RANCHO SANTA FE — The six men stood neatly in a row, five of them draped in velvet cloaks that looked to be trimmed with ermine.
Their expressions solemn but their eyes revealing an inner glee, the six suddenly whooped, "Par le Bordeaux!" They then clapped their hands once, in unison, and shouted, "Pour le Bordeaux!" Another clap followed. "Toujours le Bordeaux!" Clap, clap, clap.
No, it wasn't the annual lodge picnic of the Paris branch of the Fraternal Order of Bison. The six men who stood in the courtyard of Bertrand Hug's Mille Fleurs restaurant on Oct. 15 were all maitres (masters) of the Commanderie de Bordeaux, one of the oldest and most distinguished wine and food societies in the world. Their cheer, which translates as "By Bordeaux, for Bordeaux, always Bordeaux," expressed the fealty these sons of Bacchus have pledged to the vintages of Bordeaux, the great wine-producing region of southwest France that ferments sunshine into such lovely tipples as Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.
The cheer marked the induction of three new members--Walter Emery, Andrew Lawlor and Haskell Norman--into the Commanderie, and the brief ceremony that preceded it was not unlike the formalities that in Medieval times (the Commanderie claims ancient roots) attended a squire's elevation to knighthood. No less a personality than wine importer Julius Wile, who serves as the Commanderie's deputy grand maitre of the United States, tapped each inductee on the shoulder as a symbol of that man's elevation to commandeur, after which each new member was kissed on both cheeks by the assembled maitres. In addition to Wile, the cadre of maitres included developer Tawfiq Khoury, whose cellar reputedly is the best-stocked this side of the Mississippi; Albert Aschaffenburg, proprietor of New Orleans' exclusive Pontchartrain Hotel; Dr. Marvin Overton, whose Fort Worth cellar enjoys international fame; Dr. Louis Skinner of Miami, and Rene Aponte, maitre of Puerto Rico.
Applauding the scene were 40 local commandeurs, spouses and friends, who had gathered not only to witness the induction but to enjoy a collection of fine Bordeaux and the six-course meal that had been prepared to accompany it. San Diego Opera Assn. President Bill Nelson served as dinner chairman; he escorted his wife, Lollie. Among other San Diegans in the crowd were Richel Khoury, Michael and Susan Channick, Tom and Mavourneen Kravis, Joe and Rita Neeper, Dick Duffy and Jeanne Jones, Curtis and Eileen Swartz, and Larry and Junko Cushman.
The serious browsing and sluicing (to quote P.G. Wodehouse, who like Falstaff appreciated a warm bird and a cold bottle) started with a plate of lobster-stuffed ravioli accompanied by a glass of Chateau Laville Haut Brion 1980. That combination led into a meal that included loup de mer (a fish from the North Atlantic) paired with a '74 Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere, roasted pigeon breasts served with a stunning '53 Pichon Lalande (poured from an imperial, which holds the equivalent of eight bottles), and a rather jolly pastry filled with goat cheese.
The guests did not consume this meal in silence. Tawfiq Khoury twice called parlements (parliaments), during which guests were invited to stand and comment on the food and wine. No one seemed shy about his opinions; the tomato-basil sorbet that separated the fish and meat courses, for example, came under heavy attack, a situation that greatly discomfitted restaurateur Hug. He bore up bravely under the criticism, however, even when one guest denounced the truffle sauce that anointed the pigeon breasts as "lackluster." "What can one do when fresh truffles are out of season?" Hug asked.
The evening concluded with cigars (so much for the contention that foodies don't smoke), and yet another round of the Bordeaux cheer. Among others present were vintner Robert Mondavi and his wife, Margit; Society of Bacchus President Dr. Herbert Francis, from Cincinnati; Christian Tapie, a young Frenchman who works in the California wine industry but whose family owns vineyards in Bordeaux; Christopher McKellar and Molly Sheppard; Victor and Denny Vilaplana; Sam Assam, and Morton and Nona Jorgensen.
SAN DIEGO--Last week proved to be a vintage week for local oenophiles.
Two days after the Commanderie de Bordeaux dinner, several members of that group joined with about 175 other local wine lovers at the Sheraton Harbor Island West for the third annual San Diego International Wine Auction, a formal dinner and lively celebration of the grape that netted more than $120,000 for the KPBS public television and radio stations.