Sun 21 Feb 2010
On May 29, 1985, we attended a dinner hosted by Les Amis du Vin at Grisanti’s East, “Big John” Grisanti’s restaurant in Germantown, the city that abuts Memphis to the east. Fifty years ago, Germantown was mainly horse farms, with one intersection where the old town was. Even in the 1970s, it seemed as if it took forever to drive from Midtown Memphis to Germantown, and what is now Germantown Road, a six-lane thoroughfare lined with fast-food emporiums, shopping centers and malls and office buildings, was a two-lane highway that ran north and south between cotton fields.
Anyway, it’s possible that in a box in the attic I have a menu from this dinner, but all I show in my wine label notebook is one label and description, and these are for Chateau La Tour Blanche 1976, Sauternes Premier Cru Classe, served in half-bottles with frogs’ legs sauteed in butter with a hazelnut sauce. The match was a stroke of genius on the part of chef Peter Katsotis (Big John’s son-in-law) and whoever provided the wine.
Here are my notes from that night: “A remarkable pairing — this wine with frogs’ legs cooked in butter & nut sauce — surprisingly, it worked. Medium gold color — Buttered toast nose, fruity, touch of raisin; beautifully balanced, not as sweet as I had expected, more mellow and round, lingering sweetness on the tongue and throat, subdued.”
In The New Great Vintage Wine Book (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), a revised and expanded version of The Great Vintage Wine Book of 1982, Michael Broadbent records tasting what sound like remarkable bottles of La Tour Blanche
from 1869 (Broadbent gave this five stars in 1892; the wine was 113 years old!); 1899 (three stars in 1981); 1900 (three stars in 1989); 1904 (three stars in 1985); 1921 (“perfection” and five stars in 1987) and so on. With more recent vintages, however, that is, in the 1970s and ’80s, Broadbent’s notes are more circumspect and ambivalent. As Robert M. Parker Jr. writes in the third edition of Bordeaux (Simon & Schuster, 1998), “Since 1910 the Ministry of Agriculture has run La Tour Blanche and until the mid-1980s seemed content to produce wines that at best could be called mediocre.”
And there was I, at this dinner in 1985, wowed by a glass of La Tour Blanche ’76 and a dish of frogs’ legs. Did I know what the hell I was doing? Who knows? I remember, however, 25 years later, how thrilling the experience was, how risky and satisfying the combination seemed and still does.
And just so you don’t get the idea that back in 1985 I was swanning around all the time trying great Bordeaux and Burgundy at tasting events and dinners, here’s a list of some of the wines we drank at home in April and May that year:
<>Shadow Creek Brut nv, Sonoma County.
<>Columbia Cabernet Sauvignon 1082, Yakima Vally.
<>Mirassou White Zinfandel 1984, Monterey County. (!!!!!)
<>Chateau de La Chaize Brouilly 1983.
<>Cribari Extra Dry California Champagne. (!!!!!)
<>Clos du Bois Merlot 1980, Napa Valley.
<>Petri American Burgundy nv (!!!!!)
Always the reckless experimenter, eh?