Hedonist Dinner Two, Hotel Seiyo Ginza, Tokyo, Japan
I suppose it's unfair for one person to have two meals of a lifetime within three days, but hey ... someone's gotta do it. The menu was exactly the same as it had been at Château Robuchon two days earlier, but the food was prepared by Chef Robuchon and his staff in the kitchen of Hotel Seiyo Ginza. Robuchon's cooking was just as sublime, spectacular, and mind-boggling 48 hours later. Again, the only course I did not care for was the rabbit, although that was easily made up for by one of the wines of the night for me, the 1982 Lafleur. Joël Robuchon is essentially a classicist, but his creativity and matching of textures, aromas, and flavors with the wines is something to behold.
Since the food was described in the previous issue of the Hedonist's Gazette, I will only provide notes on the wines in this article. Chapoutier's 2000 Ermitage Cuvée de l'Orée is a magnificent, honeyed white that could easily be mistaken for a grand cru white Burgundy. Most of the Japanese guests were unfamiliar with this 100% Marsanne cuvée and were staggered by it, particularly since it dominated an excellent 1990 Laville Haut Brion, and held its own against the extraordinary 1992 Le Montrachet from Comtes Lafon. I remember being in the Lafon cellars when he finished bottling this wine and asked him how much he was selling it for at the cellar door. The price was absurdly low and he said I could buy as much as I wanted. I had several more weeks of tastings scheduled in Burgundy, and I didn't want to deal with picking the wine up and shipping it home, so I never bought any of it. What a stupid mistake! This is an extraordinary wine. At age 12, it remains very youthful, with at least two more decades of life ahead of it. Amazing precision, great liquid minerality, and hints of honey and tropical fruits are present in this full-bodied, magnificent white Burgundy that seems immortal.
We next moved to a spectacular flight of 1990 Bordeaux. The elegance, complexity and majesty of the 1990 Margaux was well-displayed. Still a young wine, it needs another 5-7 years of bottle age. More forward and flamboyant was the perfect magnum of 1990 Le Pin, a decadently rich wine boasting notes of mocha, chocolate, sweet cherries, and kirsch. That was matched by another perfect offering, the 1990 Beauséjour Duffau Lagarosse, one of the greatest young Bordeaux I have ever tasted. It reveals more blueberry liqueur intermixed with mineral, violet, and acacia flower characteristics in a full-bodied, opulent style with extraordinary nobility and complexity. The full-bodied, muscular, gorgeously rich, black currant, cedary, chocolatey, tasty1990 Pichon Langueville Baron worked beautifully with a foie gras dish. Opulent and heady, it can be drunk now as well as over the next 20-30 years. The 1989 Haut Brion was slightly closed compared to other bottles I have had, but it was a magnificently sweet, viscous Haut Brion. Coming after a more powerful Pauillac and more concentrated St.-Emilion and Pomerol, it seemed to be slightly out of sync, although as the rating suggests, it was a great, great wine. It was a brilliant accompaniment to the cappuccino au canard confit. The 1989 Petrus is a perfect wines, huge, rich, and seemingly deeper than the monumental 1990. Two wines that did not suffer in comparison include the 1989 Troplong Mondot, which revealed wonderful espresso, chocolate, and blackberries in a deep, concentrated style, with some tannin still to shed. The 1989 Montrose is not far off the pace of the 1990. It was a big, earthy, rich, concentrated offering. Unfortunately, two of the three bottles served were corked.
Next came a flight of four 1982s, all of which were magnificent, three of the four being perfect wines. The 1982 Latour seems to always "show." It is opulent and super-rich without a hard edge to be found. Moreover, it has been that way since age 7-8. It shows no signs of losing anything, making one wonder how long this wine will continue to perform at such a level of incredible richness, opulence, and voluptuousness. It is an amazing tour de force for Latour. The 1982 Cheval Blanc possesses extraordinary aromatics, but it could not quite match the other 1982s in terms of pure flavor concentration, expansiveness, and depth. My favorite wine of the flight was the 1982 Lafleur. I can't say it's better than Latour, Mouton, Pichon Lalande, or some of the 1990s tasted earlier, but it's so incredibly distinctive with such a singular personality and that unbelievable over-the-top kirsch richness intermixed with a liqueur of licorice. It is an amazing, amazing wine the likes of which have not been made since. It was matched by the classicism of the 1982 Pichon Lalande, another wine that has been drinking splendidly well since the early nineties, yet seems to hold at this magical plateau of perfection.
At this point, I did not think things could get any better, but was I in for a surprise. The last three red wines included a double magnum of 1953 Château Margaux and magnums of the 1970 and 1864 Lafite Rothschild from the famous Glamis Castle that had been the home of the Earls of Strathmore since 1372. These wines were sold by Christie's over two decades ago. Each of these bottles was authenticated by the châteaux (as were all the older bottles). In regular bottlings, the 1953 Château Margaux is cracking up badly, but out of a double magnum, the wine was a classic Margaux, beautifully perfumed, delicate, and savory with wonderful flavor intensity, but no heaviness. However, as profound as it was, the extraordinary condition of the magnums of 1870 and 1864 Lafite Rothschild was something to behold. They are among the two most memorable wines I have ever tasted. I had had the 1870 Lafite from the Glamis Castle in the past, but this bottle was bewitching. It exhibited extraordinary cedar, spice box, tobacco, dried herb, sweet currant, and fruitcake-like aromas and flavors. Medium-bodied, beautifully soft yet long and expansive, it was simply magical. Even better, as hard as it may be to believe, was the magnum of 1864 Lafite Rothschild. I actually got teary-eyed thinking of the history that had occurred since this wine was made. It was an enormous privilege to be able to drink such an extraordinary wine. The 1864 Lafite Rothschild was considered by Michael Broadbent to be the greatest wine of the 19th century, and the 1870 Lafite perhaps the second greatest wine of that century. The 1864 still possesses a medium ruby color (slightly lighter than the 1870's), but the extraordinarily intense fragrance could fill a room. Furthermore, the wine hit the mouth with an amazing opulence and fleshiness, then lingered on the palate for an unbelievably long time. When I spoke with Chef Robuchon in the kitchen, he, too, was a bit melancholy knowing how lucky we were to be able to drink such elixirs. He was one step ahead of me, having already had a glass of the 1921 Yquem, and he said,
"Never in my life have I had two such great wines as the 1864 Lafite and 1921 Yquem, the greatest I have ever tasted."
I had not yet tasted the 1921 Yquem, and the last bottle I'd had from a friend's cellar had been maderized. In magnum, this wine looked great in color, and when it was decanted, it just exploded, filling the small dining room with its aromas. It was another blast from the past that was pure perfection. To tell you the truth, I couldn't even eat the extraordinary complicated desserts Robuchon prepared because the wine required so much attention.
Words simply do not do justice to the quality of the food and wines, or the emotions that took place on these two magical evenings in Tokyo. They were historic events, and, possibly the last bottles to ever be consumed for certain wines. I was impressed by the extraordinary passion exhibited by the Japanese clients (who paid one million yen to participate in these historic meals) throughout these six to seven hour dinners. At the end of the second meal, there was an international press conference with eight to twelve television teams from Asia, France, and several other countries. Joël Robuchon and I spent over an hour answering their questions.
Both of these meals were videotaped, as were the preparation of the food, the decanting of the wines, and the totality of both events as they unfolded. I look forward to seeing them, and I think future historians will realize what was accomplished in Tokyo on two evenings in December, 2004. They were something for the history books.
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