It’s not everyday that you can celebrate the 700th birthday of anything. In fact, the Mona Lisa seems like a blushing teenager at only 500 years old. But 2006 marked an important anniversary for one of the great Chateaux of Bordeaux – Chateau Pape Clement. This vineyard, the oldest named in Bordeaux, harvested its 700th crop this year (the Chateau itself is pictured below). But how do you celebrate a 700-year anniversary? By this time it’s safe to assume you’ve done all the standards – mariachi band, juggling clowns, chocolate fountain. Well if you’ve been around that long you know a thing or two about success – and the perfectly choreographed, expertly prepared food and wine pairing at Alain Ducasse was celebration worthy of the occasion.

As we walked through the doors of Alain Ducasse at the Essex House we were immediately greeted by a glass of 2004 Chateau Fombrauge Bordeaux Blanc – a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Semillon – served on a silver tray from a gentlemen in an impeccably tailored tuxedo. What we loved about this wine is it had the intense aromas of Sauvignon Blanc with richness on the palate from the Semillon. This wine paired perfectly with the cheese puffs, oysters and the puree of wild mushroom soup that were being passed around. After about three more glasses and more hors d’oeuvres than anybody should eat, we finally took our seat at the table.


A distinguished, older French man welcomed us through his translator. He spoke quickly making it difficult for his translator to keep up. Bernard Magrez, our host, and accomplished wine-maker and owner of Chateau Pape Clemant as well many more (32 wineries around the world), spoke about how honored he was to be a part of something with such an extensive history. He told tales of its past and spoke about visions for the future. He expressed gratitude to America, saying he will never forget how the US has helped save France’s freedom. He then turned his attention to Alain Ducasse standing to his right. Margrez praised him for the excellence that he brings to the culinary world and said how honored he was to have this important celebration here. Alain Ducasse stepped to the podium. He did not speak through the translator and addressed the crowd in thickly accented Frenglish. He expressed great admiration for Mr. Magrez and for his wine. It was short and sincere. Which was perfect because we were starting to get hungry again.

2006_05_food_poachedlobster.jpgThe first pairing was an elegantly prepared Poached Maine Lobster with English Pea “A La Francaise”. The english peas were cooked with braised lettuce, ham, baby carrots and pearl onions. This course was rich and indulgent, and the wine selected, the 2004 Chateau Pape Clement Blanc was the perfect choice to cut through the richness but had the body to bring it all together. This wine had pronounced minerality, citrus notes and a soft, subtle oak aroma.

The next course was Roasted Squab Breast, Confit Legs on the “Brochette,” served with Fava Beans and Golden Sage. Now up until this point, we could confidently say we hated fava beans – turns out we were wrong. Oh so wrong. The fava beans, generously bathed in sage butter melted in our mouths, and the roasted squab had a rustic, earthy quality that was alluring and comforting. A dish this good requires two wine pairings. The first pairing was the 2002 Magrez Tivoli, from Medoc in Bordeaux. This elegant wine had notes of gravel, blackberry and black current aromas with a hint of leather. The second wine, our preferred pairing for the course, was the 2003 Paciencia from Toro in Spain. The reason we liked this pairing so much was the earthy, rustic notes in the wine highlighted those flavors in the squab. We polished off our glass of wine and made good progress on the dish. We were nearing the painfully full point, and we hadn’t even finished our piece of bacon bread (and yes, it’s that good).

Just when we though we had managed to secure enough room for a nibble of the cheese course and perhaps just a bite of the Spring Strawberry Composition with strawberry jam/granite and Tonka Bean Sorbet – the unthinkable happened…we had to go back to the office. This was one of those critical moments when you have to decide what’s more important – income and a roof over your head or a fine selection of cheese served with 1961 Chateau Pape Clement. It pains us as we write this. We will probably regret that we didn’t stay until we take our last breath. But the experience we had was memorable. We were honored to be there on that special day to celebrate the history and longevity of an icon from Bordeaux. So we missed the 1961, no biggie, we’ll just catch it at the 750th anniversary. Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, 155 West 58th Street between 6th & 7th Avenues, 212 265 7300.