Dinner at Ambassador Jean-David Levitte's Residence

  • Robert M. Parker, Jr.

  • 01 Oct 2005 | Events

This was a dinner held at the French Ambassador's Washington, DC residence to celebrate both my promotion to Officer in France's Legion of Honor, and the 150th anniversary of the 1855 Classification of the Wines of Bordeaux. In addition to Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, a very gracious and generous host, special guests included Jean-Paul Kauffmann, the well-known publisher of l'Amateur de Bordeaux, and Jean-Bernard Delmas, who recently retired after producing every Haut Brion vintage between 1961-2003. The food was prepared by the French Embassy's chef, Francis Layrle, and one of Bordeaux's most renowned chefs, Jean-Marie Amat. My favorite course was the beautiful lamb and the marvelous layered vegetable terrine of Swiss chard and black truffles.

As for the wines, we started with a very good Bollinger Special Cuvée, followed by a gorgeous 2001 Haut Brion Blanc, which was even better than I had previously rated it. It was a terrific example of this gorgeously complex, intense, waxy, citrusy white. The 1996 Lafite Rothschildwas spectacularly powerful and rich, somewhat atypically intense and concentrated for Lafite. It is a gorgeous expression of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon from this great terroir. Remarkably, only 38% of the production made it into the 1996 Lafite, and it is a wine for the ages. Still an infant, it is capable of lasting another 50 or more years. Fully mature, revealing some amber at the edge as well as an explosive nose of cedar, spice box, dried herbs, and sweet plums, figs, and blackberries, the 1990 Cheval Blanc is pure silk. Undeniably one of the greatest wines made in Bordeaux in the last 25 years is the 1989 Haut Brion. Jean Delmas gave a touching speech about how, in his lifetime, he had never produced such a wine, and it was literally off the charts. He made the point of saying that all the greatest vintages of Bordeaux drink well young, yet have such remarkable balance/equilibrium that they can age for decades. The 1989 is beginning to reveal hints of secondary nuances, but it is so sensuous, rich, opulent, and super-concentrated as to be almost unimaginable. The finest young Yquem I have ever tasted, the 2001 is already a legend. Jean-Paul Kauffmann stated that he was sure in one-hundred years that it would still be a remarkable elixir. We finished with a rare Cognac that may not yet be available in the United States. The Tesseron family, who made their fortune in Cognac (but are probably best known by wine lovers as the proprietor of Pontet Canet and Lafon Rochet) released tiny quantities of single vintage Cognacs. Although French law does not permit a vintage date to be used, this is all from 1929, and is very limited in availability. I'm not an expert on Cognac, but anything this smooth, silky, potent, and aromatic, is truly great stuff. It is about as ethereal Cognac as anyone could ever hope to drink.

On a personal note, after receiving France's second highest presidential award from President Mitterand in 1993, I never dreamed I would be considered for the Legion of Honor. As many longtime subscribers know, I was made a Knight in the Legion of Honor in June, 1999, in a full-throttle presentation at the Elysée Palace by President Chirac. There are different grades in the Legion of Honor, and the next highest grade is Officer. As the first wine critic in the history of the Legion of Honor (which was established by Napoleon in 1802), it was an incredibly gratifying, proud, and at the same time humbling experience. To be promoted to Officer, where there are less than one-hundred foreign members, was another remarkable day in a life that has consisted of one fulfilled dream after another.

I remain profoundly touched by the extraordinary generosity and graciousness of the French people for these awards.

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