It was a very balmy evening when I was on the way to the restaurant L‘Etranger on Gloucester Road in South Kensington a few weeks ago. A fantastic restaurant creating great dishes of French and Japanese influence, I highly recommend you to go.
Excited about the dinner ahead yet nervous about the temperature. Was the restaurant going to be stuffy? The private room cool enough? Mainly concerned with the impact on the wines. Pinot Noir is such a fragile variety, and not just from a growing point of view with its thin skin and susceptibility to disease, but from a serving point of view too. In my opinion Pinot is best served a little chilled as to not unbalance the aromatics, or to smother the delicate and gentle flavours and complexities that make it the greatest grape variety. In fact just a little above ‘cellar temperature’ is spot on for me.
Now my serving concern is present for all Pinot Noir, but more so when it reaches the greatest producer and Domaine of them all – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The evening saw 14 delighted wine lovers come together with Ibi (owner of the L’Etranger) and pair a range of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grand Cru’s with his delectable food. My nerves were eased on arrival as not only was the temperature of the private room fine (thanks to some gaping windows), but the wines were all opened and in Ibi’s controlled temperature cellar. Perfect!
Now is as good a time as any to mention that I believe you should not decant Pinot unless it’s a very structured style and significantly young. A seed firmly planted by the views of Aubert de Villaine in fact. Mouth watering, I stepped a little close to inspect the wines alongside my colleague Tom Bird, both of us delighted with the line-up.
Not too long after our guests started to arrive so we headed below to the downstairs bar of L’Etranger named Meursault (same ownership). Here we gathered and enjoyed some Krug Grand Cuvée NV from magnum with some 24 months aged Parmigiano Reggiano, a charming match. The nutty, savoury notes to the cheese complemented the oxidative and rich style of the Krug, with its fierce acidity cutting through. It has since made me think to explore partnering cheese and Champagne further. With a full complement and aperitif bellied, we were guided back upstairs to the private room and took our places for dinner.
The first flight of wines saw a trio of Échézeaux Grand Cru 2007, 2004 & 2001 poured, alongside the first course of Ravioli de Coquille St Jacques, Consommé de Crabe et Tomate, Gelée de Citronnelle (Scallops Ravioli with King Crab). The reasoning behind the choice of vintages was to showcase the more recent years that accentuate the already existing accessibility of Échézeaux as a Grand Cru. The differences on show were remarkable. The 07 was very fragrant with typical high lifted Pinot notes, very open and supple. The 04 had an intoxicating and spicy perfume which reflected in a surprisingly intense palate, gorgeous. The 01 (which was my favourite of the trio) triggered your senses with its savoury and smoky nuances, a wine into a phase of its life that I find striking, underlying fruit and layered depth.
The second course of Demi Caille Rotie et Farcie au Foie Gras, Mouli Carameliser sauce Teriaki (Roast Quail with Foie Gras) was accompanied by Romanée-Saint-Vivant 2001 & La Tâche 2001. This RSV is the finest I’ve had from DRC and as incredible as the wine is now, I believe in another 10 years it will be truly outstanding. The combination of the floral, spicy aromatics with the intensity and elegance led to delicate layers building and building onto a huge length. One half of an exquisite pair meant the La Tâche had a lot to go up against and did so with finesse. Personally this was my favourite wine of the night, absolutely exceptional and like the RSV will hit a somewhat divine level much further down the line. A master showing of purity, grace, underlying power and persistence throughout. Seamless oak integration is standard for ‘the domaine’ but here it is effortlessly supporting the fruit with ripe, fine tannins framing.
The table was alive with debate and opinions now over the preference in style and which wine reflected the vintage better. It is tough to be so clinical in your thinking about such glorious wines; the RSV is one of the all-time great RSVs but LT 01 is such serious wine and nudges it in terms of depth, purity and refinement.
Next to come out was the mouth-watering and delicious main of Robata de Boeuf Wagyu grade 9, Gratin de Bettrave et Reglisse (Robata grade 9 wagyu Beef with Beetroots and liquorice Gratin) – when you visit L’Etranger you must try this dish. Tender is a severe understatement! Alongside we had, for most, the main attraction of Romanée-Saint-Vivant 1991 & La Tâche 1991. Here the inevitable pain of a corked bottle of RSV 91 hit home rather hard!! The second bottle was called in to stretch between us all and was thankfully clean. The floral and fruit aromatics burst out laden with sweet spice, the palate keen to showcase its savoury mature Pinot characters, adding complexity in a charming and feminine way. For me it was a little lacking in concentration, and expression on its length. The LT & RSV in 2001 is as different as the two vineyards could be. Disappointingly it had a rather muted nose of wild flowers and forest floor. However the taste was an explosion of incredible drive with enormous depth and density. The length was powerful with resurgence of flavour after flavour, utter class and a sensational Tâche. Captured that balance of elegance and power like almost no other wine does. Possibly leave for a few more years yet to let its tannins soften further?
To conclude we had our pudding of Tarte au Poire Nashi Tatin et Glace au Caramel (Caramelised Nashi Pear Tatin with Caramel Ice Cream) with an extremely dark bottle of Château d’Yquem 1924.
This was stock from L’Etranger’s own cellars, they have a hugely extensive wine list so if you are a wine nut and have not tried the restaurant, please do. The first bottle opened unfortunately turned out to be rather maderized, but the second gave a glimpse of what super mature Yquem is like. Walnut and spices drove the profile, where stewed sweetly spiced clementine’s sparked some recognition. Very much with minor hints of madeira, it proved to be a very interesting glass for me but I can’t help but think 20 years earlier would have given far more pleasure.
An extraordinary evening on the whole and one which continues to fuel my bias in that there are many great Burgundy producers and wines made, but Domaine de la Romanée-Conti do make the finest wines in the world.