Sometimes, food and wine come together for a truly memorable meal. This was certainly the case last week at a special dinner hosted by the Sofitel Hotel and Bacchus, the wine merchants. Mrs. MM and I were guests of the owners of Bacchus, who are good friends, and one of whom was a high school classmate that goes back 30+ years. We don’t normally attend these kinds of events, but we were very pleased we decided to clean up for this dinner, perhaps only one of 2-3 times this year you’ll find Marketman in a jacket with some socks on as well… :)
Before dinner the champagne was flowing freely, served with five canapés, an unusual selection of western and eastern finger food. Perhaps the chef’s view that French champagne could be enjoyed just as easily with foie gras as it could with a spring roll.
Waiters circled with trays filled with tuna tartare with mango and cilantro, homemade foie gras (“homemade” an being an odd term for a grand hotel setting), tomato and watermelon gazpacho, vegetble spring rolls and tomato and mozzarella skewers. I had two helping of the foie gras, which goes VERY nicely with champagne, and couldn’t resist a taste of the vegetable spring roll, which was well-executed.
A flute of Billecart-Salmon champagne, with the finest bubbles, served that night in the Brut Reserve and a Rosé version as well.
We have enjoyed Billecart-Salmon at home on many a special occasion, and it was crisp and delicious as always. I don’t drink that much but I had three glasses of champagne before we even sat down to dinner!
M. Sebastien Papin, the representative of the Maison Billecart Salmon, was present that evening to give a few words of introduction to the champagne, and he had an amusing comment about how many of the other esteemed maisons had perhaps diluted their focus by getting involved in businesses such as leather handbags, etc., a subtle dig at LVMH I guess, to emphasize that Billecart Salmon did champagne, and nothing else. So the photo above is entitled “Champagne & Chanel”… :)
But laid out on the bar were four vintages of white and red wines from Paul Jaboulet Aîné, some which had been decanted since 4pm that afternoon, ready for the sit-down dinner to begin. I suspect the group of 40+ diners went through nearly 40 bottles of champagne and wine, so it was a happy evening…
After being seated at our assigned table, waiters poured either sparkling (Badiot) or still (Evian) water. Four wine glasses per setting were from Schott, I believe.
The first appealing, light white wine poured was the Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Hermitage Blanc, Le Chevalier de Sterimberg, 2001.
I gather the vineyard has a unique location with grapes growing on a hill in one portion of the estate, and this geographic oddity contributes to the intensity of some of the grapes grown there…
The white wine paired BEAUTIFULLY with the first plate that consisted of lobster, a scallop and a mussel with a light ginger cream sauce, soy and truffle vinaigrette and some greens on the side. The seafood was moist, creamy and perfectly seasoned and flavored, and together with the wine, it was one of those instances where the sum is definitely greater than the two parts. While Mrs. MM, who doesn’t eat that much, started to read ahead on the menu, trying to gauge how much to eat and pace herself, I ate every last morsel on my plate. :)
The first red of the evening was a Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Crozes-Hermitage, Domain de Thalabert, 2005, made from the syrah grape, probably native to the Rhone region.
The accompanying plate featured a seared squab breast with confit legs, seared foie gras, pumpkin and spinach and smoked jus (not sure what smoked jus is, but that’s what it said on the menu). Squab is a fancy name for young pigeon, which has a rich dense, sometimes muscular meat that can be a little tough if not cooked properly.
This pigeon breast was perfectly cooked, and the other components on the plate worked very well together. Again the wine pairing was well thought out, and delicious.
The next wine to be poured, a Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Hermitage “La Chapelle”, 2003 was alluring from the first whiff. This was definitely my favorite wine of the evening. I am not a huge wine person, but I do know when I like something I taste, and this was fruity, clean, intense and supremely drinkable, on its own or paired with food. The wine experts at the table suggested notes of blackberries and other sweet/tart/intense fruit. It was explained that a drought that vintage resulted in fewer, flavor packed grapes that resulted in a fine wine, and whatever the history, this was a WONDERFUL bottle of wine. Mrs. MM swirled her glass and as the wine settled, just look at the way it coated the inside of her glass… those are legs I gather…
This wine was accompanied by some grilled beef tenderloin, truffle mashed potato, mushroom and chestnut, and a red wine sauce. The beef was PERFECTLY cooked, but while it looked terrific, it oddly lacked flavor, and my portion could definitely have used more salt. It’s an odd thing when you get a beautiful cut of meat, cook it perfectly, but it lacks innate flavor, in fact, it was juicy but not tasty. Not sure what the cause was, or where the beef was from, but I did dwell on this for just a second or two until I was distracted again by the fine wine. With no salt cellars in view, and embarrassed to ask a waiter to produce some, I let it go. Having said that, and carnivore that I am, I ate the entire serving without much difficulty, so the lack of salt/flavor is perhaps a minor quibble in an otherwise superb meal.
A little tip for dinners such as this, where multiple vintages of wine are served, try and keep a bit of the previous wine in your glass so that you can easily compare wines from one year to another. Aroma, taste, color, etc. are much easier to compare and its amazing what differences you notice from one year to another. Mlle. Gwenaële Chesnais of Domaine Paul Jaboulet was present that evening to explain a little bit of history behind each of the wines served.
Finally, the last vintage of the evening was poured. A Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Hermitage “La Chapelle”, 1997. While this was to be the star of the evening, and while intense, complex anddelicious on its own, I was still partial to the 2003 vintage.
However, with a little piece of the St. Marcelin cheese on your palate and a sip of this wine, it was an explosion of flavor and utterly eye opening! Amazing!
And it ALSO paired nicely with the rich chocolate, vanilla and raspberry désir, which I must admit, I could only manage one spoonful of, as I was literally ready to burst at the seams. :)
The dinner was overseen by Chef Anne-Cécile Degenne, a fairly new arrival to the Sofitel team, who hails from Bordeaux and obviously understands the magic of great food paired with fine wine. Kudos to the young but extremely competent chef!
Mrs. MM and I haven’t been to the Sofitel since it was still known as the “Philippine Plaza Hotel” so its been eons. They have done a beautiful renovation of the lower ground floor, and the venue for this dinner, called “The Veranda’ was beautiful in the evening… and I gather impressive during the daytime as well. The bar is imposing and beautifully designed and the spiral staircase just outside that leads up to the main lobby is of a bygone era.
Many thanks to the folks at Bacchus who invited us to dinner. And to the wonderful chefs and service staff at the Sofitel for pulling off such a wonderful dinner. Special thanks to M. Sebastien Papin and Mlle. Gwenaële Chesnais for the champagne and wines served that evening.