Dining with François Audouze
(by most famous French wine collector François Audouze)
I will talk about a very special dinner. There is in Paris a very confidential restaurant which is of the level of the greatest : L’Astrance. I have a special love for the art of Pascal Barbot and for the intelligence of Christophe Rohat. I wanted to make one of my dinners there. The table should not exceed eight seats, so this should be a dinner with great wines. If we are few diners, we must drink well. Some weeks ago, a friend of mine phones me and says: “A very close friend of mine lives in Chile. Can you make a dinner which would be so unforgettable that he will decide to leave Chile to come and live in Paris”. I try to figure on which magnitude something unforgettable should be. I ask my friend : “do you want something great ?”. He said : “yes”. I inform some other friends of this project, and they decide to come. I am so happy that the table was so quickly formed that I decided to add – for their surprise – two heavy weights of my cellar : Cheval Blanc 1947 and Cyprus Commandaria 1845.
One month before the dinner I came for a lunch in Astrance to try some recipes and make comments on what works well or badly with old wines. Pascal and Christophe listen carefully, and we decide the general direction of the menu. This motivation of a young great chef pleases me a lot.
When I arrive in the restaurant at 4:30 pm to open the bottles which had stayed in the cellar for more than one week, Christophe, Pascal and the talented sommelier Alexandre will witness the opening. And we smelled every wine in order that Pascal can adjust the spices and herbs. And when the Cheval Blanc was opened, we decided to change completely one course, as the one which we had imagined would not fit with this legendary 1947.
The menu created by Pascal Barbot is of a great sensibility : Huître au naturel, Caviar / Galette de champignons de Paris, foie gras mariné au verjus, huile de noisette / Rouget, fondue de trévise aux câpres / Quasi de veau grillé, poireau et soja / Pigeon cuit au sautoir, jus de cuisson, potiron / Foie gras chaud, zestes d’agrumes / Stilton crémeux / Mangue tiède et pamplemousse tiède et coing / Madeleines.
When all my guests are there, we are all very nervous because we know that we are going to live something which is unique. The Dom Pérignon 1966 has an intense golden colour, like a quince. The bubble is fine and very active. The smell is an invading perfume. In mouth, the rounded seduction is gorgeous. The most impressive is the length. The wine never ends. A friend says that he prefers the champagne without food. It is true that the length is greater without food. But what is interesting is to check the adaptability of the Dom. With the oyster, the iodic but sweet aspect excites the Dom, and with the Parisian mushroom the champagne becomes romantic. It is clear that Dom 66 is a champagne for gastronomy.
Château Lafleur Pétrus 1945 has a colour which is amazing. The fill was in the neck, and in the glass, such a colour belongs to a wine of ten years. But it is truly a wine of 1945. The wine is not very Pomerol like. A friend says : more Pauillac. But the Pomerol appears when the wine expands in the glass. It is a great wine, not particularly sexy. What can it do when it is associated to the Chateau Latour 1947? I have already drunk very great Latour in my life. I think this one is the greatest. It is the perfect Bordeaux. All in it is absolutely exact. What impresses me in that wine is that it is placed under the sign of charm. Every component of this wine is charming. The approach is romantic, the taste is comfortable, out of time. I feel so well with this incredibly gorgeous wine. Probably a wine that I would mention as the absolute perfection of Bordeaux. The delicious red fish was exactly adapted to the two wines. More naturally with the Pomerol.
Then my gift is poured: Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947. The bottle was mid-shoulder. But I had a good feeling. In the glass, the wine has the colour of blood when it begins to dry. The smell is of a delicate Port wine, and curiously, less Port than what is classically mentioned as a characteristic of Cheval Blanc 1947. In mouth, bingo! I am so happy that the legend is there. This wine has no equivalent. There is no possible comparison with any Bordeaux. It’s an alien. What impresses is the density of this wine which is more singing and less Port like than what I figured. The veal, that we had decided with Pascal just a few hours ago, by opening, was fully appropriate. I have drunk already four times Cheval Blanc 1947. This one is certainly first or second among the five.
I had asked Alexandre that we would drink separately the two Burgundies, to enjoy the Romanée Conti alone. But when I saw that he had begun to serve, I decided to let him do. The Vosne-Romanée 1934 has a label of any merchant who probably put the wine in bottle. There is absolutely no other indication. I have included this wine in this dinner as I want that there is always a foot soldier in my dinners. And I am right as the wine has a natural balance which is incredible. All is integrated, balanced, cosy, and extremely readable. It is a wine of pleasure with no sign of any tiredness. The wine is purely comfortable. One of my friends who knows my “coquetteries” says to the others that it is sure that I will vote for the foot soldier. But tonight, there were too many legendary wines.
When I am poured with the Romanée Conti, Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1967, once more bingo! This is what Romanée Conti has to be. Wow, I am happy. Because the two previous tries that I made with a Romanée Conti were dissatisfying. This one is great. I am in heaven. The colour is of a pale red. The nose is incredibly complex. And in mouth all the enigmatic seduction of Romanée Conti is there. The people who are used to analyse the components of a wine could write entire books to describe the complex spices which are so nicely mixed like by an alchemist. Some images come to my mind: lovely pink and red fruits, a sophisticated party in the gardens of Versailles castle, with some courtesans. I am immensely happy that the Cheval Blanc 1947 and the Romanée Conti 1967 performed exactly as they should.
My guests are completely struck by the intensity of what we live. The restaurant’s room understands that something great happens, as all the eyes are focused on our table.
What comes now is a combination which belongs to the best ever that I have lived. I had asked that the foie gras appears at this moment of the dinner. And I associated it with Montrachet Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1999. A bomb of fragrances. The Chilean friend was collapsing with pleasure. This white wine has certainly a set of aromas which is one of the largest that exist. The density, the expressivity are immense. With the sauce made with pressed citrus skins, the combination was one of the greatest ever.
At this moment, everyone wonders if it is possible to go further in the incredible. But we are far from having finished. The Climens 1929 makes me nearly faint. This is the absolute perfection of what a Sauternes can become one day. I do not see the slightest infinitesimal default. I do not see the slightest aspect which could be improved. This Sauternes is a giant. At the same moment, the Chateau d’Yquem 1929 is served. It is evidently an immense Sauternes. But there is a big difference. The Yquem which has lived all its life in the Chateau has been recently recorked. The Climens had its original cork. This makes a difference. So, tonight, the Climens was a stellar Sauternes, one of my greatest ever. I had asked that we have two small plates, one with mango and one with pink grapefruit. Pascal added one with quince. The combination mango plus Climens was so incredible that I asked urgently Pascal, busy in his kitchen, to come and check one of the sexiest weddings that can exist.
Then comes my beloved among the beloved, the Cyprus 1845. There is not any more complex and more intense perfume as the smell of this wine. It is impossible to resist to such a perfume. And in mouth, nothing can be more charming and sexy. There are tons of spices and liquorice. Pascal added for our pleasure a cream with liquorice which was charming on the wine.
What a trip ! This is not finished, but we vote. For eight voters, five wines will have the honour to be voted as first : The Cyprus 1845 got four votes as first, and my vote is not in the four, and four wines got one vote as first : Dom Pérignon 1966, Cheval Blanc 1947, Romanée Conti 1967 and Climens 1929.
Can it be imagined that in a vote of eight people for four wines, there was absolutely no vote for two immense wines : Yquem 1929 and Lafleur-Pétrus 1945. It shows how the others were incredible. This is for me the greatest sign of this incredible dinner : no vote for Yquem 1929 !!!
The consensual vote would be : Chypre 1845, Cheval Blanc 1947, Romanée Conti 1967 et Climens 1929 (quelle liste !).
My vote has been :
1- Château Climens 1929,
2 – Romanée Conti 1967,
3 – Château Latour 1947,
4 – Château Cheval Blanc 1947.
I did not include Cyprus 1845 in my vote as I know this wine completely. I preferred to vote for the exceptional performances of some legendary wines.
The story does not end now. At a table in the same restaurant, an American man and his wife had reserved a table. He had told me that he would be there and had said that he would come with a Bourbon of 1900. Such a generosity was an excuse for me to open the rarest and nicest bottle that I have acquired from the cellar of Duke of Windsor.
The Bourbon whiskey, Boone & knoll Kentucky 1900 is amazingly wonderful. What a Bourbon! Like very old cognacs, this alcohol has acquired roundness, smooth aspects, and fills gently the mouth with a rare sweetness. A very elegant whiskey.
The bottle of whisky is square at the lower part, and then every side become round, until it joins the neck. The seal of Duke of Windsor is marked in wax. The label is hand written with a distinguished script, and says : the finest scotch whisky, very great age, John Dewar and sons ltd, Perth rs. My guess is that the whisky is from circa 1860. The smell is of an incredible intensity. There is black earth which invades the nostrils. But in mouth, it has lost a part of its strength. It is still an amazing whisky. But I imagine that it could have been greater.
What are my impressions after this event ? First, the fact to take all these great historical wines from my cellar does not leaves me indifferent. If I know that friends who love wines have shared these wines, it is a pleasure. The fact that no wine underperformed is, one can understand that, a subject of satisfaction. The chef has been creative and some recipes gave emotions which are unique. I think that we have written a page in the book of pure and fine gastronomy.
Best regards from François Audouze
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