A Wine Dinner to Remember

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  The season is beginning for wine dinners. They offer a chance for a good chef to show off his skill, and at the same time, allow matching of wines as the food courses succeed each other. It is fun, and entertaining. Usually on the pricey side, it is up to you, the consumer, to decide if the dinner is worth the cost. That doesn’t mean that you should rule out a dinner because of price alone, if you can skimp on the budget somewhere else.               For example, the Bordeaux 2005 Vintage Dinner is now being advertised in Washington and, I suspect, a small number of other cities. At $250, it is at the high end for a wine dinner, and therefore too expensive for many. BUT – you would be tasting each of the Bordeaux great growths from a fabulous vintage, and just one bottle alone would cost far more than the price of the dinner. It’s what the French call, le rapport qualite/prix. We would probably call it, getting your money’s worth. It’s up to you to decide.               I was pleased to offer the wine commentaries at a recent dinner at a new restaurant with accommodations, the Inn at 202 Dover, in Easton, Maryland. It was clear from the outset that Chef  Jorge Alvarez, had prepared thoughtful dishes, that paired well with the wines selected. We began with Escargot Roquefort, snails sauteed in butter and white wine in pastry, with Roquefort cheese. This was a fine interpretation. With the Roquefort Escargot, the cheese nicely added an edge to the snails. (When we visited Roquefort sur Soulzon several years ago, it was mentioned that the famous cheese was rarely served heated. Rising to the challenge we brought home a Roquefort wheel, from which a mouthwatering Roquefort cheese souffle was made.)               The wine was just right, a Bouchard Pere & Fils White Burgundy 2005. I thought it might be one of the highpoints of the evening, and it was indeed, served chilled, but for once, not too cold. The 2005 vintage, which is just beginning to appear, is an excellent one, in both Bordeaux and Burgundy, a rare occurrence. One of the side effects of that excellence is that fine quality goes throughout the wine scale. At the most expensive end, you get superb wines. But even at the village level, the wines perk up and have more character, as this one did. It was delicious, nearly the equivalent of a premier cru Meursault in an average year. If you are looking for a flavorful bargain, buy a case.               Then the rules were upset a bit, but nobody cared. The Wine Police would stipulate that lighter wines always come before more substantial ones, but the substantial Chardonnay we had just tasted was now succeeded by two lighter wines. So what! They fit very well with the courses they accompanied, and nobody’s palate was the worse.               The second course was Grenouilles a la Provencale, and this traditional sauteed frogs legs dish, made with spicy garlic and other Provencale spices and vegetables, was nicely paired with a 2004 Michel Redde Sancerre from the Loire Valley, a fine light Sauvignon Blanc that contrasted well with the spicy food, and somehow avoided the grassy taste that young Sauvignon Blanc wines tend to exude. It was balanced, crisp and flavorful.               The third course, Coquilles St. Jacques a la Parisienne, scallops and mushrooms in white wine sauce, was served with a 2005 Domaine des Dorices Muscadet sur lie. This wine is made from grapes from the Boullault family estate, where organic farming has been practiced for thirty years. As a member of the Chevaliers de Bretvin I was pleased to introduce this flavorful lighter wine, which goes very well with a variety of seafood. I remembered the motto of the Bretvin: “Bois le Bon Vin – Sois Bon Comme Lui!”               After a sorbet Intermezzo, the meat courses began. There was a fine Coq au Vin, accompanied by a 2003 Bordeaux superieur from Macau in the Haut Medoc. The wine, Chateau Bolaire, was a Bordeaux blend, some 34% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 39% Petit Verdot. It would be interesting to try this wine from a more promising vintage, as 2003 was terribly hot, which tended to make wines that are not quite balanced. It did, however, pair well with the coq au vin, and the Chef assured me that he had indeed obeyed the classic rule, and used some of the same wine for cooking the dish. Well, you wouldn’t want to pour your Chateau Lafite Rothschild in with the cooking chicken, now would you?               The fifth course, Filet de Boeuf a la Wellington (“la” Wellington? Is this Napoleon’s revenge?), was superb. This classic petit beef filet with duxelle of duck liver in pastry (it sounds better in French) was perhaps the highlight of the evening. I glanced around the room, and noticed that half the diners had closed their eyes, the better to concentrate on the marvelous flavors of the food. And the wine chosen, a 2004 Louis Jadot Pommard, was a deep, rich Burgundy with assertive red raspberry and cherry flavors, which went perfectly with the beef.               Then we all enjoyed Tarte Tatin with Heidsieck Monopole NV champagne. I was intrigued to learn, when researching the champagne firm’s history that “Champagne Charlie” Heidsieck had come to the United States selling his product several times. Once, after having tried to collect debts from those rascally Confederates, he was arrested by federal troops. What became known as “The Heidsieck Incident,” with an intervention by Napoleon III, was finally settled…
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