"...a good, good night..."

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Holiday Dinner

A couple of good friends came to dinner to celebrate the holidays--or more specifically, holidays and friendship. One had a bottle of Chateau Margaux that he suggested we open. Chateau Margaux? Great!

So that was the beginning of the planning. My experience with Margaux (and I've had a bit--thank you, Lord--including three dinners with Chateau Margaux managing director Paul Pontallier) is that good, simple beef provides a pairing that allows its elegance to shine. So a roast of bone-in prime rib was the second part of the plan. Mashed potatoes à la Joel Röbuchon--also simple, but decadent. What other red to join the Chateau Margaux? Since it was relatively young (2002), how about a fully aged wine from Margaux? I had one bottle left of 1982 Chateau Brane Cantenac. Might be over the hill...but then again, might not. I pulled a bottle of of 1985 Chateau d'Isssan, also from Margaux, just in case. The main course plan was set.

The forecast was for clear and cool...so appetizers would be around the fire pit. I love champagne, but I don't drink a lot of rosé champagne...often, I find them less penetrating, less complex, less interesting. But I'd heard the Lallier was nice--and the idea of of a rosé as a holiday treat seemed somehow festive. That meant we'd be coming to the table from outside. The forecast for clear and cool made a hot soup seem like a good first course. An old French recipe for potato and leek soup seemed to fit. The emphasis was more on the leeks and onions than potatoes...so my sense was a good dry chenin blanc would pair well. I think François Chidaine is making brilliant Loire Valley chenins...I picked the 2010 Les Choiselles. So the plan was set.

I thought it would be good. It turned out to be better. There was a charm in sitting around the fire pit, drinking good rosé champagne, listening to Christmas carols and chatting. Then we came in to the soup. Excellent. And the Chidaine was superb with it. It offered acid and minerality in the structure and rich tree fruit (apple, pear, peach) which cause it to pair beautifully with the potatoes and leeks. Every time I drink one of Chidaine's wines, I wonder why I don't own more of them. Maybe the fact that they're relatively affordable (~$30) causes me to subconsciously undervalue them. I need to get over that. Sooner or later the world will figure out how good they are and they'll get more expensive and/or harder to find.

Then it was on to the main course. The food was just what it was supposed to be. Really good, but not so complicated that it competed with the complexity in the wines. The 2002 Margaux was also exactly what it was supposed to be. Classic. Elegant. Perfumed. Powerful without being weighty. I worried how the 1982 Brane Cantenac would fare in comparison. The cork was fragile--as expected--but came out with an "Ah, So" opener. The aroma...not magic. A little dusty and maybe a little barnyard. But then, the aromas didn't win a lot of praise when the wine was young. Then came the first sip. Slow smiles. Elegant, perhaps bordering on delicate, and wonderfully complex. It was like a gorgeous string quartet playing with depth and harmony. I was reminded how much I love good, mature wines. I've had several top 1982s--including Chateau Margaux--but I enjoyed this as much as any I've ever tasted.

Oh, and there was dessert. A gingerbread roll with cinnamon cream--all made from scratch. Took me four hours. Wouldn't do it often, but it was great. As I sat back and looked at my friends and thought about the evening, I heard a verse from a song playing in my head. I'm not exactly a Black-Eyed Peas fan...I don't even know exactly who they are...but somehow I kept hearing "...a good, good night..." in my mind.

And indeed it was a good, good night.


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