FROM LEFT: Château Pichon Lalande; George Sape, the Honorable Guy Yelda, and François Payard.
Recently, the Commanderie de Bordeaux celebrated the beginning of its season with an opening of Parlement de Renaissance, hosted at the French Consulate in New York City. Our master of ceremonies, George Sape, maître of the NYC Commanderie, and the Honorable Guy Yelda, the new French Consul General to New York, welcomed the Commandeurs and our guests to an evening of exceptional wines of Bordeaux paired with a classic French menu. The Salon Rose was the perfect setting—the 20- foot ceilings and the windows overlooking the bustle of Fifth Avenue and the foliage of Central Park imbued a sense of European charm. The food was brilliantly prepared by François Payard of the famed Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro in Manhattan, and was paired with a vertical tasting of one of the top second-growth wines of Bordeaux: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Château Pichon Lalande is situated in the Pauillac region, located between the Gironde estuary and the Atlantic Ocean.
The 1988, 1989, and 1990 are all exceptional vintages, yet each has individual characteristics that sets it apart from the others. (We were pleasantly surprised to see magnums of the 1975 vintage on display as we entered the dining room.)
Each table was asked to rank the three, and serious yet entertaining discussion ensued. The 1975 vintage ($500) appeared first, paired with seared Hudson Valley fois gras with poached pear and bitter greens. It surprised us all—from its peaty nose (almost reminiscent of a glass of Scotch) to its low-acid, mellow finish. This wine exhibits life that the 1975 vintage isn’t traditionally known for; some of my compatriots pointed out that it’s particularly “bottle dependent” and inconsistent. (Sape provided the magnums, which he’d kept stored in one place since their delivery 30 years ago.) It was sweeter than I expected, and our maître explained that the winemaker used a blend of 45 percent Merlot grapes (compared to 35 percent, typically), 35 percent Cabernet Sauvignon (45 percent, typically), a more expected 12 percent Cabernet Franc, and eight percent Petit Verdot in 1975, resulting in more fruit and increased sweetness.
The 1988 vintage ($108)—my favorite of the evening—was paired with fillet of halibut atop a purée of petits pois and sautéed cèpes. I detected wood in the nose, and although the wine started tight, it opened quickly. The tannins existed; however, they weren’t overwhelming and helped produce an opulent finish.
The 1989 vintage ($161) was served with short ribs braised for hours in a reduction of red wine, onions, and carrots. This was the best pairing of the evening—the low acid level and abundant fruit in the 1989 worked perfectly with the ribs. The majority of the attendees favored this wine.
The 1990 vintage ($114) was served with a selection of artisanal cheeses from around the US. Another excellent production, the 1990 was more intense to my taste and the alcohol was more forward. The popular majority felt it was the “most luscious” and exhibited the “best balance.”
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande wines are available at Astor Wines & Spirits, 399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500.