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In his recent book The Gourmands’ Way, Justin Spring recounts the role of six prominent Americans in “the birth of a new gastronomy” by telling how they introduced French cooking and wine to the American public. Spring includes the tale behind what many believe may have been the most indulgent wine dinner ever. Craig Claiborne – then Food Critic at The New York Times – won the dining opportunity at a charity auction for WNET in November 1975, and invited his longtime friend and colleague Chef Pierre Franey to join him. They selected Chez Denis in Paris as the site of the dinner, which was donated to the public television station for their annual fundraiser by American Express. With the help of proprietor Denis Lahana, they developed the menu and Lahana selected its accompanying wines without regard to cost.
Chez Denis was already described then as “a ruinously expensive right bank restaurant,” but Claiborne and Franey built their meal into a wine lover’s dream. Without regard to price, they were able to select wines from one of the greatest restaurant cellars in history, and they chose some real show stoppers.
It’s most important to me to note that they opted to begin this meal with the 1966 Comtesse Marie de France from Paul Bara. The first course was fresh Beluga caviar, and it speaks volumes that with the entire world of French Champagne available to them, they selected Bara’s Comtesse Marie de France. This extraordinary bottling developed by Paul Bara is aged on its yeast lees for 9 years before release. It’s made from 100% Pinot Noir grown in parcels believed by some to be the best Pinot Noir vineyards in the Champagne region. I’ve begun a few meals with a bottle of Bara Comtesse, and I still can’t imagine a better way.
By the way, the other wines served to Claiborne and Franey that night were:
1918 Ch. Latour
1969 Montrachet, Baron Thenard
1928 Ch. Mouton-Rothschild
1961 Ch. Petrus
1928 Ch. D’Yquem
1835 Madeira (Producer not identified)
1865 Calvados (Producer not identified)
Hors D’âge Cognac (Producer not identified)
|Appellation:||Champagne Grand Cru|
|Winemaker:||The Bara Family and Christian Forget|
|Vineyard:||40-50 years, 11 ha total|
|Aging:||Ages in bottle for 9 years before release|
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
Inspiring Thirst, page 312