One of the participant of this dinner translated my report. Here is the story of the 157th dinner :
An American I meet every year during the presentation of the wines of Domaine de la Romanée Conti asked me to host his wine club during one of my dinners. And he added: « no claret, and a majority of red. »
At 5:30 pm I am hard at work at restaurant Laurent to open bottles in the order of the service. To please this group, when there were already two wines of Domaine de la Romanée Conti, I added another bottle of the estate, a “low level” one, which was ready to drink. Unfortunately, I found that the color of the liquid changed since I put it in a case a week ago. The reason is simple: the cork must have fallen into the liquid during transport from my cellar and the restaurant. The Grands-Echezeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1956 that I tasted was a possible option, but unfortunately the verdict is final. This wine is dead . I asked Ghislain to bring it so that we could taste it at the table, but recommending we spit out after we tasted it. But this alternative raised with my guests will not materialize: Why hurt yourself when you drink so well? I planned two back up wine and then begins the “opening ceremony”.
The cork of Chambolle-Musigny Chanson Père & Fils 1955 breaks into a thousand pieces. The smell is uncertain. We will see. When I remove the capsule from the La Tache Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1983, a strong stench assailed my nostrils. It is a decay that has occurred through the small hole that exists at the top of the capsule. Fortunately, only the top of the cork is full of white mold. The rest is impeccable and the wine has this delicious smell of the domaine .
The cork of Echézeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1989 is perfect and the flavor too. Who would say that the cork of Clos de Vougeot 1961 Bouchard Pere & Fils is much longer than the Echézeaux? I would never have bet. The corks of both 1961 comes out uneventfully, and the scents are pure and perfect. The 1947 cork comes out in shreds. One of the bottle that may be 1900 is black as sludge.
The cork of the Gevrey-Chambertin of 1949 Lavoyepierre, a Négociant, breaks away. It is soft and the wine is very promising. Sauternes from 1964 has a heavy fruit flavor, one can die for, and the Sparkling Champagne Moët & Chandon is an enigma because the name « Sparkling » disappeared in the early 20th century. In view of the label so “new”, I thought about the year 1980, but after tasting I would say 1950, and with hindsight it could be much older!
Premières Côtes de Bordeaux has a delicate fragrance. Doubt exists only for 1955. Other wines have flavors consistent with my expectations. I am serene.
We are ten around the table, ten “males” including eight Americans, one Frenchman and myself. They are all passionate about wine but do not have much experience in old wines. They will go from surprise to surprise.
In the lobby rotunda of the restaurant we are eating delicious snacks, and start tasting a wine that is a first for me. This is a Sparkling Champagne Moët & Chandon (« mousseux ») which has lost its millesime label but I believe it is around around 1950. I thought it was in the early 80’s but looking at the cork again and the incredible color, it is very likely that the champagne is more around 1950. It is a mahogany color, it does not bubble, and it takes hard work to imagine its sparkling nature, because it almost disappeared. In the mouth, I think I never drank champagne like this. It feels more like a muscat. This champagne is absolutely delicious, and with fried fritters, it is a joy. I relish this sweet wine, sweet, that would be classified more as a late harvest than a Champagne. A treat.
We sit down to eat in the beautiful dining room. The menu created by Alain Pégouret is well organized: Merlan Fritters with Tartar Sauce / Roasted Lobster with sage butter, peas, light bisque / patty calf’s head served warm with mustard sprouts and condiments / Pigeon just smoked and roasted , pissaladière of young vegetables, hot sauce / browned piece of beef into strips and served, soufflé potatoes « Laurent » herbal juices / veal sweetbreads with golden necklace, morels / shortbread tart citrus / coffee, sweets and chocolates.
Our Champagne Bollinger RD 1988 creates a major shock after the Moët. We feel we’re committing infanticide as it seems too young compared to the other one we just had. It is good, but the strength of its bubble seems excessive after the gentler « sparkling » Moët. The lobster is delicious but does not go well with the champagne.
My guests have little experience of very old wines, I did a lot of prior recommendations to them not to judge too quickly. So when we start to drink the Chambolle-Musigny Chanson Père & Fils 1955, the Frenchman in the group sends me a look that speaks by itself which I read: “You did well to warn us, as these wines are very different”.
It was in fact based on the scent of the wine, with a strong “animal” flavor, which announces a certain tiredness. But the taste of wine is completely opposed to its smell. No trace of animal flavor or old age and to the contrary, the wine is crisp, deep, and very rich. This wine is excellent and the Frenchman and author of the “stare” will be particularly fair play later in the dinner. After this somewhat quick judgment, he will vote for this wine in first place. This is quite elegant!
The Chapelle-Chambertin 1976 Clair Daü is a pleasant wine, lighter than the 1955, « on his own » as they say, but that does not create so much emotion. The meal is superb for both wines.
We now have two wines of Romanee Conti domaine , opposite to each other. The La Tache, Domaine de la Romanée Conti Romanée Conti 1983 is 100% typical of DRC. Who would say that 1983 is a mediocre year? This wine has all the attributes of DRC wines. I tell one of the guests that this wine has both of the two characteristics of DRC wines: rose and salt. And he lights up as if I had given him the keys of an enigma. This La Tache is brilliant.
The Echezeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1989 is its opposite. This is a strong warrior, standing up straight. This is a wine that goes into force, strong, powerful, with quiet strength. It is nice but does not have the character of the nobility and the finesse of the La Tache . The pigeon is a marvel and gets along equally well with both wines.
We have now two wines from 1961 in front of us. Clos de Vougeot Bouchard Pere & Fils 1961 is solid as the wines of Bouchard and magnified by this sublime year, but I confess my heart is balancing between the Chambertin Clos de Bèze Pierre Damoy 1961 which I know extremely well and is always exceptionally charming. In it nothing is excessive. All is fair. This is the easy wine, gourmet “par excellence”, the archetype of Burgundy pleasure. I do not sulk! The accord with the red meat is superb.
The meat pulses and propels both 1961 to heights of wealth and good life.
We are now entering the unknown. The bottle without a label, holds around its neck a little white string with a handwritten card that indicates Cotes de Nuits 1947. The winemaker is unknown. I love these bottles which are often puzzles and make me a hundredfold faith I had in them. Here it will be miraculous, because this wine is the first of my vote. How to describe this wine? It is rich, it is clean. It is probably from fairly modest origin, but it has a purity of message, a fruit with fluid, well made, which delights me with joy. We are not here in the top rated wines, with pedigree of competition. It is rather a joyful and festive one. This natural force is what I like in Burgundy.
Next to this unknown wine is also a mystery bottle. The glass is opaque, covered with earth on a part, and what is not is iridescent, as it happens for bottles that have long been on or in the earth, the glass marked by the soil acidity. The black cork pushed down and dusty could indicate a 19th century bottle.
As a precaution, I named this wine “very old Burgundy circa 1900”. There, my guests are in full discovery and realize that wines over a century may be very much alive. This original wine is difficult to define, but it is honest, a little affected by age and of great interest. It is a Côte de Nuits, almost certainly.
I added the Gevrey-Chambertin of 1949 Lavoyepierre, because I couldn’t resist trying it after looking at its charming label showing a scene in a medieval castle in beautiful color and perfect wine. And I was right as is shown in my and my guests’ ranking of wines. This wine is a beautiful burgundy — frank, cheerful, in an exceptional state of preservation. The purity of his message is extreme.
In this burgundy , largely unknown, discovery dinner, either because they have no label, as for the assumed 1947 and 1900, or either because they are wines of negociants whose names are unknown to me, I am happy to take risks that turn out to be winners, as these wines are frank, natural, simple, readable, but greedy, sunny and reassuring.
I was so pleased with the performance of my « guest students » that I did not suggest that we try the Grands-Echezeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1956, which will be poured into the closest sink.
I have no memory of the third wine added; Chateau Haute-Sage 1st Côtes de Bordeaux 1960 # which I had brought after the bottled blinked at me in my basement. I love these wines sort of « foot soldiers », but at the time of writing, I don’t remember anything about it.
The 1964 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey will be enough to make me happy because I love this very solid wine, greedily fruity, heavy fruit and generous botrytis. This is great sauternes atop of its petulance. What a pity Yquem has not bottled in 1964 when we see the richness of this amazing Sauternes.
The voting time is always interesting. Ten out of thirteen wines have been voted for, which is interesting. But even more interesting is the fact that six different wines have been voted as the best (Number 1) wine by different voters and this is truly is remarkable.
The Chambertin Clos de Bèze Pierre Damoy 1961 had four votes for number one position, the Cotes de Nuits 1947 unknown winemaker had two votes for first place and four wines had a vote for number one: Chambolle-Musigny 1955 Chanson Père & Fils, Echézeaux domaine de la Romanee Conti 1989, Gevrey-Chambertin 1949 Lavoyepierre and La Tache Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1983. This spread makes me happy.
The Chambertin Clos de Bèze Pierre Damoy 1961 was one of the five favorite wines of nine out of ten voters and finished in first place. It is interesting to note that I have included this wine in seven of my dinners and in the six dinners where we have voted, it has been ranked in five and has been voted by consensus in first place three times and in second place twice. This is a most loyal wine rated consistently in my dinners.
The consensus vote would be:
1 – Chambertin Clos de Bèze Pierre Damoy 1961,
2 – Gevrey-Chambertin of 1949 Lavoyepierre Négociant,
3 – La Tache, Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1983,
4 – Côtes de Nuits vineyard unknown 1947,
5 – Echézeaux Domaine de la Romanee Conti 1989.
My vote is:
1 – Côtes de Nuits vineyard unknown 1947,
2 – Gevrey-Chambertin of 1949 Lavoyepierre Négociant,
3 – Chambertin Clos de Bèze Pierre Damoy 1961,
4 – La Tache, Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1983.
We discussed a lot about my method for opening old wines because my guests enthusiastically have noticed how these old wines were in a very good shape. The atmosphere was friendly, cheerful. The restaurant service is always impeccable and attentive, the wine service particularly is perfect. Alain Pégouret cuisine is a remarkable in maturity. It was a great dinner.