A dinner pairing well-aged wines from classic Bordeaux chateaus and other world wineries showcases a new team of food and wine professionals at Victoria's iconic hotel.
By CINDA CHAVICH
The new culinary team at The Empress Hotel stretched their wings this weekend with a wine dinner that can only be described as epic, a decadent display of the some of the world’s finest foods and wines in one monumental menu.
Newly minted certified sommelier Maeve Fogarty dug into the historic hotel’s wine stores and, for the first time ever, pulled the corks on some of the fine wines that had been resting down in the dark for decades.
And all hyperbole aside, this unique event — dubbed A Royal Vinous Affair — was one for the books.
It was a chance for local wine lovers to try some truly iconic vintages, from the 1997 Chateau d’Yquem to the 1999 Gaja Barbaresco, the famed Heitz Cellars Napa Cabernet Savignon and an elegant 1983 Margaux from Chateau Palmer, all paired with beautiful plates created by the hotel’s new Chef de Cuisine, Tyler Paquette.
We sat down to dine with an exclusive small group in the Empress Lobby Lounge, the elegant tearoom set with a candlelit table for 10 and the large team behind the bar opening rare old bottles and elegantly serving a most memorable multi-course meal.
To match the eight special pours, Paquette’s menu leaned toward luxury, with foie gras, Hokkaido scallops and Japanese A5 Wagyu beef, garnished with plenty of shaved black truffle.
The dinner was topped off with an elegant dessert of white chocolate apricot torte and sweet treats created by Executive Pastry Chef Gerald Tan.
A trio of deviled eggs — topped with Perigord truffle, lobster, and Northern Divine caviar — arrived to start, with a glass of Dom Perignon Brut, the 2004 vintage from the famed Champagne house showing youthful notes of apples and fresh bread.
Fogarty admitted at the outset that there could be “pivots” from the menu — published in a lovely bound booklet — if the team deemed any bottles they opened were corked or past their prime. But the wines, for the most part, lived up to expectations.
“This is the first time we’ve opened the cellars and opened some of these old wines,” she said, “but I’m optimistic that the wines will be in perfect condition.”
So, we were all part of the moment of discovery, as Fogarty opened her selection of rare, well-aged bottles and tasted them for the first time, with no knowledge of how exactly the wines had survived in the hotel cellars.
“We had two bottles and now we have one,” Fogarty said of the aged, garnet coloured Sauternes from the famed Chateau d’Yquem offered with the next course.
The sweet white wine, made from hand-picked grapes desiccated by noble rot (botrytis), has been renowned as a Bordeaux Premier Cru Superieur (first growth) since its classification in 1855, and the 1997 vintage was luscious and beautiful to behold.
Poured alongside Paquette’s foie gras parfait with compressed apple and toasted brioche, the wine's notes of baked pineapple, marmalade, apricots and honey, backed by soft acidity, enhanced the rich and creamy duck liver mousse perfectly.
Paquette has a passion for scallops and he served pickled tiny west coast pink scallops with tender Hokkaido scallops, lightly cooked sous vide at 63 C, atop a parsnip velouté with smoked crème fraiche in a dramatic presentation of fir boughs and dry ice, to match a citrusy, mineral forward, French chardonnay — the Meursault ‘Genevrieres’ from Louis Jadot.
The evening's menu then moved into matches with the big reds pulled from the hotel cellar.
Paquette paired the cedar-scented 1996 Chateau Latour with smoky coal-roasted sablefish in a juniper aioli, and the wine's lively acidity showed it has potential for more years of aging.
A dry-aged duck breast and duck sausage seasoned with warm spices worked well with the standout 1983 vintage of Chateau Palmer, a complex, savoury and perfumed wine from one of the most beautiful chateaus in the Margaux district of Bordeaux.
“One of the Chateau Palmers we opened was corked,” admitted Fogarty. “But we had more, and I’m delighted that this wine is showing so well, 40 years after being bottled.”
Braised lamb fillet with marinated feta, mint gel and puffed quinoa stood up nicely to the 2005 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Heitz Cellar in the Napa Valley, one of the California wines that made headlines after the famous Judgement in Paris, a blind tasting in the 1970s that pitted American Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons against top Bordeaux wines.
In that legendary competition, Napa wines topped all categories, and the 1970 Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ranked among the top 10.
The 2005 vintage poured for our dinner, with it's bouquet bay leaves and mint, proved a worthy complement to this meaty lamb course.
But it was the 1999 Gaja Barbaresco that stole the evening for me, the Italian Nebbiolo’s notes of roses and ripe berries paired beautifully with a piece of Japanese A5 Wagyu, served with a lovely stacked potato pave.
Servers presented the final dish with a flourish, each plate arriving under a domed silver cloche. And a beautiful bonus was the chef arriving tableside to generously shave fresh black truffles over our perfect portion of unctuous rare beef.
SWEET WINE AND SWEETS — THE EIGHTH POUR
Executive Pastry Chef Gerald Tan’s pretty dessert plate — a white chocolate and apricot torte with orange blossom ice cream and mandarin ginger curd — was served with a lively, golden, late harvest 1998 Spatlese Riesling from Selbach Oster in Germany’s Mosel region.
And after a few other sweets, including a sugared fruit gelee and mini canele pastry, our group left both sated and surprised by the experience.
“I thought we would be pivoting the whole way through,” said Fogarty, admitting she was unsure how these wines had aged in the hotel basement.
“It shows how great the wine storage is here.”
This was the first time the hotel unlocked their cellars for a small group to taste through some of the old and important wines stored therein, but Fogarty says it won’t be the last.
So, stay tuned for future events from this keen new dream team at The Empress Hotel.
©Cinda Chavich 2023