Three dinners in San Francisco with very rare winesmardi, 9 octobre 2007

I have met two years ago a wine collector who lives in San Francisco. We became friends, and we decided that we would meet twice a year, once in Paris and once in San Francisco, to share some rare bottles of our collections. We try to balance our inputs, and there is a very sympathetic competition in our generosity, as when he proposed a Lafite 1865, I proposed a Chateau Chalon 1864, when he proposed a Latour 1924, I proposed a Pétrus 1947, and so on.

My wife, who does not drink wine except liquorous wines (especially Yquem), comes with me for our annual meeting in San Francisco. We arrive at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, and the chief concierge talks to me as if I were the emperor of China. He is already informed about what should happen. We have a room on the 39th floor which allows us to see the Golden Gate Bridge, where we will see the planes of the Blue Angels make a fantastic show for a memorial. My friend and his wife who live not far from the town’s Center have taken a room in the same hotel. I decide to invite them for the first dinner, in the restaurant “Silk’s” belonging to the hotel, as I know that they will take care of us for the rest of our stay. I had been very enthusiast one year ago by the menu made by the creative chef Joel Huff when we had shared Mouton 1926 and Cristal Roederer 1949, but this time, I have not been so convinced. We joked about the food as every course had foam. One oyster was lost by a too spicy cream, my seared scallop, crab carbonara, smoked avocado had a too spicy avocado, the Japanese Kobe beef skirt steak, sunchoke puree is perfect, and the pear cake, buttermilk panna cotta, shiso green apple sorbet is a declared enemy of wine.

I was not smart enough as I did not immediately declare bad a champagne Krug Grande Cuvée obviously too acidic and bitter, and when I talked to the sommelier, asking him to taste it, he told me that a very agreeable acidity is a sign of youth. Which means : “I do not intend to change your bottle”. We had more pleasure with a Corton-Charlemagne Vincent Girardin 2003 absolutely delicious, expressive, of a nice definition, and of an appreciable length. This elegant wine has many qualities. And we were happy to drink a Clos de Vougeot domaine Méo Camuzet 2002,a Burgundy with a great charm and a great authenticity. With the Kobe beef, it is a delight.

After a day of tourism, with a lunch by Sutro’s, on the Pacific Coast, we have the first real dinner which is a familial dinner as we are with my friend and his wife, their two sons, and the fiancée of the elder son. The dinner is by restaurant Masa’s, whose chef is Gregory Short. At 5pm I had opened my wines brought by air transportation one month ago. The cork of the Carbonnieux 1928 comes into pieces, and as I have not my tools with me, some small pieces of cork fall in the wine, and the sommelier says to me : I will take care of that. My fault has been to have not checked what happened next. The cork of the Suduiraut 1929 comes in one piece, and the perfume of the wine is fantastic. My friend wants me to leave the room to let him open his wines, which is unusual for our meetings.

We come back at dinner time and here is the menu : butternut squash soup, brown butter foam / bone marrow custard, truffle sauce, crispy bone marrow / farm raised Siberian Osetra caviar, melted leeks, salsify purée, chive infused oil / German butterball potato salad, applewood smoked bacon, Spanish capers, French cornichons, micro celery, whole grain mustard vinaigrette / whole roasted Hiramé, wilted young spinach, maitake mushrooms, preserved meyer lemon infused broth / sweet butter poached Maine lobster, caramelised baby lettuce, brioche toast, lobster vinaigrette / whole roasted Mallard duck foie gras, French green lentils, jonathan apples, red shiso, apple gastrique / sautéed Paine farmes squab breast, honey roasted quince, wilted young chard, confit leg, “jus de grenadine” / pan-roasted rack of Millbrook farms venison, poached seckel pear, roasted chestnuts, sauce “au poivre” / Artisan cheese, fleur de maquis (sheep), capricious (goat), Montbriac (cow) / petit sorbet, ginger-orange-carrot “slurpee” / pear charlotte, carmelized pears, raspberries, blackberries, streusel, caramel sherbet.

It is clear that the way to announce the dishes shows the personality of the chef. He has made a very great meal, which would deserve certainly one star in the Michelin. The combinations wines and food were not always perfect but it did not prevent us from enjoying the wines.

The Champagne Cristal Roederer 1990 is an agreeable surprise. It is a champagne that I do not often drink, and it is above the image that I had formed. It has already signs of maturity with some aspects of candied fruits. Dense, very typed, of a strong personality, it is a great champagne.

The Château Olivier, Graves white 1945 is of a colour of gold not far from mango. The nose is very polite and handsome. This wine could be considered as a lesson. Because for all the ones who consider a mature white wine as maderised, this wine could show that it is not the case. This wine has developed a new personality different from what it was when the wine was young, but which is of a great talent, and of a gastronomic particular interest.

The Château La Gaffelière, Saint-Emilion 1959 is of an incredible youth. I spent my time saying that it was exactly what a 1986 is. And while saying that, I did not take enough advantage of this delicious wine, as I was lost by its abnormal youth.

The contrast is extreme with the Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1934 which is really an example of this year. The colour is very light, like pink, but in mouth the wine is really solid. It is a little fragile, but I like this testimony, very representative of a year that I like. The acidity does not disturb, and we enjoy this wine.

I am furious as the Château Carbonnieux 1928 which appears now is corked, thing that my friend and I we had not noticed by the opening. What has happened meanwhile? I am furious because I hate to provide a wine which is not perfect. Last year, I had brought a Chateau d’Issan 1899 which was weak, and now this one. I am unhappy. Fortunately the pepper sauce of the venison helps to rub the corky taste, and we can taste without too much pain the wine even if it is not at its top. I have drunk many times the Carbonnieux 1928 red with always a great success. It is the first diminished one.

The Echézeaux Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1964 makes me smile as I recognise immediately by the smell the peppery signature of the Domaine. This very Burgundy wine has all to please me. It is agreeable and friendly even if lacking a little of power. The joy of life of the wine compensates that.

The Château Suduiraut 1929 compensates all my pain. It has a very powerful nose, full of expression. The aromas are candied orange, the fruit of a palm tree. It is an exceptional wine with broadness, joy and perfection. It goes very well with the taste of nuts and caramel of the dessert.

I did not ask for votes except from my friend. His vote was : 1 – Château Olivier 1945, 2 – Château Suduiraut 1929, 3 – Echézeaux DRC 1964, 4 – Château La Gaffelière 1959.

My vote has been : 1 – Château Suduiraut 1929, 2 – Champagne Cristal Roederer 1990, 3 – Château La Gaffelière 1959, 4 – Echézeaux DRC 1964.

The Suduiraut compensates my frustration with the Carbonnieux. The chef has made a very good menu, especially with the foie gras, magnificently treated, and the pigeon. The service was friendly and efficient.

The next day is the high point of our stay in San Francisco. This will be a dinner for men only, all collectors. The wives make their own party. We open the wines at 5 pm with Steve, and this time I can see the wines brought by every attendant. We are six. My input is Palmer 1947 and Mouton 1928, with a beloved label.

The restaurant “Fleur de Lys” has a French chef, Hubert Keller, from Alsace, who made a fantastic dinner : passed « canapés » / tsar Nicoulaï « select » California osetra caviar accompanied with parsnips blinis / roasted Maine lobster on artichoke purée, citrus salad, porcini oil / boneless quail, scented with a juniper berry & orange essence / Colorado lamb loin & lamb cheek sausage, « tarbais » bean « cassoulet », whole grain mustard & tarragon sauce / venison topped with sauteed foie gras, served with truffled Port wine sauce / assortment of artisanal French cheeses served with rustic fig bread / classic Grand Marnier soufflé served with an orange & cardamom ice cream / assortment of petits fours & chocolates.

All was devoted to our pleasure, and the combinations with wines were more accurate that by Masa’s, even if the food was of a very great quality in both cases.

The Champagne Brut Classic Deutz in magnum 1975 plays perfectly its game, to be an opener. And the “canapés” are generous and of a great sensibility. The champagne is already gently mature, lacks a little power and body, but is truly appropriate, and very flexible with the imaginative tastes of the food.

The champagne Louis Roederer 1959 has a very unfriendly smell, but in mouth if one enters in its logic, it plays like a toboggan : you let yourself be conducted by it, and you feel good. If one is not too impressed by a small bitterness, it becomes passionating. I am absolutely impressed by the farm caviar from California, as it deserves respect. It is certainly of the quality of a Russian caviar. With the Roederer, the combination works splendidly. It is not the case for the Montrachet Domaine Ramonet in magnum 1996 which refuses to play with the caviar. It works much more with the lobster, and makes a beautiful combination. I find this Montrachet a little scholar, smart, but with no outrageous appeal.

What is interesting in such a meeting of collectors is that every one of us is largely more in favour of his own wines. This is purely normal as each of us wanted to present a wine to please the others. So it is normal that he loves what he wanted to offer. My attitude is absolutely not different from the others. I am in love with the Château Palmer 1947 which I find completely extraordinary. It seems to me that it is impossible to dream of something better. With the boneless quail, it is perfect. I have encountered very perfect 1947 with Cheval Blanc, and more with Latour. This Palmer 1947 belongs to the top few of what 1947 can offer.

I nearly faint with pleasure when I am served with the Château Mouton-Rothschild 1928 because it is even greater than the Palmer. It has more personality. The colour is very young, as it was for the Palmer, and the taste is fantastic, very typed among the greatest Mouton. It is under the 1945 and the 1900, but it is a wine which could make me have tears. It is unbelievable. Perfect, balanced, with salt and pepper, it has a deepness which touches me. It is a total happiness. It will belong to my Pantheon of Bordeaux wines.

The Château Latour 1926 is highly impressive, as it looks like it would need some more years to reach its total performance. It is a promising wine, which is incredible for a 1926, a very special year for me, which my friend chose on purpose. The wine has an enormous potential to live for ever, and requires truffle, to create a perfect match. Fruity, good with foie gras, but limited on venison, it has a strength which is impressive. It is a solid young wine.

The Richebourg Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1985has a very DRC smell. It evokes for me stones boiled by a volcano. The Richebourg Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1964 has a more tired smell. The 1985 is peppery, salty. Its seduction appears only when one tries to find it. It goes very well with a salty cheese. The 1964 is quieter, lighter. The Epoisses softens the 1985 and enlarges the 1964. The 1964 has more seduction. It has an exciting finish. What is pleasant is that the two versions of the DRC Richebourg are incredibly dissimilar and raise our interest.

The Château Climens 1937 is very opposite to the Suduiraut 1929 of yesterday. It has tones of coffee, tea and tobacco, which is the contrary of tastes of tropical fruits. It is an expression which is less sunny than others, but which is adorable too.

My friend has added a wine which is not on the menu, a surprise. We drink it blind, and it is something that none of us has already drunk. The image which comes to me is a sugar which would be wet with a syrup of blackberry. It is a Tokaji Essencia 1856. I have already drunk very old Essencias, but this one is completely out of this world. There is no reference. It is so sweet that this wine will live for ever. The alcohol is very weak, and the taste in mouth cannot disappear. It is heavy as lead. It lets a trace in mouth for ever.

All of us, we are so happy with the performances of our wines that we vote with pleasure. We do not forget to vote for our own wines. Among six voters, the Mouton 1928 gets three votes of number one, and this helps me to forget the bad appearance of the Carbonnieux. Latour 1926 gets two votes as first, and the Tokaji 1856 gets one vote as first.

The average vote would be : 1 – Mouton 1928, 2 – Latour 1926 and Richebourg DRC 1985, 4 – Palmer 1947.

My vote has been : 1 – Mouton 1928, 2 – Palmer 1947, 3 – Louis Roederer 1959, 4 – Latour 1926.

The service was excellent; the cook was very original, very precise and adapted. The atmosphere was friendly.

I am happy to have met this so incredibly generous friend. We plan to make a tour in Burgundy in February, before our annual dinner in Paris which will be in April.

We have spent time visiting San Francisco and we met another friend who is a wine lover and was gentle enough to open an Yquem for my wife.

All that combined made this trip to SF be a complete friendly success.