This is one of those occasions when I’m not at liberty to tell ‘the whole story’ – but I can certainly share a few highlights... A friend of mine had organised a gastronomic treat in France – you know the sort of thing, pop over for lunch and you’ll be back home in Hampshire in time for dinner. Straightforward and very easy, I was informed. It didn’t quite transpire that way. There were a few difficulties in actually reaching the restaurant: thanks to a four hour delay at the tunnel, other plans had to be made, and at some considerable pace. Fortunately one of the other guests had the ability to organise ‘alternative transport’ and within 15 minutes of making a call we were on our way. We actually landed in France 15 minutes earlier than we would have arrived on the train...
Lunch was as follows – each dish was utterly majestic:
· Homard bleu sur carpaccio de mangue (with Australian black truffles?!?!)
· Tranche de turbot sauvage, bouillon d’oseille et gingembre (I have to admit one of the greatest dishes I have been luckily enough to consume)
· Les ‘interdits’ en deux services
· Cote de veau de lait et riz, gratin de Ziti, jus cafe creme
· Fromage regionaux
· Tatin peche, glace vereine
The wines were not too shabby either:
Krug Grande Cuvee on arrival – as we have said many times, does champagne get much better than properly aged Grande Cuvee...? I think not.
Leflaive Batard Montrachet 2007 en jeroboam – ohhhhh, aghhhhh, ohhhh....is it going to be destroyed by premox, a constant question with aged white Burgundy (why don’t they just stop with the image and use screw caps... I know that sounds like blasphemy, but it so upsetting and frustrating when it happens). But no, happy days indeed, this is absolutely singing and perhaps could have done with decanting to be perfectly honest. It was rich and intense with white peach and hazelnut, citrus elements running through and just a hint of honey and brioche from bottle age. Acidity was cutting and the length was amazing – it was good with the Homard, but it was perfection with the Fromage – as white Burgundy can be. 97+ points BI
A palate refresher next – so said the guest who opened the next bottle – Chateau Rayas 2004. How I long to be rich enough tp just have a cellar full of Rayas; it is currently in my top 2-3 estates in the world. The purity of wild strawberry and spiced raspberries is enough to bring you to tears, it is delicate and perfectly balanced and with the intensity of flavours to stop you in your tracks. Perhaps not the greatest vintage I know, but still absolutely delicious just a pleasure to drink. 95 points BI
De Vogue Bonnes Mares 1999 en magnum – tasting from barrel at De Vogue is a religious experience, very much in the top tier of estates in Burgundy from barrel, and then I’m beginning to think that they bottle something completely different and keep the wines themselves as so often the wines disappoint me in bottle. However perhaps it is an age thing. I have tried the 99’s on a few occasions in the last few years and have found the wines tight and closed, and not giving everything I expected - until now. The 1999 Bonnes Mares is just beginning to open, showing hints of the greatness that is hidden away – dark cherries and spice, with touches of game and truffles and the dirty sweaty nature of Bonnes Mares. This will be beautiful in another 5+ years. 97 points BI
The next wine highlighted the importance and benefit of storage and more importantly the lack of movement when holding wine for many years. This bottle of 1949 Chambertin (grower unknown) had remained in a cellar in Cornwall since being shipped over in the early 1950’s, never touched and never moved. It was shockingly young and fresh, still maintaining primary wild berry fruits but with the intoxicating gamey, earthy, meaty, leathery, mushroom and truffle notes of old Burgundy, with clean and fresh acidity and great length. But here is the thing: when first poured it was still closed and musty (it had not seen air for 70 odd years) but then it opened into a stunning glass of wine. Sadly this plateau only lasted for about 5 minutes before rapidly changing and oxidising. It was a massive pleasure to taste and drink for that brief moment and not a wine I will likely see again. 98+ points BI
Chateau Latour 1967 en magnum – ‘unquestionably the best wine produced in the Medoc in 1967’ according to our mate ‘Bob’, this was very distinctly Latour with blackcurrants and cedar wood, cigar box hints and pencil. The fruit had dried out a little but being a magnum had maintained great freshness. It was a delight to drink, with good length and obviously very soft tannins and this age. 93 points BI
Haut Brion 1990 en magnum – easy – 98+ points – straight up, no messing – I’m a spoilt bastard as this is third time I have drunk this in as many weeks and I love it!! Still dark and enticing, the aromas slowly unfold layer upon layer of pure deliciousness. Spiced plums and figs, smoked herbs and tobacco, perhaps not as intense as the 1989, but it is still one of THE great wines to come out of Bordeaux. 98+ points BI
Cheval Blanc 1989 en double magnum – this is just getting a little silly now, I hear you cry, and yes it is, but it is my job and I’m working extremely hard to keep my clients happy... best job in the world? Again more through luck than being weathly enough to have a cellar full, I have drunk the 1989 Cheval Blanc many times over the last couple of years and it just demonstrates exactly why 1989 is my favourite vintage of the last 50 years. It is so fresh and alive, with classic ’89 elegance and restraint, but with wonderful purity of fruit and classic Bordeaux notes of development. If you want to serve brilliant claret that will please all – Cheval 1989 ticks every single box and then some – a wine that Parker has so wrong... 95 points BI
Chateau d’Yquem 1976 – two questions: does Yquem ever make a bad wine? Is older Yquem still one of the best value wines on the planet? 1976 sits just behind the 1971 and 1975 as the best of the decade; it does tend to be a little darker in colour when compared, but it is still remarkably fresh and alive, and the acidity is off the charts for a wine of this age. Has the usual Yquem notes of creme brulee, mango, apricot and honey, dried pineapple and orange marmalade... on and on and on... complex it is (as Yoda might comment) and a great wine to serve with Tatin peche. 97 points BI
Someone commented that they were still thirsty at the end of lunch (we were 10 in case you were wondering) so the obvious choice was a jeroboam of Clos de Lambrays 2000...natch! Being served so quickly after opening it was very closed and tight to start, but one of the beautiful things about the 2000 vintage from Burgundy is the very forward nature of the wines – this came to life very quickly (or my judgement was failing very rapidly), again delicate wild strawberry and fresh cherries, the slightest hint of spice and woodland floor developing, and the tannins were mature and softened – nice length and a perfect wine to sit and enjoy while chatting in the French afternoon sun.
Undoubtedly a lunch to remember. The food was absolutely classic French cooking, but with a masterful restraint on the volume of butter added to the sauces, and perfectly balanced – the wines were fascinating and without fault, and in some cases purely magical... Sometimes you have to admit to being lucky to be alive and enjoying such amazing experiences. A million thanks to my host and also to his guests that rocked up with such a majestic collection of vinous treats.