Dinner for The Wine Advocate Fund for Philanthropy at the residence of Ambassador Jean-David and Madame Marie-Cecile Levitte
The first night of two extraordinarily successful inaugural charity meals to benefit cancer research at the Dana Farber Institute in Boston and for the AppleTree Institute which supports disadvantaged children in the Washington, DC area. The net amount of money raised was $1,300,000 plus. The extraordinary meal began with Daniel Boulud's famous, knock-out hors d'Oeuvres of crispy parmesan baskets with herbed goat cheese and tarte flambée with onion and pancetta (prepared by his Chef at Bistro DB, Olivier Müller). They are both light as a feather, but intensely flavorful ... just like a great wine. The first course, tuna "Niçoise," is a great Mediterranean-styled dish done with olives and a loin of sashimi quality tuna. With that we enjoyed a stunning 1990 Roederer Cristal Methuselah. This was a special commemorative millennium bottling which I had at the time of its release. At age 16, it remains exquisitely young, fresh, full-bodied, and gorgeous. It will undoubtedly last for 50-60 years. It's funny how wines can be, but I had a slightly off bottle of 1989 DRC Montrachet within the last six months, but this Methuselah was as profound a white Burgundy as anyone could hope for. While it is easy to criticize the DRC because people expect so much, this is the kind of Chardonnay that literally has no equal. At age 17, it is a vigorous wine still in its youthful adolescence. The Methuselah of 1985 DRC La Tâche smelled like a 100-point wine, but in the mouth, it was a bit dry, austere, and angular. Interestingly, as we returned to the wine during the evening, it seemed to sweeten and get richer and broader, but it never hit the heights. That said, the next day several of the sommeliers and chefs told me that following the meal, when they were drinking the leftovers, this wine was rocking. The Montrachet was served with an extraordinary concoction of crayfish, rooster's cockscomb, morels, and fiddlehead ferns. The La Tâche was a beautiful match with the slightly smoked Alaskan king salmon with chanterelles. Olivier Müller does a fabulous regional dish from Alsace a casserole of veal tongue and snails known as Baeckoffe in the Alsatian dialect. One might think of this as a winter weight dish, but Müller gives it a polish and finesse that are extraordinary. With it we had an Imperial of 1983 Château Margaux, which one day will be a perfect bottle. It is a black-colored wine with an incredible nose of acacia flowers, crème de cassis, licorice, and subtle smoke. Very full-bodied, powerful, and rich, but incredibly youthful, it was a thrill to drink, and could have passed for a 5-year old wine. There are a lot of phony Magnums of 1900 Château Margaux in the marketplace, but this was an authentic one. I had this wine a number of times at special events, and this bottle was revealing a light ruby color with amber and orange at the edge along with a gloriously sweet, ripe nose of macerated jammy black cherries, currants, cedar, and spices. One could taste the hot, sunny conditions that shaped the 1900 Margaux, and its freshness and sweetness were remarkable for a 106-year old wine.
We then moved to a magnificent dish of duck breast with black cherries. At first I thought the 1982 Pichon-Lalande was a 100-point wine. In fact, it probably was. This bottle had been purchased as a future and had come directly from my cellar, so it had been stored at 53-55 degrees since I took possession of it in early 1985. Its deep ruby/purple color was accompanied by gloriously sweet aromas of crème de cassis, mocha, and caramel. It was full-bodied, opulent, silky smooth, and broad, savory, and full in the mouth. However, the magnum of 1975 La Mission Haut Brion was to die for. I rated this wine 100 points early in its life, and have followed it for the last thirty years. It always reveals the potential of perfection, but there is often a slightly tannic edge that causes me to wonder if I have been too generous. However, this bottle was pure nectar, a great elixir with another 30-50 years of life ahead of it. Many guests thought this was the wine of the night, although that's a hard call given the wines that were served.
No one does a better fresh Berkshire Ham than Daniel Boulud. These black pigs, which were brought to this country by English colonists, produce hams with surreal levels of flavor. The Jeroboam of 1959 Lafite-Rothschild that accompanied it was spectacular. If there is a fully mature Lafite to die for, that delivers all the goods, it is probably the 1959. Some subsequent vintages may mimic the style of the 1959 (most notably the 1982 and 2003), but the 1959 lives up to everything one has ever read about this renowned wine. An ethereal perfume, an extraordinary crème de cassis, lead pencil, spice box, and cedar-scented nose, and wonderfully voluptuous, but delicate flavors with mindboggling intensity and penetration on the palate result in a glorious wine. The 1959 is currently my all-time favorite Lafite-Rothschild, but I have high hopes that the 1982 will come close, and the 1986 and 1996, although made in different styles, will rival it, as will the 2003. Next we had a tour de force of wines served with Daniel Boulud's famous beef short ribs alongside a couple slices of Waygu beef. This was a line up of titans. One would have expected going in that if you were placing a bet at a Las Vegas gambling table, the favorites would have to be the 1947 Petrus or 1961 Latour à Pomerol. However, having had the wine on several previous occasions, I knew that perhaps the greatest wine ever made at Château Le Gay was the 1947. When I first had it at my favorite Paris bistro, L'Ami Louis, with Gérard Chave of Hermitage, to Chave's credit, he said it was the greatest wine he'd ever tasted in his life ... a real tribute from someone who has made many world-class, sublime wines from Hermitage. I thought the magnum of 1947 Petrus was a bit lighter than most of the previous bottles I have had, but it revealed wonderful sweetness along with notes of caramel and kirsch-like liquor. It did not exhibit as much power, volume, and unctuosity as other bottlings. The 1961 Latour à Pomerol may be the most consistent 100 point wine I have ever had. This was a truly great wine, but because it was not quite as profound as the 1947 Le Gay, I could not rate it as highly. The ‘47 Le Gay, the youngest of this trio, was massive, full-bodied, port-like, and unctuous, in the style of the 1947 Pomerols. If this magnum is an accurate reflection of this wine, pristine bottles should last another 30-40 years.
We finished the evening with a glorious competition between the 1976 and 1975 Yquem. The 1975 is a much younger wine, and appears to have 100 years of life remaining. The 1976 is a sprinter on a much faster evolutionary track, although it will last another 50 years. I still cannot believe the glorious precision, perfume, and intensity of the 1975, but the 1976 is probably a better drinking wine at present. Lastly, we had a remarkable 1834 Barbeito Madeira Malvasia Reserva Velha, an extraordinary fresh, complex elixir that topped off a perfect evening that raised over $600,000 for charity.
I can not reiterate enough my profound thanks for the extraordinary generosity of so many people who donated these rare, large format bottlings, the amazing gentility and kindness of Ambassador Jean-David Levitte and his wife, Marie-Cecile, for opening their private residence for this special evening, and of course, the chefs, led by Daniel Boulud, Olivier Müller, Jeff Buben, Gérard Cabrol, and Eddy Leroux, who, on one of their busiest nights of the year, prepared a dinner, gratis, that along with the wine service and ambience made all of us conclude that no one on Planet Earth, on Friday evening, June 2, 2006, could have consumed better wine, eaten better food, or enjoyed more exquisite company than we did. In addition, the sommeliers, who did a phenomenal job of wine service, included Michael Flynn, the long-time wine director of Kinkeads in Washington, DC, Daniel Johnnes, the wine director of all of Daniel Boulud's restaurants, and Doug Mohr, the wine director of Vidalia. My heartfelt thanks to all of them.
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