When you walk into a salon in a grand Berkshire Cottage after a culinary experience designed especially to satisfy the fussiest of grande palates and discover an old friend relaxing with a drink and enjoying his personal circle of relationships it's most pleasurable. When that friend has been sharing a meal at the same Cottage, albeit a different sort of meal, and neither of us feels the least bit of resentment for what he didn't have, then you are probably at Blantyre, in Lenox, for one of Ann Fitzpatrick Brown's special wine dinner evenings...or have simply been enjoying one of the most exquisite menus to be found for miles around.
Chateau de Beaucastel and Domaine Perrin Summer Supper Wine Tasting, August 4, 2006
I was enjoying the wine tasting supper, with wines provided by Marc Perrin from his family's two estates in the south of France. Rhone wines, among the most misunderstood in America, come in a variety of colors, bouquet and flavors. At this special evening, with food created by Chef Christopher Brooks, the wine was showcased through the variations of the menu. I was enjoying it thoroughly.
We started the evening on the terrace with hors d'oeuvres accompanied by two of Perrin's most unusual wines, Domaine Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Rose and Cote du Rhone Blanc, 2005. These are simple cocktail wines, not complex but still fruity. They are slightly sweeter wines than those we'd enjoy with most of our dinner. The Rose was darker than most I've known, almost a bordeaux in color. The White was a bit dark on the tongue, but light in the nose and the upper palate. It complemented everything I ate, and I ate everything. Fish, venison, pastry, it made no difference with these young wines.
The formal dinner began with Pan Seared Lightship Scallops with Chanterelles and Ginger Sauce with a Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, 2003. One of the beautiful aspects of a Rhone wine is its complimentary elements to the food it enlightens. This wine was also light, though with more body than the Rose. It had a light sense of salt, of pepper, of earth and clean air. It brought out the sweetness of the fish and the piquance of the ginger. This course was followed by a Vichyssoise that was almost too cool, but very tasty, paired with a Perrin Vinsobres "Les Cornuds" 2003. The message here resounded loud and clear: never be afraid to place a good solid red wine from France with any French dish. I would have normally indulged in a white wine, but this made the herbs and chives in the soup emerge grandly from the thick, and luscious soup. So far, by the way, the wines had been moderately priced at anywhere from $8 a bottle to $19 a bottle. But the best was yet to come.
Two wines were poured with the next course: Roasted La Bella Farms Guinea Hen with Sweet Corn Pea Puree and a Blossom Salad. Chef Brooks' excellent preparation left the Guinea Hen soft but firm and with enough natural juice to flavor the meat but never spill over into the salad or my lap. Lightly herbed, semi-crisp, it was a very different sort of chicken dish. When sipped with the two wines, one became an instantaneous winner, not just for me but for the highly sophisticated oenophiles around me: the Perrin Vacqueyras "Les Christins", 2004 bettered the Perrin Gigondas "La Gille", 2003. At around twice the price it should have been the better wine and it was, although the Gigondas was a most pleasant sipping wine and not to be left behind for a waiter to eventually clear away.
The principal meat course came next: Texas Antelope with Georgia Peach Tatin and a Rosemary Jus. The sauce was a tiny bit woody and the peach accompaniment wasn't up to the level of what had come before it, but the Antelope steak was out of this world. A third vineyard's output was introduced with the meat: Perrin now has a California winery in Tablas Creek. The domestic wine was a Paso Robles Esprit de Beaucastel, 2003 and its contemporary, a Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2003 came from France. Neither wine could be faulted; both worked perfectly with the food, although the California had a slight edge in the complexity of its flavors and the long finish that followed. The wines were getting more expensive, by the way, as the intensity of the food increased.
Our final course was a simple cheese platter with seven or eight choices, all local, served with roasted figs and a Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 1996. This is a premier cru wine, aged superbly and leaving behind a heady aroma, a tart-sweet tang on the tongue and a warmth in the middle of the body that surprised and delighted at the same time. As a showcase for the wines of these three Perrin houses, the evening was a complete success. Around me people were attempting to order cases. I would have been content with a good bottle or two.
Later, comparing notes on the food with those friends in the Salon, I had to look at the regular menu. Blantyre features a prix fixe menu of three courses for $85 per person (not including tax or tip-add 25%). A prix fixe with a wine tasting can be had for $170 per person. Variations on our carte appear on the regular offerings, so try the Antelope or the Scallops (slightly more complex in serving than our version was) or order the five course for the table - family style for only $115 per person - including Roasted Alaskan Halibut, Chateaubriand, a Somerset Cheddar and a desert tasting platter. Add a superb wine from the exquisite and widely varying cellar for a completely gourmet experience.
Treat yourself to a night at Blantyre as we did, as our friend did. It's only money and you leave with so much more than an empty pocket. You take home a memory made divine - if you add a great wine.