Once again, I make a dinner by Restaurant Pré Catelan, a lovely romantic palace installed in Bois de Boulogne. I come by 4:30 pm to open the bottles and a sympathetic young man helps me to prepare the opening. I let him smell the bottles that I open, and I give him instructions of temperature to store the bottles before the dinner. He is interested and is efficient. When we have finished, each of us will dress with his appropriate clothes. I wear a costume and a tie, as it is understandable; and when I see him dressed, I am surprised. The young man that I took for a sommelier was dressed for his function : chasseur, groom, the man in charge of the cars in front of the restaurant. I did not say anything but inside me I smiled, as I made comments on some wines that he will probably not see again in his life as if he were a sommelier. The most surprising smell was the “Graves Supèrieures” which I consider as being from the 30ies. A friend of mine, a real sommelier this time, had met me there as he knew that I would be there to open the bottles. When we smelled, I said Rayne Vigneau and he said Suduiraut, as this ordinary Graves was offering a smell of an incredible beauty.
For this dinner, all the people were invited by me, so I had more freedom to choose bottles with imprecise years. It was interesting to make discoveries.
Some people arrive very late which is always disturbing. But the lovely lady sitting next to me is so pretty that I cannot say anything. She announces that she is recently pregnant. When her child will be an adult will he know that the lovely nest in which he builds his future has been fed by a liquid being more than 110 years older than him?
Pré Catelan being a place with huge reception rooms, the chef Frédéric Anton is very busy. So he had asked Olivier Poussier, best world sommelier to choose in the menu which dishes would fit to the wines. So we had parts of the menu, with no specific adaptation of the recipes to the wines. This is a subject which could be an improvement for the future. Just the dessert has been specially made, as no one on the list was adapted.
Here is the menu : étrille préparée en coque, fine gelée de corail et caviar, soupe au parfum de fenouil / Girolles, juste poêlées, fine purée de céleri à la cannelle, petites fleurs de capucine et d’ail en tempura / Sole, cuite au naturel, glacée d’un jus de soja épicé, poêlée de germes de soja, mangue fraîche légèrement acidulée / Ris de veau cuit en casserole, petites girolles aux herbes fraîches / Agneau, le filet cuit à la plancha, pané de poivre noir et sauge, pomme de terre farcie d’un fondant de l’agneau épicé, jus gras / Bleu de Termignon, fourme d’Ambert, bleu des Causses / Fine tartelette aux mirabelles.
The Champagne Dom Pérignon 1993 is a true Dom Pérignon, one of the quietest of its generation. One of my guests is extremely impressed by this champagne and will follow with admiration the evolution of its smell. The crab excites the Dom, making it sing.
The Puligny Montrachet Les Chalumeaux Jean Pascal & Fils 1976 shows to this assembly, which counts some professional tasters, that age benefits to such wines. This Puligny is straightforward, generous, of a golden positive mood, and its components are quietly structured to produce a natural pleasure. The chanterelles give length to the wine, adding some sweet taste to this delicate Puligny.
The Gewurztraminer Hugel Réserve Personnelle 1983 has an incredible nose, full of personality. I could satisfy myself just with this perfume. In mouth, it is kaleidoscopic. It has a talent, a complexity which amazes me. It is one of the best images of Alsace. I love its exploding youth. The sole could have been a great companion for the wine, but the sauce, not adapted to the wine, shortens the wine by its insistent vinegar. The meat of the sole would have been proper, without these excessive side-tastes.
The Grands Echézeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1974 gives me all the pleasure that I am happy to recognise in the wines of DRC. As very often, this wine does not want to seduce. It is a dancer of java, which does not seduce you but conquers you. One can find olives, tea, caper within the taste. I find a salted trace which is for me like a signature of the Domaine. This wine pleases me as it is an enigma. This lovely dancer has captured my soul.
Two Bordeaux are served at the same time. The Château Gazin Pomerol 1953 has a wonderfully young colour. The nose is precise, showing the definition of Pomerol. In mouth it is very comfortable. I love Gazin, I love 1953, so I feel at ease.
The Château Cantenac-Brown, Cantenac 1934 does not make me at ease. By far! And it will show one of the recoveries that excite me. You give this wine to any expert on the planet, he will reject it. The first contact is of a too old wine, acidic, tired. As I have warned my guests, as I have an idea of what will happen, my guests are disciplined. And after some minutes, I see every face becoming more and more smiling. The wine is completely transformed in the glass, becomes charming, and the votes will show how it was appreciated. I must say that I am rather happy when I can show to amateurs that no wine should ever be condemned before the certainty exists that it is hopeless. We have enjoyed a wine which had nearly no more signs of weakness, a nice example of a great year : 1934.
The professional of wine tasting are purely amazed by the performance of the Château des Jauberts, Grand vin du Marquis de Pontac, Graves supérieures, circa 1930 and I must say that I am surprised too. How is it possible that this wine can have all the attributes of a Sauternes? Not any maderised wine could get such a charm. What was filled in the bottle? This liquorous wine has a surprising rare charm.
Everyone is so happy with the Jauberts that the Barsac Chateau de Ruomieu that I date 1890 / 1900 will arrive and will be less noticed. The year that I had estimated by the look of the bottle is confirmed by the taste. It should be around 1890. I love this emotional wine, and I will be alone to vote for it, as I have perhaps more openness to such unusual tastes, as the sweetness of a Barsac is no more so obvious.
By every dinner I have additional bottles. And it is always my pleasure to choose these bottles that are not announced on any program. This time, knowing that the greatest uncertainty was with the Barsac, I had taken a sweet wine. The only readable word on the bottle is “Rancio”. And on the capsule I can read “Caves de Maury”. By comparison to other bottles, I will say it is Rancio Caves de Maury circa 1945. This bottle is an ordinary bottle used by shops which fill the wine from a tank. It has a capacity of one litre. I knew that I would open it but played as if it were the inspiration of the moment. So a dessert arrived, a tart with chocolate which forms with the Rancio a combination which makes me die. I see nothing which could approach the sensuality of this agreement. It should be written officially at the Common Inheritance of Humanity. It’s like sliding in one’s slippers in front of the fire of a chimney with a 19th century Cognac. It is an instant of Heaven.
We were 7 persons to vote for 9 wines. 8 wines out of 9 got one vote which is my pleasure. And 4 wines got votes of number one. The Grands Echézeaux, the most praised, got 3 votes as first, the Cantenac Brown (yes) got two votes as first, the Jauberts one, and the Barsac one.
The average vote of the group would be : Grands Echézeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1974, Château des Jauberts, Grand vin du Marquis de Pontac, Graves supérieures, vers 1930, Château Cantenac-Brown, Cantenac 1934 et Château Gazin Pomerol 1953.
My vote has been :
1 - Château Ruomieu, Barsac, vers 1890,
2 - Château des Jauberts, Grand vin du Marquis de Pontac, Graves supérieures, vers 1930,
3 - Rancio Caves de Maury vers 1945,
4 - Gewurztraminer Hugel Réserve Personnelle 1983.
The service by Pré Catelan has been perfect, all the team being very motivated and interested by what happens with such dinners. The only thing which could be improved is to work on the recipes in the direction of old wines.
This is a marginal remark as I love the place and the talent of Frédéric Anton. I am happy with two things among others : the recovery of the Cantenac-Brown 1934, that probably not many people would have imagined, and the opening of a Rancio, a wine to die for.
Old wines are younger than what is generally considered