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.
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.
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.
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.
The fact that I’m not generally a huge fan of rosé champagne is borne out by the lack of pink fizz in my own cellar. Given a choice the same money will mostly buy you a far more interesting bottle of vintage champagne, in my view. I’m particularly attracted to the more winey, Burgundy style Pinot Noir driven pinks that age attractively and work surprisingly well with food, particularly things like duck or pigeon.
Which champagne should you be opening to toast The Queen’s 91st birthday? It seems only certain, particular fizzes get past the palace gates. In order to supply HM The Queen, you have to be a Royal Warrant Holder and currently there are nine houses that have that privilege. But there may be different corks popping at Highgrove and Clarence House, as out of the nine, only one — Laurent-Perrier — is officially ‘by appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales’.
Tesco’s deal offering 25% off on all its wines and champagnes – on purchases of six bottles or more – comes to an end this coming Monday (31 October) but is only running in tandem with one other discount on Taittinger Brut Réserve (down to £20.25 if you buy at least six bottles). As November nears the discounts are likely to sharpen on the main brands sold through all the grocers, but now may be the time to stock up on a few bottles of vintage Champagne.
The prospect of tasting 15 prestige cuvée champagnes in one sitting later this week is a mouth-watering one. Especially as they are all from the celebrated 2002 vintage, which will probably, with a little competition from 2008 & ’09, go down as the finest vintage of the past decade. But it’s interesting to speculate — before I have seen the actual list — who will be included in the line-up?
I imagine Dom Pérignon, Cristal and Krug will be there, the last named only released to a rapturous welcome early this year, while Cristal will potentially boast considerable bottle age, given it was first made available over seven years ago. I guess Dom Ruinart, fabulously rich and powerful in 2002 and Clicquot’s La Grande Dame will complete the Moët-Hennessy quartet in the line-up.
At the time of writing the lowest price for champagne in UK supermarkets continues to be at around the £10 a bottle level with ‘exclusive labels’ at Lidl, Aldi and ASDA to the fore. Sainsbury’s and Tesco tend to favour a six bottle discount of 25% running at the same time as other offers and the former grocer has started just such a deal today (16 August) while the latter is expected to follow suit in the run-up to the Bank Holiday weekend.