After making a decision to move the Bastille Day dinner from the Private Dining Room at QuarterTwentyOne to a new restaurant following the appointment of administrators to the Becasse Group I began the search for a new and suitable restaurant to host the Bastille Day Rare Wine Dinner. Arras Restaurant manager and head Sommelier Alon Sharman was only too happy take on the next instalment of my Rare Wine Dinners by offering the exclusive use of the Mezzanine level at Arras Restaurant in Clarence St, Sydney (the old home of Becasse).
Let me say from the onset of the evening Arras did not disappoint with a couple of my regular guests stating in their opinion “the food was even a level above that of the last two dinners at QuarterTwentyOne”. Each and every dish was a well matched combination with each of the wines served, no easy task when you are serving wines up to 90yrs of age. The Mezzanine level at Arras offered more room than that of the PDR at QuarterTwentyOne and the light/white colour scheme at Arras lent a more spacious and softer feel as the evening progressed.
It is worth mentioning that we broke the bad cork record that has been 1 bad bottle at each and every dinner I have hosted since the first dinner 3 years ago. We must remember that when it comes to wines of this age it is very true that there are only great old bottles not great old wines. Each and every bottle can be different at this stage in their life and provenance can play a very big part in how these wines have developed and are showing today. For the first time not one bottle suffered a problem related to cork or poor cellaring and I credit this to mine and my close friends in Europe and our ongoing effort to source wines with good provenance from cold European cellars. As one can imagine the effort I put into to sourcing, verifying and preparing these wines is tireless and ever increasing as is my knowledge and experience in presenting and understanding them.
Before I get to my tasting notes and opinions on these wines I would like to point out that while some of these old wines may not be at their so called ‘Peak’ I try to portray what I find in each wine and what is good about them. At the same time remembering that we are tasting wines from a different time that were made using different techniques and theories then those of the wines made today. In essence we are drinking history, raising our glasses to some of the greatest wine makers of all time. Wine makers past and present whose skilful wine making has outlasted them themselves in many of these wines.
1985 Krug Champagne
Amazingly rich, complex, creamy and so very very long on the palate. A myriad of flavours including citrus, nuts, coffee, pate on toast, brioche and earth. A very powerful wine showing some age and in lovely condition. I held a little of this and tried it over an hour or so and noted it just held and held. Stunning wine.
1979 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin La Grande Dame
So very fresh and vibrant this was unique champagne in perfect condition. Unique because I found an ocean beach like minerality to the nose and palate with notes of citrus and apple. Very tight and round with plenty of acidity, a great experience and matched rather well with the Oyster and Sauerkraut. These 2 Champagnes were a very great way to get the night underway setting the scene for some excellent wines to follow.
1953 Staatsweinguter, Kiedricher Grafenberg Auslese Riesling, Rheingau, Germany
An exceptional and rare vintage, these wines never cease to amaze, consistently confirming my ongoing appreciation and addiction for what is quite simply some of the greatest wines ever made. Why the world has forgotten these wines is beyond me and I will continue to show them at my dinners at each and every opportunity. Complex, harmonious and spicy, apple compote, ginger, cinnamon, brown sugar, caramel and smoke. Very well balanced, waxy with lovely soft acidity supporting the effortless glide across the palate for a very long finish that went on and on.
1976 Langwerth Von Simmern Eltviller Sonnenberg Auslese Riesling, Rheingau, Germany
Floral and pretty this was right in the slot for many of the 76’s I have been fortunate enough to taste. With a very slight hint of kero and lanolin adding to the atypical tropical fruit including apricot, pineapple and quince with white flowers on the nose and the honey of bottle age this was another great example of the rich Rheingau Auslese style that is typical of the warm 76 vintage. While having plenty of weight and coating every corner of the palate I felt it not quite as good as other 76’s from LVS that I have been fortunate to try in the past such as the Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen. The Onions and Violets dish was an unusual but perfect match to these timeless German Riesling making the combination of food and wine in this instance rather outstanding.
The Surprise wine: 1929 Chateau Yquem (Negociant bottling from Brussels)
Expectations for me were high for this wine and I was not disappointed. The sheer power and persistence of this wine was outstanding and probably one of the longest wines on the palate I have ever had the pleasure to taste. The nose was full of leatherwood, honey, marmalade and tangerine peel. The palate showed amazing acidity with a melange of flavours including: Orange marmalade, walnut, brown sugar, caramel, coffee, acacia honey, chocolate orange and more with a double burst of flavour that slingshot the wine to a finish that just didn’t want to end. I sat on this for a number of hours and noted it continued to open and gain complexity for up to about 2 or 3hrs with the acacia honey and walnuts growing stronger before starting to fade ever so slightly from its glorious high. Sheer power! The truffled potato, fois gras and grapes just the perfect combination to such a rich sauternes. A tried and tested match but magic none the less.
1978 Domaine Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Ruchottes”
On the nose distinctly mineral with seashells, pear, subtle tangerine like citrus? (or was it still the Yquem stuck in my nose) and herbaceous grassy characters. On the palate some pomello and bitter citrus seed or pips, acidic, oily texture but not quite as interesting compared to the nose. Unfortunately it seemed to be lacking in some respects. In no way faulty just not overtly interesting however I did wonder if this and the next wine suffered a little considering the sweetness and power of the wines they followed.
1962 Masson Dubois Meursault Charmes
Light on the nose with nuts and caramel that followed to the palate with some butter and a hint of orange. On its own a little flat however when partnered with the Blue eye, mushrooms and burnt butter it went extremely well and showed what would ordinarily be an uninteresting wine could be made much better with the help of a very well matched dish.
1949 C.Marey & Cte. Liger-Belair Richebourg
A very impressive Burgundy. On the nose smoky, earthy, red cherries, rose, mushroom and soy. The palate revealing much the same but Cola, Sarsaparilla like fruit, truffle and woody damp earth, medium acid and pretty much resolved tannins. Complex and alluring this was a very enjoyable wine still showing good balance and structure. The Groper, radicchio and rice made an interesting match that I thought really did work. Outstanding.
1964 Enrico Serafino Barbaresco (magnum)
My notes on this wine are short for some reason but probably because I was too engrossed in the conversation at this stage rather than the wines themselves which may just go to show that they just didn’t demand the attention that the previous wines did so far tonight. My notes state, quite grippy and tannic, drying, mouth puckering acidity and texture with some tart cherry, cigar box and leather a touch austere but still may age for a few more years yet.
1967 Enrico Serafino Barbaresco (magnum)
Again my notes were short stating: Iodine like and medicinal, leather, soft tannins, earthy and some mouth watering acidity. The food once again in this instance helped these wines, the Venison, eel, horseradish and beetroot went down quite a treat with these two wines. A pleasure to try these wines and interestingly, opinion was divided around the table on just how good these wines were. I thought they were both good wines, very drinkable and certainly interesting.
1961 Chateau Montrose
At first a little musty then opening to reveal a very dry wine, ruby red my notes echo those who have previously tasted this wine, smoky red fruits, cassis, olive, crushed rocks and quite amazing minerality. Plenty of structure, tannin and lovely sweetness albeit quite noticeable grip and texture. I believe this wine may continue to develop for quite some years to come. A very good dry style of wine.
1929 Chateau Abel Laurent (now part of Margaux)
Expressive nose loaded with coffee, tar and earth which followed to the palate but with incredible tannin leaving a quite dry choco coffee experience showing some caramel undertones and a touch of chocolate mint. An interesting wine that was quite dry, chewy and somewhat unctuous. The Pot au feu and tongue salad was a great dish that once again matched these wines very well.
1961 Chateau Coutet
I thought this medium bodied in the context of a sweet dessert style wine with a lovely elegance that showed hints of orange, spice, honey and a clean finish supported by fine acidity. Delicate with considerable balance this partnered quite nicely with the Strudel, apple, raisin and Calvados. Once again a very enjoyable wine in fine condition.
1953 Staatsweinguter Steinberger Edelbeerenauslese, Rheingau, Germany
This wine was actually the wine I had been waiting to try all night and for very good reasons. This was a sheer masterpiece! Loaded with honey, butterscotch, toffee, caramel, cooked sweet banana, brown sugar syrup, lime like acidity with pretty floral accents, thick, oily and mouth coating, so very rich, deep and unctuous and a finish that just didn’t seem to end. I could almost still taste this wine two days after the dinner, what an impression this left. Simply out of this world! What a way to end an exceedingly rare and very enjoyable line up of wines.
My thanks again to everyone who attended and shared this wonderful wine experience. So many of these wines are like comparing the best to the best, it is one revelation after another. Special thanks to Tim for his time and efforts in preparing the booklet on the wines. A very big thank you to Alon and the entire kitchen and restaurant team at Arras, the food was sensational and very well matched. The service and handling of the wines was professional and careful and I look forward to hosting dinners with you again. Thank you also to Carey and Andrew for the photo’s. Last but certainly not least how fantastic were those Petit Fours we were like a big bunch of kids in a lolly shop, Thank you Arras.