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Toasting the King of French Chefs : American-Style Dinner Honors Escoffier's Memory

December 21, 1986|NATHAN CHROMAN | Chroman is a free-lance wine writer and author who also practices law in Beverly Hills

One of the great joys of the holiday season is to enjoy the best bottles in the cellar, a prime goal of the Les Amis d' Escoffier Society annual dinner held recently at the Irvine Hilton Hotel in honor of the memory of Auguste Escoffier, the acknowledged king of French chefs.

Society chairman and restaurateur George Kookootsedes, chef Maurice Toulemon, hotel director of food and beverage Don Olivier and hotel chef Donald R. Hamilton presented an American-style French dinner paired with appropriate wines specifically collected and cellared for holiday joy.

Another aim of the society is to select choice wines to be drunk only with the courses for which they are intended. To enforce this goal, the diner's glass, even if full, is removed when the appropriate course is finished. By doing so, the society is not trying to be pretentious, but after a year of pre-dinner wine and food sampling, determination is high for all diners to receive the benefit of the society's long-to-conceive taste decisions.

A variety of hors d' oeuvres, including mussels with cilantro, goat cheese with cranberry salsa in filo dough, rabbit and venison sausage in a Cabernet sauce and escargot enchilada demanded a fine French Champagne. Dom Ruinart, Rose Champagne, 1976, fit the bill nicely because of its big-bodied dry taste, able to go well with a host of flavors. The beauty of this Rose Champagne is that it comes across in a bigger, richer style than conventional white types.

Avoiding Excess Red Color

The 1978 is also available and may be a better wine because of greater acidity and crispness, which more easily takes on a multitude of tastes. Very ripe grapes produced less acidity in 1976, but not so in 1978. The key to any good Rose Champagne is to try to retain crispness and delicacy, as well as to avoid excess red color in favor of desired salmon pink and a complex raspberry aroma.

Ruinart, a sister sparkler of Dom Perignon and Champagne's oldest firm, has enjoyed considerable success in recent years with rose sparklers by assembling wines for blending, utilizing both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. A portion of the Pinot Noir undergoes the first fermentation as a red wine and a portion as a white. For New Year's Eve imbibing and/or dining its easy taste access generosity is superb.

A consomme of mushrooms in a Cheddar puff pastry went well with a blend of Sherry styles in Ivison's Fino-Amontillado Sherry. Fino Sherries, pale in color and lightly styled, take on a darker color as they age and acquire a sweet nuttiness similar to an Amontillado. The Ivison shows considerable depth and delicacy, a perfect solution for open-house drop-in guests, without any major flavor loss after uncorking.

Chassagne Montrachet, Les Grandes Ruchottes, 1982, Paul Pillot, made from 30-year-old vines, offered a fat, lush body and deep flavor with a blend of caviar and smoked salmon. Many 1982 white Burgundies are reaching peak drinkability now because of their heavier, fatter-bodied style than the 1983s, showing a lack of acidity and aging capability. This wine is sound and lovely now, but consumers ought to carefully consider their '82s for today's enjoyment rather than later.

Savigny Les Beaune, Haute Jarrons, 1966, Valentin Bouchotte, from five acres of well-tended vines, was served with baby quail stuffed with veal sweetbreads and was a great gastronomic pairing. This red Burgundy, overflowing with style, elegance and finesse, is now at its best. It is not a robust, powerful wine but rather is lean, with ample flavor complexity. A fact generally overlooked by Burgundy fans is that many other such good Burgundies, which are light-structured and lean are as good, if not better, than the more robust wines.

Echezeaux, 1982, Henri Jayer, went with venison and a fresh chanterelles mousse. It was selected to follow the older Burgundy because of its vigorous, velvety, chewy texture and superb assertive flavor, better able to handle a game dish. Burgundy lovers who frequently complain that Burgundies aren't what they used to be will be pleased with this one. This bottle requires at least half an hour breathing time before drinking. Other '82 red Burgundies are still available at decent prices and are perfect candidates for a best-of-the-cellar dining.

The dinner concluded with Remy Martin Napoleon Cognac, an elegant brandy with no hard-edged heat and the soft fire taste of a finely blended Cognac. For a bit of warmth on a chilly evening, Remy's Napoleon makes sense at $49, considering its "crown jewel" Cognac Grande Champagne Louis XIII is selling at $499. The Napoleon, while not as fine as Louis XIII, is more than satisfactory.

Story of Napoleon

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