Bordeaux, June 18, 2017
by Paige Donner (all photos copyright 2017)
On a hot summer evening in the Médoc’s Pauillac, Bordeaux guests arriving for the 1855 Grands Crus Classés dinner held this year at Château Latour were greeted with a marching Scottish-sounding band and flutes of Roederer champagne (who happens to own the closest neighboring château, Pichon Comtesse).
The Belle of the Ball, namely Madame Salma Hayak Pinault kept herself demurely sheltered inside the reception hall from the intense heat of the evening that persisted until after the sun went down. Thankfully, her and her Kering husband, François-Henri Pinault, offered the option of mingling in the cellar’s anteroom (as opposed to outdoors on the inner patio lawn) which was cleared out, save for an elegant display of the Grands Crus Classés en 1855 wines that were to be served at dinner. As a response to the sweltering heat of those few days in June, this ideally accommodated the several hundred privileged guests.
These dinners, the official opening of Vinexpo Bordeaux held every two years, are always lavish events. It’s where international and French journalists/ wine writers meet and mingle with these prestige wine estate owners and venerable Bordelais families, many of whose roots in the soil of the region run deeper even than U.S. modern history.
The choice of the chef is always a pivotal statement, too, of how the year’s chosen chateau will express their taste and style during the event. This year it was Chef Michel Guérard who ranks among the living legends of French chefs. When I dared compared his finesse and delicate skill with Paul Bocuse, my Margaux chateau-owning table mate explained to me that Chef Guérard is all that (meaning skill and finesse) minus the showmanship. Indeed, the man’s humility is as lofty as his talent.
Suffice it to say that his cuisine of expertly prepared caviar presented in a buttery in-the-skin oven-baked potato, followed by a medley of mushrooms and forest tubers in a velvety consommé and then sewn together by a crispy filet adorned with a pan-seared layer of foie gras wrapped in a flaky, delicate pastry shell were truly the only things I could imagine pairing so appropriately with a Château Haut-Brion 2009 served en Magnum, a Château Kirwan 2000 and….. drum roll…. a Château Latour 1975.
These are indeed all rare jewels and that any one person would have enough of any of them to so generously serve to a cellar room – transformed of course for the occasion into a cool and elegant dining room – of several hundred guests is, well, beyond imagination.
After the dinner, when moving about tables is allowed and offers more of a chance to socialize with familiar faces, Salma Hayek, seated next to Philippe Castéja, the President of the 1855 Grands Crus Classés, was delightfully friendly and approachable. I believe two things chimed a chord with her – the sound of a native- English speaker among the crowd and also a few familiar Global Green and Los Angeles city-county political names – always nice to have friends in common with a gracious and beautiful celebrity.
Kering, the company that her husband heads up, is of course a luxury conglomeration that includes Gucci and Puma. Their sustainability agenda has been front and center since before it was fashionable or politically de jour to be so. And of course Madame Pinault has been a dedicated supported of environmental causes for decades.
Since first catching a glimpse of this fabled Château Latour property back in 2011 on my inaugural visit to Pauillac, it was a long held dream to actually be invited inside the hallowed doors. But I must admit, the dinner, the graciousness, the warmth of the hosts and guests, and the magnanimity of serving Roederer champagne, Haut-Brion blanc 2009 en Magnum, Chateau Yquem for dessert and Château Latour 1975 for several hundred guests is, well, nothing short of stratospherically mindblowing. In a very – very -good way.
Just one note: At these bi-annaul dinners, the great Bordelais families who own these Grands Crus Classés en 1855 estates (the crème de la crème of Médoc, Graves, Barsac and Sauternes) always serve their own wines at their tables. This is a wonderful chance for the rest of us seated at table with them to taste their wines and hear more about their chosen vintages. But I wonder if it might not be more interesting for them if they had the chance, perhaps between the cheese and dessert courses, to swap bottles with other tables? Sort of like they do at a Bourgogne Paulee or an Okanagan Banee. It’s just a thought. But then again, who am I to question centuries’ old Bordelais traditions? Especially when, indeed, one is altogether too grateful to simply be included among the privileged few. And to catch a short snippet of the festive fireworks finale that greeted guests as we left the property, you’ll have to click over to my Instagram/paigefoodwine. As soon as I saw the lights exploding in the sky over the Latour vineyards and th Gironde river just beyond, I instantly knew what Madame Pinault meant when she had whispered in my ear, “We have a real treat in store for you still after dessert is served!” #BordeauxFoodAndWine
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