Robuchon dies after long illness

Very sad to hear the news (yesterday) that celebrated chef and restaurateur Joël Robuchon has died after a long battle with cancer. He’s the man whose restaurants have been awarded more Michelin stars than anyone else – they hold 23 round the world currently. I have been lucky enough to meet him, and eat his sublime food, twice in the past five years, on both occasions at Veuve Clicquot’s ‘Hotel du Marc’ in Reims.

Joël Robuchon at Clicquot’s Hotel du Marc in Reims
Joël Robuchon at Clicquot’s Hotel du Marc in Reims

The first occasion was in March 2013 where after an extraordinary lunch, I sat with him on the sofa and he modestly talked me through the recipe for arguably his most famous dish, pomme purée truffée (Robuchon lunch produces magical combinations ).

I saw him again in March this year when Veuve Clicquot ran a week-long celebration of rosé to mark the creation of what the house calls “the world’s first blended rosé champagne”. This happened in 1818 when Madame Clicquot broke with the established tradition of using a ‘Teinture de Fismes’ – a preparation of elderberries boiled in cream of tartar – to make pink champagne, instead choosing to blend some Bouzy red wine with her classic white champagne, so initiating the modern method of rosé champagne production.

After a morning masterclass at Clicquot’s Hotel du Marc in Reims, with head winemaker Dominique Demarville showing examples of the red wine blending options Clicquot has for non-vintage rosé, vintage rosé and La Grande Dame rosé, we sat down to a lunch specially prepared by Joël Robuchon and his team to match Clicquot wines, including the current La Grande Dame Vintage Rosé 2006.

Clicquot’s head winemaker Dominique Demarville with Joël Robuchon

This is a wine of great complexity which evolved gracefully, never disappointing, through a series of Robuchon dishes including an artichoke and foie gras salad, which looked wonderful (see picture) and, unlikely as it sounds, seemed the perfect match for this wine. A dish I will remember for a long time. The man at the stove knows what he is doing.

Artichoke and foie gras salad

Robuchon’s finishing masterstroke was to marry a simple, but not that simple, blanchette de veau with superb 1955 magnums of Bouzy Rouge which Demarville said came from one of the three best vintages of the 20th century, the other two being ‘47 and ’90. His creative genius will be sadly missed.

Canard-Duchêne celebrates 150th anniversary and launches new prestige Cuvée V

Alain Thiénot raises a glass of Cuvée Léonie to 15 years of work at Canard-Duchêne

Last month Canard-Duchêne hosted guests from around the world in Ludes to celebrate the house’s 150th anniversary. It has been 15 years since Alain Thiénot bought the house from LVMH, where it was run in a sub group in conjunction with Veuve Clicquot, which took precedence. As Thiénot himself noted in his short speech, he made the purchase from Clicquot on the advice of Yves Bénard, former CEO of Moët & Chandon and at that time [2003] President of the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC), who was among the leading figures from Champagne present at the gala dinner in Ludes.

Chef de Cave Laurent Fédou has worked with Alain Thiénot for 30 years

Bénard suggested it was a way of adding weight to his embryonic champagne empire, then based on the eponymous Alain Thiénot brand, first created in 1985 using his knowledge and contacts gained as a courtier. He knew something of the house already as he had worked for Victor Canard, grandson of the founder, in his time as a courtier. “In 2003, Canard was selling around 2.3m bottles,” Thiénot says, “today we are close to producing 4m bottles.” His first move was to install as winemaker Laurent Fédou, who has now been working for him for 30 years and is still the Canard chef de cave today.

The gala dinner, held in the gardens of the Canard-Duchêne estate in Ludes, was part of a week-long celebration masterminded by Cathryn Boudiak, international brand director of the house, who took over running the operation in 2017 following the departure of Alexis Petits-Gats. Guests were greeted with a glass of Cuvée Léonie (named after joint founder Léonie Duchêne) from magnum.

Cathryn Boudiak, international brand director of the house

This blend of mainly black fruit (50% Pinot Noir/30% Meunier) livened with a splash of well-sourced Chardonnay, has been transformed over the years by Fédou into a serious wine. Extra bottle age, the current blend is based on the 2014 harvest, a reserve wine element that has grown to around 40%, plus some judicious use of oak aged juice – just 3 or 4% aged, but not fermented in Argonne oak from the region – all play their part. Fresh, seductive and elegant it also shows a very attractive maturity and real depth.

After some high-wire entertainment, the dinner itself was created by Arnaud Lallement of L’Assiette Champenoise and served with the current, impressively rich 2008 Canard-Duchêne vintage (mellow, ripe and generous with Pinot Noir to the fore) plus the Blanc de Blancs and Blancs de Noirs form the Charles VII range, all in magnum.

Cuvée V, especially created to celebrate the 150th anniversary

Centre stage was taken mid-meal by the inaugural release of Cuvée V, especially created to celebrate the 150th anniversary and served with lobster. This new prestige cuvée, an ongoing addition to the Canard-Duchêne range, is from the 2010 vintage. It’s an assemblage of 56% Pinot Noir, 34% Chardonnay and 8% Pinot Meunier, that’s Extra Brut in style (4.5gm/l dosage).

Still quite tight and fresh with grand cru Chardonnay from Chouilly giving a linear core, there’s just a hint of tropical fruit, pineapple and mango which Fédou says will develop with age. The structure comes from Ambonnay and Aÿ Pinot Noir. It’s a wine only just starting to show its colours and has a long future ahead. An apt demonstration of the transformation in quality that Thiénot and Fédou have achieved with Canard-Duchêne champagne over the past 15 years.

Message in a bottle

One of the main reasons that champagne houses covet working with the leading airlines is they like the exposure for their brands. They want to be seen as the preferred pour in the first or business class cabin. Partly because this is an affluent audience that’s difficult to reach, they will even agree relatively unprofitable deals to get the listing, though of course they are at pains to deny this.

But they know there is a large potential downside to this exposure. Will the cabin staff pour the champagne in front of the customer, thus showing Continue reading “Message in a bottle”

Vintage champagne that hits the spot

Nipping out for a last-minute bottle of fizz to celebrate the end of 2017 and welcome in the New Year? If it’s something vintage you are after that’s drinking superbly well now, then Waitrose Brut 2005, the wine I finished my recent WSET tasting with, is very hard to beat. Made Continue reading “Vintage champagne that hits the spot”

Dom Pérignon launches P2 2000: an exploration of extra lees ageing

Vincent Chaperon, right hand man of Dom Pérignon chef de cave Richard Geoffroy, was in London earlier this month to launch the P2 version of Dom Pérignon 2000. Interestingly, he also bought along the original 2000 release aged on the cork since its disgorgement several years ago in 2007. We went along to see him and asked him to talk us through the quite considerable difference in tasting profile the same wine has when it gets a decade and a half of lees ageing.

See the interview video:

Moët & Chandon Brut Grand Vintage 2008

In a previous interview with Benoït Gouez, the chef de cave at Moët & Chandon, when I asked about the, as yet unreleased Moët vintages in the Epernay cellars, he expressed a strong preference for 2009 over the much more acidic 2008. Two years on, at a time when many other major producers have released their 2008s, how does it compare with the previous ample and forward 2006 vintage?

Moet & Chandon chef de cave Benoit Gouez
Moet & Chandon chef de cave Benoit Gouez

It’s much tighter and fresher, as Gouez himself says, it very much majors on a bright, grapefruit-lifted, zestiness, Continue reading “Moët & Chandon Brut Grand Vintage 2008”

Try something different or bag a top-flight bargain

Waitrose has by some way the widest selection of sparkling wines and champagnes among the main UK grocers and has introduced some further exciting lines recently, mostly only available through its on-line Waitrose Cellar operation which runs to 63 different champagnes. While the current 25% off promotion is running — until next Tuesday 8 November — this is a great opportunity to try some of these at a bargain price. In addition, there are some attractive deals on some prestigious names, rarely Continue reading “Try something different or bag a top-flight bargain”