Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lunch at Château Cheval Blanc with Pierre Clouet, Technical Director: Decanter d'Yquem Weekend.

Château Cheval Blanc knocked our socks off on Saturday.  Technical Director Pierre Olivier Clouet had just spent 90 minutes expounding on the theory and practice of viticulture and viniculture and now he was set to host us at a champagne reception and sit-down lunch.

As we made our way into the reception room, we were met with flutes containing Dom Ruinart 1998, a wine described by the House as "the ultimate expression of Chardonnay."  After we were all appropriately "armed" the wait staff began circulating with an hor d'oevres of thinly sliced sea bass on toast points.

At the conclusion of the reception we were shown into the dining room.  The room was tastefully appointed with palm trees and potted plants and with a long, oval-shaped dining table running down its center.

We chose our seats, perused the menu (cream-colored, elegant construct, with flowing script and a brown tasseled ribbon), and waited for the fireworks to begin.

The first course was Mozzarella de Bufflone (Buffalo Mozzarella), Brunoise de Légumes et Copeaux de Jabugo (mixture of vegetables and Spanish Ham shavings).  This course was accompanied by a 2003 vintage of the Château's second wine, Le Petit Cheval.  In describing this wine Pierre talked about jam, licorice, and menthol notes as well as freshness, maturity, and balance.  This vintage was aged in 100% new oak.  Further expounding on the philosophy of the Château, Pierre indicated that the taster should focus on the mid-palate when tasting either Le Petit Cheval or Cheval Blanc.  The Château's goal is to have the wine on the palate at all times: attack, mid, and finish.  The mid-palate comes from the fineness of tannins and is a function of the soil.  In the case of Cheval Blanc wines, the tannins have density with silkiness.

The second course was Dos de Cabillaud (Cod back), Purée à l'Ancienne (Mashed potatoes with aged olive oil) and was accompanied by the 2001 Cheval Blanc.  The wine was fresh and presented red berry notes, spice, menthol, licorice, and violet.  The wine showed excellent concentration and density and had a long finish.

The third course was Fromages Affinés (Refined cheeses) while the final course was Salade de Mangue (diced Mangoes), Macarons et Grog à la Passion (Macaroons and Passion Fruit punch).  It was at this time that we got our first glimpse of the "big cat", the amber-colored nectar of the gods, a bottle of d'Yquem.  The 1997 vintage of this wine was poured to accompany our dessert.  As can be seen in the picture below, the wine has a rich golden color and was an aromatic delight.  Very rich on the nose with a plethora of tropical fruit notes.  Silky on the palate with a smooth, ultra-long finish.

This was an excellent meal from top to bottom. Every course was exceptional and went exceedingly well with its pairing partner even though some of these would not have been my personal pairing choices going in.  The consistency of the Buffalo Mozzarella and the presence of the ham shavings were very agreeable with the freshness and balance of the Le Petit Cheval while the presence of the aged olive oil and the medium body of the cod complemented the Cheval Blanc.  And what about the d'Yquem? Pure heaven.

As we staggered out of the dining room, there were two thoughts on our collective minds: (i) we had just had a phenomenal experience and (ii) the Yquem champagne reception and dinner was only three hours away and two of those hours would be occupied in traveling back to the hotel and then to Château Yquem.

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