Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Daniel Johnnes, renowned Sommelier and Wine Director of Daniel Boulud's Dinex Group, the epicurean empire that encompasses such world class restaurants as Daniel, DB Bistro, DBGB, Café Boulud and Bar Boulud. While impressive enough, that description does not really tell the whole story. Prior to joining Chef Boulud in 2005, Johnnes was the Wine Director of Montrachet, a New York City institution, and for 20 years did much to promote French wine, most notably Burgundy, to his loyal clientele. In addition, this confirmed Francophile is also an author, importer and the organizer of the epic Burgundy fête, La Paulée de New York which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. I think Frank Prial summed it up best, "To describe Daniel Johnnes as a sommelier would be like describing Stephen Sondheim as a piano player. There's a bit more to it."
Mr. Johnnes was in town co-hosting a wine dinner with Café Boulud Chef Sommelier Mariya Kovacheva entitled, "The 'Other' Bordeaux." The evening focused on wines from smaller, family owned estates in this much lauded wine region created by "people who are really connected to the land." Although best know for his obsession with Burgundy, Johnnes decided to champion the cause for these vins bordelais a year and half ago. "There are two worlds of Bordeaux," he explained, "the wines that are an elitist traded commodity, and those you should drink and enjoy." The wines poured this evening fell squarely into the latter category and, according to Johnnes, best embodied "the quality, committment and tradition of winemaking" from this region. While Bordeaux generally conjures images of dust covered bottles tucked away in a musty wine cellar, these selections represent wines of "great value" that are ready for drinking and are intended simply, "to give pleasure." Chateaux featured at this evening's dinner included Château Jean Faux, Château de Clotte, Château Saint Julian and Château Beauséjour.
The first wine of the evening was the Château Jean Faux, Bordeaux Rosé 2009. This salmon-colored gem, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, was rife with notes of raspberry and rhubarb and was rather substantial for a rosé. This medium-bodied beauty paired nicely with a Galantine de Poulet et Pistache with red currant mustard and rhubarb-endive salad prepared by the very talented, not to mention James Beard nominated, Chef de Cuisine Zach Bell.
The next course was paired with two wine selections, the Château de Clotte, Côtes de Castillon 2006 and the Château Saint Julian, Bordeaux Supérieur 2006. The Château de Clotte (30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc & 10% Malbec) had perfumey aromas of black currants, rose petals and spice. It was well balanced with nicely integrated tannins and a lovely, lingering finish. The Château Saint Julian (60% Merlot 20% Cabernet Sauvignon 20% Cabernet Franc) was a bit different with a meaty, gamey nose and notes of blackberry, licorice and coffee on the palate. While different from the first wine, it was also well-structured with approachable tannins. These two selections were a nice introduction to the "other" side of Bordeaux and were paired with Truite en Vin Rouge (Trout in Red Wine) with leek confit and crispy Madrange Ham.
The third course was also paired with a duo of wines, the Château Beauséjour, Montagne-Saint Emilion 2007 and the Château Jean Faux, Bordeaux Supérieur 2007. The Beausejour (50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc) had a nose of red currant, spice and cocoa and noticeably bigger tannins than the 2006's. This was a fabulous food-pairing wine that could have benefited from even a few more years in the bottle, although it was thoroughly enjoyable now. The Château Jean Faux (80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc) had aromas of rose petals and spice with flavors of black currant, cherry and clove. It was less tannic than the Beausejour and I'd have to say it was my favorite wine of the evening. Both wines paired nicely with Jamison Farm Lamb Loin with porcini mushroon marmalade, coco beans and spiced shallot confit.
Tonight's wine selections did much to dispel the image of those dusty, cellared bottles and were approachable, enjoyable and affordable (all retail for under $30), making the "Other Bordeaux" a place I look forward to visiting more often. A big thank you to Daniel Johnnes for taking the time to chat with me. After touching down at PBIA that very morning, he was on the first flight back to New York the next day to tend to Dinex's newest establishments, Boulud Sud and Épicerie, which had opened, literally, the day before! Mr. Johnnes did reveal the dates for the 11th Annual La Paulée de New York which will take place February 24-25th, 2012 - details to follow. Also, if you live in South Florida, you will not want to miss Café Boulud's upcoming wine dinner "The Spanish Wines of Galicia" on Thursday, June 9th featuring wines from internationally known importer Eric Solomon's portfolio. I hope to see you there!