Changing decades is worth celebrating. The core members of my family and friend circles get together at Restaurant Laurent, in the first-floor room that has hosted so many memorable receptions. This dinner has the same organisation as my wine-dinners, so it becomes number 169—the square of a lucky number.
If only the weather allowed it, we would have had the aperitif outside on the terrasse, which has been set for us. But this horrible month of May keeps on freezing us.
In a small lounge next to the large dining room we celebrate with a jeroboam of 1990 Champagne Pommery « Cuvée Louise ». The cork resists and breaks, and has to be pulled out with a corkscrew. And immediately, we are impressed by the generous aromas of this champagne—rich, penetrating, with a heady whiff of orange flowers. In the mouth, it has a lovely maturity and the effect of the size of the bottle can clearly be felt, contributing a certain roundness to this wine of great serenity. It fills the mouth, and gets more voluminous with notes of exotic fruits, producing an infinite drinking pleasure. The shrimp-based spring rolls are a pure delight.
The menu designed by Philippe Bourguignon and Alain Pégouret to complement the wines includes: light lemon mousse and smoked eel, green asparagus / lobster with sage butter sauce / veal shank cooked slowly in its juices, French-style peas / Stuffed morels, smoked bacon / Pan-fried piece of beef, served in strips, homemade puff potatoes, herbal jus / Saint-Nectaire cheese / hot elderflower soufflé.
The Magnum of 1989 Champagne Krug is probably one of the most state-of-the-art expressions of stylish champagne. This wine has an extreme tension. It cracks like a whip but it also has a soft side thanks to its maturity. This is a great champagne of penetrating and infinite length, which delicately benefits from the tingling acidity of the dish. It should be noted that when going back to the Cuvée Louise after a sip of the Krug, the Pommery is undeterred and proves its relevance, simply playing a calmer score.
The 1945 Montrachet Roland Thevenin has a light amber colour which leads me to suggest to my guests that they should taste it carefully, because I am always afraid that people think a wine is maderised when it is actually not. The lobster sauce wipes away any possible misunderstanding, since it propels the Montrachet to heights that the wine would not have reached without it. It is very original, being graceful, slightly smoky and reminiscent of herbal tea, and it creates with the lobster sauce one of the greatest of the many great pairings of this meal.
The 1983 Château Haut-Brion is the epitome of young Haut-Brions. It is of extreme sensitivity, and of the finest texture. Beside it, the 1961 Château Calon-Ségur is seduction incarnate. It is hard to picture such smoothness and charm in a wine. For the whole party, it is clear that the Calon-Ségur dominates, but as time goes by, I come to reckon that the nobility of the Haut-Brion is actually decisive. Both wines are in a quality state of near absolute perfection.
The morels are probably the best I have ever eaten. The 1988 Pétrus is insanely young, rich and moving. The morel is dominant for me but one thing is certain: the Pétrus and morel pairing is the greatest of this meal.
The smell of the 1978 Clos de Tart is like a thunderbolt. It should be given to weightlifters instead of ammonia, to help them face the challenge of Archimedes: « Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the earth! » This lingering fragrance is enchanting. In the mouth, the wine is also penetrating—a true conqueror from Burgundy, an uncompromising invader of unusual strength. It has great noble bitterness and for me it is an accomplished version of these Burgundy wines I adore.
Beside it, the magnum of 1978 Châteauneuf du Pape Domaine de Mont-Redon is of great substance and clarity. But it cannot compete with the enigmatic complexity of the Burgundian wine though, in another context, it would be highly enjoyable.
After the wine from Burgundy, I originally intended to divide the next four reds according to regions. And in the end I dare create raffish pairings for each service and partner a Burgundy wine with one from the Rhône. I am taking a risk because there is, inevitably, a winner and a loser. With the beef, the Clos de Tart is the winner; for the cheese, the 1990 Côte Rôtie « La Mordorée » Chapoutier triumphs. This wine is the George Clooney of aromas: a small miracle of serenity, joie de vivre and completion.
What amazes me most is that I have not managed to encapsulate the 1986 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée Conti. Its aromas are of great subtlety, and its taste showcases the gracefulness of the wines from the domaine. But for some reason I cannot explain—maybe because of the jolly and cheerful atmosphere of the meal—I do not see a spark in this wine. And yet there is nothing wrong with it. This is quite a surprise.
When I opened the wines, the overall olfactory winner—well ahead of the Clos de Tart—was the 1937 Château Roumieu Barsac. Now its aromas are still exceptional, though less powerful than the Clos de Tart’s. It is a wonder of a wine, of a dark brown colour, with hints of tea and of delicate fruit soup. It pairs wonderfully with the elderflower soufflé. There is great emotion in such an unusual and sensual wine.
It is not easy to find a wine or alcohol which is a hundred years old when you look for the 1913 vintage, because it is now extremely hard to come by. However, I have found in my basement a 1913 Marc de Bourgogne Chauvet. The liquid is very white, pale—very youthful. It is of extremely rare complexity for a marc. Of course it has straw-filled-clogs, a peasant side of traditional marc, but with a little something extra. It is rich, complex and appealing. I love it.
The « greatest »—a term used to describe Muhammad Ali—is by far the Bénédictine spirit (circa 1940). I indicate this age, but I would not be surprised if the bottle is actually older. The white liquid that is poured into the glass flows like thick oil. It invades the mouth like a sugary lava flow, bursting with unimaginable myriads of spring flowers. I am mesmerised by this alcohol which reminds me of the finest Tarragone spirits.
Twenty-two people are reunited for this dinner, which makes it impossible to get a vote from everybody. My vote is therefore the only one recorded: 1 – Bénédictine (circa 1940), 2 – 1978 Clos de Tart, 3 – 1983 Château Haut-Brion, 4 – 1961 Château Calon-Ségur, 5 – 1989 Champagne Krug Magnum. Several friends would never have ranked Haut-Brion that high, and would have placed Château Roumieu immediately behind the Clos de Tart—both relevant suggestions.
The best pairings, according to my taste, are: 1 – Pétrus and morels; 2 – The Montrachet and the lobster sauce; 3 – Château Roumieu and the elderflower soufflé.
Amidst a cheerful atmosphere, I am inundated with a flood of gifts. The service of restaurant Laurent is outstanding, the cooking of rare precision. It is a great meal.