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I once had one of the most exquisite dining experiences in my life, and a tremendous argument, all at the same time.
I had just passed my first level of the Master of Wine Exam (qualification never to be finished) and the occasion was dinner at Le Bec-Fin, once described as “America’s best French Restaurant” and winner of Conde Nast's 1994 poll in for “best restaurant in the country.”
Before creating Waterford Wine, I had grown up in the “back of the house” – cooking – and Le Bec-Fin was considered Valhalla: the place of dreams, divine craftsmanship, and absolute adherence to French cooking tradition, all at once. I had never been, and so once I got close (with a reason to celebrate), I had to go.
I remember the dish:
Shaved, chilled sea scallop, shaved fennel, cubes of apple and cardamom gelee, set on a perforated bowl over another bowl of dry ice spiced with silver needle tea. The server poured water onto the dry ice, resulting in a soft billowing cloud of white tea, cardamom, apples and fennel. The aroma was extraordinary.
Now the argument:
Just before this amazing dish, the sommelier served us a Roussette du Bugey, explaining that it's Roussanne. Two things: First, Pennsylvania wine law requires restaurants to buy from retailers, effectively adding a fourth tier. That extra tier is the State of Pennsylvania, making a pretty penny. This means restaurants have to search deep into the sea of wines, for those golden gems that taste not just twice, but four times above their price.
Second, Roussette is not Roussanne. The sommelier misidentified it, and being fresh from an exam, I called her on it. Roussette is Altesse, Savoie’s finest grape variety, and as the Oxford companion notes, “rich in mystery, exotically perfumed and well worth ageing.” She, the sommelier, was wrong. And totally unimpressed with my erudition. I, on the other hand, fell in love.
Roussette is beautiful. In Franck Peillot's version, it’s oh-so-very-pretty, but not affected at all. It’s just a bit like white Burgundy, having structure and density on the palate, yet also a bit exotic, tasting of red apples, baking spice, herbs, and honeysuckle.
The pairing was extraordinary. It was the wine of the night. And when you consider its price tag (and all the other circumstances), that is saying something rather great.
I could go on with a fruit salad description but for those of you receiving this email I think I can do something better. I can give a recommendation. Every one of you whom I have poured this wine for, has bought some. And not just the courtesy “thanks for the glass” one-bottle purchase. But a purchase well imbued with desire to have the wine again.
I learned of the Savoie and Roussette via a touch of snobbery and enthusiasm mixed up together. But you don’t have to take the convoluted route. Purchase just a bottle, that is fine, but I guarantee you’ll come back for more. I certainly did.