Monday, October 20, 2008

Wine Dinner with Jean Luc Thunevin

One of the perks of this line of work is that sometimes you get invited to wine tastings where they give you food. Yesterday I got to enjoy a particularly nice one in Charlottesville at The Clifton Inn (pictured right), a very nice countryside inn and restaurant. The hosts were Charlottesville-based importer and distributor Simon N Cellars, where we get much of our French wine, the Linden wines and Tantara wines.

We were there to taste the wines of Jean Luc Thunevin, a Bordeaux producer and Negociant who is one of the leaders of the garagiste movement - producers of "vins de garage", or garage wines. This movement started in the 1990s as a reaction to the traditional style of Bordeaux wines which tend to be very tannic and require long periods of aging. Garagiste producers wanted to make more accessible wines, so they made them less tannic, more fruit forward and sometimes with higher alcohol. In other words, wines very well suited to the American palate. Wine critic Robert Parker called Jean Luc Thunevin the 'bad boy' of Bordeaux, which led to him making his Bad Boy Bordeaux, available for $29.99 and extremely delicious.

But back to the dinner. After eating at the Clifton Inn for the first time I have nothing but the highest praise for their chef (whose name I don't know). That dinner easily falls into my top ten most memorable meals. The first course was scallops with a butternut squash puree paired with No 2 Blac de Valandraud, a white Bordeaux made by Mr. Thunevin. True to the garage style it had much more fruit than a typical white Bordeaux, which tend to be citrus-dominted. This one had flavors of ripe melon and grapefruit along with some herbaceous notes. Next up was an arugula and fig salad with shaved foie gras and a duck prosciutto made by the chef. This was paired with two red Bordeaux wines which didn't make a great pairing but one of the wines, Lalande-Couturier, is very affordable at under $20 and quite tasty. Next up was the main course. The menu said "Ribeye of Beef, Roasted Garlic Mushrooms & Fingerling Potatoes" but that description really doesn't do it justice. It was the best steak I've ever had - perfectly seasoned, almost no fat and extremely tender. It made an ideal pairing for the pricey but delicious No 3 de Valandraud, another red Bordeaux. Last was a cheese course paired with the star of the show, Chateau Valandraud 1999. Chateau Valandraud started off not terribly expensive, but in 1995 Robert Parker rated it higher than the famous Chateau Petrus and after that it became a collector's item. This 1999 sells for a heart-stopping $440. It was most certainly the best wine of the night and extremely complex, with at least 8 different flavors that don't even make themselves apparent until after you've swallowed. Still, I felt the price was a bit high if I were a consumer.

All in all a great experience. It usually is when you get to eat expensive food with expensive wine for free. But again I can't emphasize enough the quality of the Clifton Inn. If you're ever looking for a weekend trip go stay there and eat at their restaurant.