Planning a special evening and a special dinner around a great wine can be complicated. Doing the same with four such wines in the same evening is an even greater challenge. There are so many variables to take into consideration ranging from “will the wine be good” to “what food will compliment the wine best” to “having a suitable backup wine if needed”.
My wife and I recently hosted a dinner for four where the other couple are good friends of ours who know and appreciate fine wine (always important when you go to open a bottle of your best), and they had recently done me a huge favour for which this dinner was to show our gratitude. We had also recently moved and I needed to find a special occasion in order to open some of our older bottles which showed signs of aging.
I selected a bottle of 1985 Chevalier Montrachet by Jean Chartron, a 1952 Chateau Latour, a 1978 Chateau Lafite, and a 1971 Chateau Y’Quem, to be consumed in that order with an entrée, main course and dessert. The Lafite was meant to be a backup in case the Latour was a disappointment. I had a feeling the Montrachet would be tired and dried out, as might be the Latour, since 1952 was generally a poor year in Bordeaux except for Chateau Latour. The Y’Quem had oxidized, the colour being brown/orange, the bottle fill being only mid shoulder and the cork showing signs of recent seepage. So the evening’s lineup was full of risk with lots of ways that we could have more than one disappointment. It also meant that I had to have more than one backup plan, and that the dinner menu would have to be carefully constructed.
We decided to start the evening with an assortment of paté and a double smoked cheese, accompanied by a very simple and plain 2012 Oyster Bay Chardonnay. That allowed our guests to get comfortable and the all important socializing and “catching up” to take place before the main event was to start. As an entrée my wife served up pan fried scallops on a bed of kale in a lemon dressing. The tart lemon dressing was meant to offset and minimize any sharp or flat weakness in the old Montrachet. The wine was very interesting, it definitely was on its last legs, it had a woody tinge to it that is typical of a once majestic, but now over the hill old Chardonnay. But this was still balanced, and had enough fruit on the palate to be tired but still very pleasant. As the wine warmed up in the glass it improved, and more fruit emerged. Unlike many older wines the nose and palate did not fall apart after 10 or 15 minutes. The food combined very well with the wine, and the tart lemon enhanced the flavours of the wine on the palate. This was both a surprise and a success.
As we finished the last of the Montrachet I barbequed our filet mignon that my wife had marinated in a thick basil vinaigrette dressing, while my wife tended to the vegetables, very simple boiled baby potatoes and carrots served in a butter sauce. Opening the 1952 Latour was not easy, the cork was disintegrating, even as I delicately used my “Ah-So” two pronged cork remover (this is a necessity for older wines as many corks do not age as well as the wine).
The all important first taste told me the wine was still very good, what a relief. With a medium rare filet mignon topped by a bearnaise sauce, and the boiled baby potatoes and carrots in a light butter sauce, this was a perfect fit with our 52 Latour. The wine was soft and delicate, round but still carrying lots of fruit. There was nothing on the dinner plate to compete with the subtle fruit flavours in the Latour so the combined effect was very complimentary to the wine. Our guests were blown away with the food/wine combination.
As we lingered on the last of that wonderful Latour, I debated in my mind whether we should open the 78 Lafite or proceed immediately to dessert, after all the Lafite was there primarily as a backup in case the Latour was a failure. I opted to open it, and boy was that a great decision. In my view the Lafite was the biggest success of the evening. This was a full bodied wine, lots of spicy cedar on the nose and palate, a huge lingering cedar aftertaste and not a hint of fatigue anywhere. This wine will still carry another 10 to 15 years in the bottle without losing a beat, so anyone who thinks the 1978 vintage for Pauillac wines is past its prime (as some wine critics are prone to say) should taste the Lafite. I consider myself fortunate to have another two bottles left in my cellar.
There was no food to consume while we enjoyed our Lafite, so this allowed us to focus all our attention on the wine. Although it was not planned that way, this worked out very well. We were all mesmerized by the sheer power of this wine, the robust cedar flavours, full bodied palate and aftertaste. Every taste brought new pleasure, and our guests commented “Oh my God, this wine is fabulous” and “I have never tasted anything this good”. Perhaps that was a little exaggerated, or maybe it was the ambiance of the moment, but it really was a special moment in time we will all remember.
Alas it was time for dessert, so we served up a chocolate cake with plenty of icing and chocolate while I uncorked the 71 Y’Quem. The first sip told me this wine was like licorice, an orange blossom fruit bomb with plenty of caramel, slightly oxidized but heavenly nonetheless. The initial flavours gave way to an avalanche of secondary fruit flavours, peach, apricot, mango, melons and more. The wine was sweeter than the poor chocolate cake, completely overpowering it, but then again it is hard to imagine anything that could rival the flavours the Y’Quem was giving off. 1971 was not considered a great year for Sauternes or Chateau Y`Quem, and this bottle itself was not in the best of condition, but it was a total success anyways.
We were stunned, and completely blown away with the sum total of these four memorable wines. And I was quietly breathing a sigh of relief that all had gone off without a hitch. When I look back on the magic of that evening I am amazed at how many things could have gone wrong. But the point is simply that nothing did go wrong. A little bit of careful planning, a lot of tender loving care storing our treasured wine gems, good friends to share that special moment in time, some luck and good fortune, and we all have a memory that will stay with us forever and always bring a smile when reflected upon.
Good wine, good food, and good friends all combined that night to create great memories. I have many other wine memories and given time I will gladly share these with you. Reg.