The 275th wine-dinner event, a lunch, is being held at the Plénitude Arnaud Donckele restaurant at the Cheval Blanc hotel in Paris. At 9:30 a.m., I go to the hotel entrance and the porter, like the employees in charge of luggage, says to me « hello Mr. Audouze ». I walk through the front door and the person in charge of reception, whom I already know, says ‘hello Mr. Audouze’. The sommelier not being available yet, I ask this charming lady if I can have a coffee. I go up to the seventh floor where there is a bar and they say ‘hello Monsieur Audouze’.
I will learn later that Alexandre Larvoir, the manager of the Plénitude restaurant had a note with my photo distributed to all the places I could go, which explains why I was recognized. It’s fun and it’s a great idea.
As soon as I can, I start opening the wines and the weather conditions must be strong because many corks give the impression of being swollen to the point that I had to use the Durand corkscrew which combines a classic wick with a bimetal which goes up the corks more easily but which I avoid using because the bimetallic strip tears the edge of the corks which is annoying for my collection of corks.
The 1966 Château Carbonnieux Blanc has a pronounced cork nose and what bothers me is that the cork also smells of cork. I will monitor the evolution of this perfume.
The champagnes open easily but the cap of the Dom Pérignon 1966 breaks into a thousand pieces which is unpleasant and has existed for years.
Even with the Durand, the Chablis Rebourseau and Philippon 1923 cork fell apart. Its scent is promising.
The two Bordeaux have absolutely perfect corks and their flavors are superb, that of Haut-Brion 1929 being divine.
The Echezeaux has a cork entirely surrounded by fat and comes whole. The neck is covered with this grease and I clean it with my fingers which turn black. I had a picture taken of my dirty hand. It’s impressive. But what is incredible is that the perfume of the wine is moving as it expresses what makes the soul of Romanée Conti.
I had to use the Durand for the Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1967 as the cork was difficult to eradicate. It is black on three quarters. The nose is more solid and makes me think of the warrior character of Richebourg more than the subtlety of Romanée Conti, but the wine looks great on the nose diagnosis.
The Rayas 1976 has an engaging fragrance and the Yquem 1967 offers a breathtaking bouquet of scents. Malaga 1872 has a heavy wax that is very hard and difficult to remove. The perfume is a journey into the beyond as the sweet and the dry interlace.
All is well except for the Carbonnieux. Two hours later the cork nose has almost disappeared and shortly before the arrival of the guests there is almost no more fault, but not completely.
Arnaud Donckele comes to greet me and tells me that he wanted to integrate my personality into his creation, which must represent our two visions. The opportunities to put his talent at the service of legendary and ancient wines are rare. He appreciates all the more that we intertwine our intuitions.
Guests are punctual. There will be eleven of us, all of the same gender, and my guests come from three countries, England, Germany and Poland.
I present my dinners that none of the guests have practiced and on delicate appetizers we drink Champagne Krug 1989. It has no more bubbles, its color is a summer wheat gold and its personality is triumphant. It is a great harmonious, balanced and joyful champagne. For my guests it is an opportunity to enter a world they do not know, that of old champagnes.
We sit down to eat. The menu created by Arnaud Donckele from our common reflection is: oyster, caviar, agaric for Gratin ‘champenois’ / rabbit, brocoletti, mousseron for vinaigrette ‘Saint-Saëns’ / white asparagus, green mango, herbs for coulis ‘Narcisse’ / red mullet, baker’s, crocus, for ‘one-eyed’ sabayon / veal, morels, walnut for ‘clavelin’ sabayon / pigeon, giblet, herbs for ‘delicacy’ salmis / emotional memory for ‘orchard balm’ juice.
We see that the word ‘for’ exists in the title of each dish, because the flesh or the solid is at the service – so to speak – of the sauce. When Arnaud comes to see us at some point during the meal, he will say: « start with the sauce ».
Champagne Dom Pérignon 1966 is absolutely divine and its sparkling is more pronounced than that of Krug. I drank this vintage of Dom Pérignon 27 times and in my opinion it is the greatest 1966 that I have drunk. What Grace. So much the Krug is in affirmation, so much the Dom Pérignon is in suggestion. The pairing with the oyster is perfect.
I warned my guests that the Château Carbonnieux Blanc Léognan 1966 had a cork nose when opened, and in the glasses whose top is very narrow compared to the opulence of the shape of the glass, the small residual cork nose is amplified. But on the palate, what remains of the cork nose is insignificant on the palate. I had warned that I could open another white wine but no one was bothered to the point that a guest ranked this wine second in his vote.
The Chablis Supérieur Rebourseau and Philippon 1923 accompanies the Carbonnieux on the rabbit executed in a masterful way. I wanted us to drink a hundred-year-old wine. This Chablis is all about delicacy. He is airy and shows no signs of fatigue. It is not very complex, it is moving. And it creates an agreement with the sauce which is anthological.
One of the guests had said at the beginning of his first contact: « I don’t recognize a Chablis in this wine » and I reassured him because, just as an old champagne is in another world than a current champagne, a century-old Chablis no longer has the characteristics of a young Chablis and what counts is the emotion it provides. Everyone will understand this since this wine will be included in nine out of eleven vote sheets. A success.
I say to my friendly guests: the Musigny Blanc Comte Georges De Vogüé 1989 is a return to the world of wine that you know, since it has all the characteristics of a dazzling young wine. In another meal, he would be a winner, he is so brilliant. But here the attention is more towards old wines. I thought of the Montrachets. This Musigny is more incisive and sharp whereas the Montrachets are broader and opulent. Both are expressions of the absolute excellence of white Burgundy wine. The pairing with the asparagus and its sauce is magical.
An anecdote concerning Ausone 1955 and Haut-Brion 1929 which appear now. When I open the wines a few hours before the meal, I don’t taste, to have a slow oxygenation in its purity. I only feel. During lunch, wines are served by the sommelier. I ask him to serve me the first drops so that I can let everyone know if there is a problem. So I drink before the dish is served. But in my meals, the wines are served after the dish is on the table, so that the guests do not drink a wine with the memory of the previous dish. Wine should be drunk after the first bite of the dish designed for him. To inform the guests, I do the opposite. We had just had the asparagus with a green herb sauce. I taste the wines and the smell is not nice and for both wines their finish is too short. So I inform my guests that both wines might have problems and that I will open another wine if they are not satisfied.
I receive my dish, I drink the wines which have not the slightest problem. Everyone enjoyed it and no one asked me to open another wine. This shows the influence of a dish on wine’s taste.
Château Ausone Saint-Emilion 1955 has a very expressive nose and on the palate the wine is strong, powerful, intense and rich. It is a conqueror with a trace of truffle in the middle of the mouth.
Château Haut-Brion 1929 is all nobility with a certain refinement. Its length is superb. Our table will be split in two, with supporters from Ausone and others from Haut-Brion. If Haut-Brion did not shine as much as that, it is because a small veil of dust reduced the pleasure without masking the message of the wine and its nobility. The guests were happy to see that Bordeaux can reach such riches. And what was their surprise to see that these two wines go well with a fleshy and powerful red mullet.
The Echézeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1957 which had stained my hands has a nose that I love, which expresses the soul of Romanée Conti wines with salt and rose, these markers that I love. What a moving wine.
The Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1967 is solid. Its fragrance is rich and its taste like its nose reminds me of the pride of Richebourg. La Romanée Conti can have this facet. But the grace and dazzling finesse of Romanée Conti are also there. It is a very great wine but my heart will go to Echézeaux. The pairing of the two wines with the veal is very subtle.
Château Rayas Châteauneuf du Pape 1976 is so easy to understand! After four red wines that demand attention, the palate settles into a conformable armchair and listens to a reassuring message, which obviously does not exclude richness and complexity. That’s what the pigeon needed. This wine is great but still quite far from the mythical 1978.
The Château d’Yquem 1967 is splendid. Its fragrance is inimitable. It’s an explosion of scents. I must say that the dessert is absolutely magical and blew me away. We can understand that in a temple that belongs to LVMH we had the opportunity hundreds of times to try perfect pairings with Yquem, but I am still blown away. The 1967 is now more mellowed and plays more on its grace than on its power.
We will see in the votes that my guests, more concerned about entering the unknown world of old wines, will vote less for wines like Rayas or like Yquem because the surprise is less strong.
Alexandre Larvoir tells us that his team will have to prepare the dining room for the dinner that will follow and suggests that we go to the smoking room to taste the Malaga 1872. We therefore voted by drinking the Malaga 1872 which is not part of the wines to be ranked, each voting for their five favorite wines.
Yet the Malaga 1872 deserves our attention, because it combines sweet and salty, sweet wine and dry wine. This kaleidoscopic and confusing complexity is a refined pleasure.
All the wines, without the Malaga, had at least one vote, which makes me happy because each wine was able to be in the top five of at least one voter. Five wines have had the privilege of being named first, Echézeaux four times, Romanée Conti three times, Chablis twice, Krug 1989 once and Rayas 1976.
The ranking of the eleven guests is: 1 – Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1967, 2 – Echézeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1957, 3 – Chablis Supérieur Rebourseau and Philippon 1923, 4 – Champagne Dom Pérignon 1966, 5 – Château Ausone Saint- Emilion 1955, 6 – Château Rayas Châteauneuf du Pape 1976.
My ranking is: 1 – Echézeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1957, 2 – Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1967, 3 – Château Haut-Brion 1929, 4 – Chablis Supérieur Rebourseau and Philippon 1923, 5 – Champagne Dom Pérignon 1966.
What pleases me the most is that Chablis came third. It was ranked in the top five by nine out of eleven diners. That a hundred-year-old wine and Chablis achieve such a performance delights me with ease.
The service is always of the highest quality. Maelys, Anaïs and Marion served us remarkably well. They combine professionalism and beauty. As usual Emmanuel Cadieu made a perfect wine service.
For my taste, the best pairing is rabbit with Carbonnieux and Chablis, then asparagus and white Musigny. The most original is the pairing between the red mullet and the two Bordeaux wines.
Placing the rabbit at the top of the meal and before the red mullet is one of the caprices that I appreciate, because I like breaking the codes, and doing it with the complicity of Arnaud Donckele and above all his talent, it’s a Supreme hapiness.