Sarah, an American from North Carolina, is currently the most assiduous of my dinners. She wants to celebrate the forty years of two of her friends and asked me to propose her a restaurant, without it being obligatorily Parisian. For a long time I dreamed of having dinner with Philippe Mille, the talented chef des Crayères. Opportunity arises, Sarah agrees. As it is the first dinner with this chef, I planned to have lunch the day of the dinner to check some dishes, as I had just done at Belle Epoque House two days ago. My wines had been delivered two days ago because I made a hook by Reims before going to Epernay. I asked that the wines be put up so that I can open them around 16 hours.
At the bar of the hotel Les Crayères I discuss with Philippe Mille and we agree that I will make my comments after lunch. Here is what I found. The three appetizers are delicious. The ham of the Ardennes deserves to be presented in shavings much smaller and the one I ate is too salty. Philippe Mille will seek more tender parts. The chicken is delicious. It is served hot which would be good for a red wine. As it is accompanied by a champagne it is advisable that the dish is warm and not hot. The cooking of the saint-pierre is perfect. We should remove the sabayon which is too dominant next to the fish. Asparagus should be shorter, to avoid tails that are too bitter. The duck is perfect and there is nothing to change. The dessert is a soufflé in which is plunged a spoon that carries a sorbet that will refresh the soufflé. It seems to me that the combination of hot and cold will affect the tasting of the masterful Filhot 1929. It is Philippe who will find the right solution, to put the sorbet on a plate apart.
After this delicious meal, we speak, Philippe and me, of my comments. Mutual understanding is immediate and my suggestions are adopted. Such an open mind is particularly pleasant.
I thought to start the opening of the wines around 15:30 and I gave appointment to the sommeliers. Fatigue has turned my nap into a deep sleep. An angel guardian of my internal clock allowed me to be at 16 hours on foot to open the wines of the 237th dinner.
The White Pavilion of Château Margaux 1979 seems to me to have the richest perfume of the wines of the dinner and we will see that the reality in a few hours will be very different, but I do not know it. The Chablis 80s has a beautiful fragrance. Other scents are promising. I was expecting from Filhot 1929 that it has a thundering nose and it’s quite the opposite. He has a dusty and shy nose. I have no fear, but I do not know how much he will be reborn. A large majority of corks come with sectional breaks. Does time play a role, hygrometry or barometric pressure, I do not know, but these concordances intrigue me more and more.
At 7 pm my guests arrive, all Americans, Boston, North Carolina or Miami. Sarah is the organizer of this group that wants to celebrate the forty years of two women. We are seven of which only two men. It is quite rare that women are so dominant in my dinners.
We have an aperitif on the terrace of the hotel with Champagne Dom Ruinart magnum 1990. The appetizers, a potato cromesquis, a gamba and a preparation made of corn are superb. The champagne is a beautiful color of a light honey gold. The bubble is still active and the champagne is serene, broad, full and balanced. The magnum effect is sensible. This champagne is the first of the class, the one that always has everything good. Its length impresses. Ardennes ham chips blend well with him. We sit down to table and we have the nice table in the alcove of the restaurant room, from where we can see the beautiful garden.
The menu composed by chef Philippe Mille is: chicken and chanterelles, served with a yellow wine sauce / wild knives selected by Jean Marc, creamy cauliflower cooked on the grill, cabbage vegetables iodized caviar / Yeu Island chalk and stone quarries, white asparagus and mushroom emulsion / roast veal, salt-crusted potatoes, crispy nuts / duck from Tilloy Farm and artichokes, cooked with wine of Coteaux de la Montagne Reims / honey and blown tradition of Crayères, pickled grapefruit and candied.
Champagne Mumm Cuvée René Lalou 1979 is powerful and virile, contrasting with Dom Ruinart. He accompanies very well the sweetest parts of chicken. He has a beautiful presence when Dom Ruinart has charm. To choose between the two is not easy because the two play on different registers. On the dish there is a slight advantage to the Mumm whereas in pure charm, Dom Ruinart wins.
The 1979 Château Margaux White Pavilion, which had a scent that led to the opening, now has a cork nose. It is drinkable because the defect in the mouth is very low compared to the defect in the nose, but nothing drives us to continue to drink it because the Chablis Premier Cru Louis Latour (80s) who lost his collar year has powerful aromatic aromas. Chablis as conquering, it is rare. The dish of knives that I had not tasted at noon is exceptional. The expressive, sliced knife is domesticated by caviar, which, like the creamy, enhances the happy wine of this conjunction. The harmony knife and Chablis is superb.
The Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru Domaine Bonneau Martray 1972 is a totally surprising wine that deviates from the usual pattern of Corton-Charlemagne. He is strange and terribly attractive. It is a journey into the unknown with a lot of charm. There are so many things in this wine that separate us from Chardonnay that I listen to it religiously to try to impregnate it. There are evocations of tea, green and gray vegetables, but at the same time there is a particular vivacity and well-controlled acidity. We cannot speak of default, because the wine is excellent. But it’s off-piste. He will be third in the group vote and fourth for me, which confirms its interest.
The Château Mouton Rothschild 1979 is a wonderful surprise. We must quickly forget that it is 1979 because it seems born in a great year. Richness and subtlety, romance and affirmation, this wine is rich and noble. He is so reassuring. He has the soul of Mouton.
On the veal of a rare sweetness, it is associated with the Beaune Grèves Vine of the Child Jesus Bouchard Father & Son 1962. This wine is rich, dense, almost roasted as it is concentrated. He even gives suggestions – in traces – of coffee and chocolate that are not his markers. It is very well refocused by the sweetness of the veal chews. It is atypical but I put it in my vote, because I have a weakness for the Beaune Grèves Vine of the Child Jesus of which I have witnessed over more than 150 years.
We will live now an anthology agreement. The duck is like lacquered with a thick cream and we recognize chocolate notes in this delicious ointment. The Vega Sicilia Unico Réserve Especial bottled in 1992 is usually composed of three or four years but that of 1992 is only two years, two large, 1970 and 1972. Rich and at the same time very fresh, it has notes of chocolate that are strictly those of duck and small sketches of coffee. By some notes, the Spanish wine cousin with the wine of Beaune. The fresh finish of Vega Sicilia Unico is exceptional and the agreement is unique.
Before the dessert two candles are presented to both persons celebrating and blown for their birthday.
At the opening, the Chateau Filhot Sauternes 1929 had surprised me by its discretion and a nose slightly dusty. In service, all that has disappeared. The wine has a powerful and noble fragrance. It is complex with notes of exotic fruits. Rich and seductive, its color is almost black. It is not thundering like some Sauternes, because it is in the soul of Filhot to play the finesse more than the affirmation. The honey and grapefruit soufflé and the delicious sorbet that we taste separately are naturally complicit with the great Sauternes.
It’s time to vote. We are seven and we are voting for our five favorite among nine wines. All the wines had votes, except of course the White Pavilion corked. Three wines were named first, Filhot four times, Corton Charlemagne twice and Vega Sicilia once. The Filhot appeared on the 7 voting sheets and Corton Charlemagne and Vega Sicilia appear on 6 voting sheets.
The consensus ranking is: 1 – Château Filhot Sauternes 1929, 2 – Vega Sicilia Unico Réserve Especial put in bottle in 1992, 3 – Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru Domaine Bonneau du Martray 1972, 4 – Château Mouton Rothschild 1979, 5 – Champagne Dom Ruinart magnum 1990, 6 – Champagne Mumm Cuvée Rene Lalou 1979.
My vote is: 1 – Vega Sicilia Unico Réserve Especial put in bt in 1992, 2 – Château Filhot Sauternes 1929, 3 – Chablis Premier Cru Louis Latour (90s), 4 – Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru Domaine Bonneau du Martray 1972 ; 5 – Beaune Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus Bouchard Père & Fils 1962.
All dishes were perfectly adapted to the wines. The most beautiful agreement is that of the duck with the Vega Sicilia. The most innovative dish for my taste is that of knives, well accompanied by Chablis. The service was of high quality and the cooking of the chef of very high level. Pleasing my friend Sarah and her guests was my goal. I believe it has been achieved. Her loyalty to my dinners is impressive.
As I was leaving the table with my guests who are going back to their hotel, who do I see, Peter, a Scotsman crazy fan of champagnes with whom I shared extraordinary champagnes. There are five of them at their table, all young in their late 30s or early 40s, and have just drunk five Salon champagnes and five Krug Clos du Mesnil champagnes, lined up on a console. They kindly offer me to taste the Champagne Krug Clos du Mesnil 1990 that I find a little unbalanced and Champagne Krug Clos du Mesnil 2002 that I find noble and superb, a great champagne. Tomorrow they will make the same comparison between the two houses Salon and Krug but with other vintages at the Assiette Champenoise of Arnaud Lallement. They offer me to join them. I refuse, because the concentration of meals over three days is already excess. Whatever the temptation to taste wonders with them, all good things come to an end.
(see pictures in the article in French below)