One of the wonderful things about working for Hart Davis Hart is the opportunity to attend the special events that surround our auctions. During my five years at HDH I have been lucky to be part of a number of once-in-a-lifetime dinners. It’s hard to pick favorites but a few come to mind: 1960s Bordeaux at the now closed Charlie Trotter’s, Giacosa at Spiaggia, and 1982 Bordeaux at Del Friscos. These events have been highly memorable and have helped to shape my understanding of the fine and rare wine we work with on a daily basis.
The pre-auction dinner for our February sale focused on the wines of the Northern Rhône. Specifically, the wines of J.L. Chave, Paul Jaboulet Ainé, and E. Guigal. As I saw the details for our Rhône Dinner solidify I secretly hoped I would be able to attend the event. The wines of the Northern Rhône are some of my favorites and the opportunity to taste all of the ’94 La La’s next to each other, see for myself what La Chapelle is all about, and get my head around Chave’s famous white (and red!) wines had me quite excited. To top it off, the event was to be held at the award winning MK restaurant whose proprietor and chef, Michael Kornick, has a deep knowledge and passion for wine. His food is always inventive and delicious but his ability to create menus that compliment specific wines is what really impresses me. So, needless to say, I was thrilled to join the small group of twenty guests to delve into the food and wine of the Northern Rhône.
First, I should say that the menu was fantastic! Chef Kornick explained that he exclusively used products that would be in season in the Northern Rhône. We started the dinner off with 2004 and 2008 Hermitage Blanc from J.L. Chave, paired with a chilled rabbit and foie gras. The wines were both lovely but in very different ways. The 2004 showed much more maturity than the 2008, it was a light amber color with honeysuckle on the nose and palate. Just four years younger the 2008 was much lighter in color and body. There was more tension in the wine and a little saltiness that I loved. By the end of the meal (and I should note that I highly recommend holding on to a bit of your white until the end of the meal) a number of guests declared the whites to be their favorite wines of the evening.
Our first flight of reds brought us to the famed La Chapelle from Paul Jaboulet Ainé. La Chapelle has an interesting history: considered one of the benchmark wines of the Northern Rhône in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the wines saw a slump in quality in the 90s. In 2006 the Frey family added the property to their vast holdings through France and began investing heavily to bring quality back to the famed site. 2010 is viewed a one of the finest vintages of La Chapelle from the last 20 years. Our flight consisted of 1982, 1983 and 1985 and all of the wines were showing beautifully. The 1982 was a winner out of the gate. Sexy, refined, lush, juicy and mature. A note on service: we did not decant any of the wines. Bottles were opened about an hour before the dinner started. Given that the La Chapelles started to fall off a bit by the end of the meal I think this was a wise decision.
The second flight of the evening took us to the famous red wines of J.L. Chave. We enjoyed 1983, 1985 and 1989 Hermitage. Telltale signs of smoke, coffee and eucalyptus came through right away. The 1983 showed well immediately but the 1985 and 1989 took some time to come into their own. The 1985 showed forest floor and truffles early on but with a little time in the glass the fruit began to come out and it ended up being my favorite wine of the three. The 1989 was showing some bottle variation and while it was certainly a good wine, it didn’t strike me as being the best version it could be of itself. We all agreed that the flight changed drastically with food and time in the glass. The flight was paired with roasted pigeon with thyme, black truffle and potato gratin. Everyone at my table agreed that this was the best dish of the evening and brought the wines to their fullest potential.
Our third round of reds was a comparison of Guigal’s single vineyard La La’s from the 1994 vintage. The tiny sites of La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque (400-800 cases a year) are among the most pedigreed wines of the Northern Rhône. Notorious for taking years to reach maturity we found that the 1994s were ready to drink but could easily stay in the cellar for another 5 years. The La La’s were without question the biggest and tightest wines of the evening but they were also voluptuous, inky, smokey and just plain delicious. La Mouline was a favorite amount the group and not surprisingly, La Landonne seemed the most wound up of the three. If I was to serve 1994 La Landonne this evening I would give it an hour or so in a decanter before serving.
I have to say, my (high) expectations were exceeded. The wines and food were fantastic. If you haven’t come to one of our events I hope you can join us for one in the near future! We have several events surrounding our forthcoming Celebration of Burgundy Sale. If you’re a fan of oysters and Chablis (and who isn’t, really?) then our casual Fete de Chablis at Shaw’s is for you. If you want to experience a truly special event consider the Burgundy dinner with Jack Daniels and Johan Bjorklund the evening before the auction. Or, simply join us for lunch and wine during one of our auctions at Tru Restaurant.