not have enough personality. I said to Akrame for the appetizers « you do what you want, no limit to your creativity ». That’s what he did because we have both eel and red fruit and grapefruit flavors. Everything is nice to nibble.
Chef Akrame Benallal’s menu is: lightly smoked scallop carpaccio fine foie gras leaf / lobster tail and riso’huitre ‘/ marinated eel sauce raspberry matelote / roasted pigeon leaf and fig / fillet and simmered prune prawn almond and pomegranate juice / raw Stilton / avocado grapefruit.
Champagne Mumm Cuvée Rene Lalou 1979 is the intruder of this dinner because of its vintage. It is accompanied on the dish of Saint-Jacques by a Verzellino Pino Zardetto Italy 1978. This wine is the ‘infantryman’ of this meal, Italian table wine that is unknown to me. At the opening his nose was delicately sweet while it is a dry wine. In the mouth it has a sweet discreet and what surprises me is the strong impression of coffee in the finale of the wine. Despite everything, it has little to tell. Champagne has a much more consistent and lively message. I really like this Mumm.
While we dine, the rain is doubling by force. When there is a cloth awning that has a slope, the water flows. And where does it flow? On the shoulder of one of the guests. His neighbor table sponge canvas as does the healer of a boxer between rounds, and I feel helpless since it is excluded that we rebuild the table elsewhere.
Akrame had then planned langoustines but those he received appeared to him of insufficient quality so he chose to make the dish with lobster, absolutely delicious. A particularly gourmet guest noticed that ‘riso’ was calibrated for langoustine more than for lobster, which did not prevent the dish from shining on two beautiful white wines.
The Côtes du Jura white Maison des Vignerons 1978 is slightly cloudy but it does not affect the taste is splendid. It is a sunny and lively Jura white which has many similarities, notably the acidity, with the other white, the Château Haut Brion Blanc 1978. This wine is magnificent of complexity and it plays with happiness. The difference in nobility, in favor of Bordeaux is mainly on the final, particularly affirmed. This Haut-Brion is big.
Now comes the dish and the agreement that has excited me the most. The eel is divine and the trace of raspberry canaille. The Château Bel-Air Canon Fronsac 1978 is happy and without complex. He asserts himself bravely in front of his neighbor. The Chateau Ausone 1978 made me a little scared because the attack has a slight nose cap. But the finale shows that the taste is not affected at all. At times, I had flashes of the nobility of Ausone, but overall the wine did not give the best of itself. It must be said that as we are in October, the 26 ° of the afternoon fade very quickly, and it is really cold now. And since the wines are served cold, their performances are restrained.
A friend has changed places to not be wet anymore. The Dutch friend conscientiously rinses the water flowing from the treacherous cloth, the rain is strong and all this starts to get on my nerves. So I take the floor to say that the whole table will be invited to another dinner in the spring, for which I will bring all the wines, because I cannot stand that my guests cannot drink the wines in the best conditions. A present guest who is from a group of champagne houses announces that he will welcome this future dinner. Promise is made that this dinner will take place.
Thereupon the rain stops, which does not cancel my promise, and we are now entering a second part of the meal where everything becomes miraculous. On the pigeon with the perfect taste to which the fig does not bring much, the Chambertin Clos de Bèze Armand Rousseau 1978 is at the peak of his grace. It is Burgundy brought to the gustatory firmament. What a treat.
The doe in two services accompanies two Rhone wines also at the top of their glory. The Chateau de Mont-Redon Châteauneuf du Pape 1978 that I know well, is generous, simple but flamboyant. It is the quiet force, serene.
L’Hermitage La Chapelle Paul Jaboulet Aîné 1978
is certainly the best of this wine and this year that I have drunk. It is now reaching an obvious fullness. It is much more complex than Mont-Redon, with accents very similar to those of the Burgundy wine in terms of complexity.
As often, I indicate the procedure that must be adopted to create a superb harmony between the stilton and the Château d’Yquem 1978. The stilton is first quality and the Yquem is a perfect achievement. It’s the Golden Boy of Wall Street.
The dessert is not quite suitable for Sauternes so it finds its way with Champagne Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1978 which opens with a beautiful pschitt and is powerful and typed. It is a divine surprise for the Champagne men of our dinner.
The last five wines made it possible to finish this dinner with fanfare as the votes will show since eleven people voted for the four best wines out of a total of 44, of which 36 went to the last five wines, which is more than 80%.
In total, nine out of twelve wines had votes and among them only four had first votes. The Chambertin Clos de Bèze Armand Rousseau 1978 had five first votes, the 1978 Yquem had four first votes, Ausone and Mont-Redon had a first vote.
The vote of the consensus of these 1978 would be: 1 – Château d’Yquem, 2 – Chambertin Clos de Bèze Armand Rousseau, 3 – Hermitage La Chapelle Paul Jaboulet Aîné, 4 – Château de Mont-Redon Châteauneuf du Pape, 5 – Champagne Veuve Clicquot The Grande Dame, 6 – Château Ausone.
My vote is: 1 – Chambertin Clos de Bèze Armand Rousseau, 2 – Champagne Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, 3 – Hermitage La Chapelle Paul Jaboulet Aîné, 4 – Château de Montredon Châteauneuf du Pape.
What to say about this meal? First, the variety of origins and backgrounds of all guests contributed to the quality of the exchanges. Then braving the elements as on a frail tub gave the spice to the experience, putting us in danger permanently. Adrenaline was rising, especially for me because I was boiling to see that we did not taste the wines in the best conditions. It would have been necessary for the ambient temperature to be four or five degrees higher and the wines one or two degrees more for it to be ideal, and that made me sad. Then it is clear that the chef Akrame has a brilliant talent and that the culinary audacity he takes is justified. Then again that the service of wines and dishes can not be provided by one person even if Marc was efficient and clever. Then again, that if global warming is a reality, we must know not to brave the elements.
Finally, that the emails I received from everyone after dinner show that this crazy adventure was lived as a rare moment of friendship and that everyone wants to start again. There are only good memories.
So, if we have to give a title to this dinner, to paraphrase Gene Kelly, it will be: « drinking in the rain« . And the compensation dinner, I commit myself, will be held indoors, whatever the climate of the moment.
(the pictures are in the article in French, just below)