Halving the Dom Perignon

DSC01671(by peter)

Here’s a modern etiquette dilemma for you (although, admittedly, a rarefied one). As a couple, you’re very generously given a present of a bottle of Dom Pérignon 1990. But who does it really belong to – and how best then to drink it? If you’re Michael and Monika Schuster, it’s strictly half-half, and you write a note to that effect on the bottle. And then you share it with friends over a wonderfully enjoyable dinner featuring meticulously and lovingly assembled food and wines.

What a treat.

But it did leave me wondering exactly which half of the bottle was Michael’s, and which was Monika’s…

For those of you who haven’t come across them, Michael is a wine educator and writer extraordinaire, a man with a quite brilliant gift for helping you understand how to go about tasting wine in an orderly and instructive manner.  He’s also a lovely guy and has helped Susie and I on many occasions, most notably when we were (in my case – still am) preparing for our Master of Wine exams. Monika is his equally lovely wife, a woman of fierce intellect and sharply honed culinary skill, who maintains an impeccable wine cellar to boot.

Quite a household, then.

We made our way up to their beautiful north London home on a warm summer’s evening, baby sitter already briefed to expect a late one (our excuse being it was the other side of London from us).

First up was canapés of foie gras terrine on crackers as well as crostini wrapped in Parma ham. This was served with the Dom Pérignon 1990 – a truffley, intense mouthful with ultra-fine bubbles and a very long, almost bracing finish. Still young. But also a bit funky and earthy – something we’ve noticed about several of the DPs we’ve tried of late…is this just a strange coincidence I wonder? Brilliant with the foie gras, mind. And a great way to kick off the evening in their impeccably maintained garden complete with wafting scents of nearby barbecues.

Then we moved inside, to be confronted by a table heaving with glasses. This was a welcome sight.

What we didn’t know (but might well have suspected) was that Michael would be serving the wines blind.

Two whites were served with the first course, announced as the same property but 14 years apart. Turned out they were Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1992 and 1978. Not having tasted much aged white Bordeaux, this came a bit out of leftfield for me. But they were both delicious and intriguing, the 1978 still incredibly vibrant, the 1992 equally capable of further age. A tightly packed, food-friendly style of wine, nothing shouty.

Next, with the lamb and posh ratatouille (ingredients all cooked separately; peppers peeled) came two reds, presented as from the same commune. Turned out it was St Julien (I’d been erring towards a more Merlot-dominated area of Bordeaux), with the meaty, savoury Château Lagrange 1990 and the elegant Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 1982. Susie preferred the former; I went for the latter.

Cheese was paired with two wines we all struggled to place. Guesses ranged from Spain to northern Italy via the Rhone and then…Michael put us out of our misery. The wines in question were both Cabernet Sauvignons from stellar Californian producer Ridge, the first being the Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1991 and the second their vaunted Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon 1990. The wines of the night for me, especially the second, as I’ve wanted to try Ridge’s top stuff for a while now and this really brought home just how elegant and refined this high-altitude Californian Cabernet is.

We finished with a Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1988 and then the sumptuous Avignonesi Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice 1991 to send us on our way.

Our poor babysitter…