Monday, February 8, 2010

New Year's Dinner with Ben and Mayon

The New Year began with a semi-potluck dinner organized by friends, Ben and Mayon, at their home. In the spirit of sharing they handed me a somewhat idiot-proof recipe to follow, a cheese quiche, that I still managed to screw up. To my relief, it was edible and it didn't bother an immortal magnum of Clos de Tart it was paired with. More on this later.

The occasion was ostensibly a chivalrous tribute to the dames in the group. To toast the event, Ben found a few old magnums to uncork from his wine cellar. Given such overwhelming generosity I was relieved the menfolk present didn't break out into a ship's mates shanty of "There's Nothing Like a Dame". So happily the occasion turned out to be some enchanted evening.

I brought the warm-up bubbly--chilled bottles of the 1998 Gaston Chiquet Brut Special Club. This prestige cuvée from one of the best grower-producers in Champagne is drinking exceptionally well now. Happily everyone concurred. Endowed with a rich, full body and luscious flavors, rather on the elegant side, it had pleasing finesse and a heartwarming freshness. Not a bad intro, but what followed next was really the centerpiece wine of the night.

Ben and Mayon have kept magnums of the 1961 Bollinger R.D. since they were disgorged in 1983. Vinified during Madame Elizabeth (Lily) Bollinger's time and disgorged nearly a quarter of a century later during the helm of her nephew, Christian Bizot, these extremely rare magnums have been stored impeccably at a rather chilly constant 49 degrees F and never moved.

This Champagne was pristine and unbelievably fresh given its half-century existence. Bubbles rushed up as I poured the pale liquid into my glass. The magnum may as well have been disgorged on the spot that very night as it was so youthful. This is not a weighty, mouthfilling, blockbuster as the extended lees aging might suggest, but a young dancer. Trim, sinewy, graceful, and certainly multifaceted. Though it was just the first magnum of the night, the awesome R.D. rendered much of everything else at the dinner table anti-climactic.

Yet, onwards to the magnum of 1970 Château Lafite-Rothschild. After multiple decantings this first-growth still started out lazily. The nose was intense, with that Lafite perfume of graphite, violets, and tea leaf, and the flavors were luscious and bright. But the wine felt distinctly short. Meanwhile, I picked clean the ribs of the fattened lamb, which were pan-grilled to perfection. A joyous pairing with the reticent claret.

Three lamb ribs later, the '70 Lafite started to put on a magnificient show--the finish lengthened and sweetened. It was unspeakably elegant. Mayon declared it perfect, and I can't disagree.

For an intermezzo, the 1970 Château Cheval Blanc from Kevin's cellar was piney and full of tea leaf aromas. A big, rich, ripe right-bank first-growth evincing pure fruit flavors. It was backed up by good acidity and strengthened by rich tannins. There is no letup in intensity on the finish. What an impeccable wine! If I can bottle it up again, it would age forever.

My somewhat sweet, savory cheese quiche was easily devoured by the biggest, baddest red Burgundy that ever lived. I swear, I've never had red Burgundy as powerful as this magnum of 1961 Clos de Tart. It flaunts almost SLH-like opulence, unbelievable for a Burgundy, especially a 50 year-old one; yet its freshness of fruit would embarrass a five-year-old Pisoni. Wow! Overripe and almost jammy flavors, yet clean and harmonious and exhibiting a raffish charm. We debated whether this magnum has already reached peak drinking. I doubt it.

A most decadent, syrupy dessert wine was the 1973 Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Sweet Johannisberg Riesling "Edelwein". Freemark Abbey bottles this wine to this day from late-harvest, botrytised Riesling grown in the Carneros. I feel that the acidity has melted away on this wine and I got poached citrus and orange marmalade flavors with a sweetness that was just numbing for me. I was really glad for the tangy Poached Blood Orange dessert that freshened my palate.

With a glorious old Port--a 1963 Cockburn's--and a tasty robusto in hand, I stepped outside into the cold air. My gratitude to Ben and Mayon for such an auspicious start for the New Year. If there is one lesson I learned this evening, it's that magnums are too big to fail.

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