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The Vintage Tales of Sailing Ships

When sailing ships came up along the estuary of the Gironde River, they dipped their sails in a salute to a former owner of a fortified chateau. The owner was the Duke d’Epernon, an overbearing landowner who was a favorite of Henry III. King Henry appointed the duke as governor of a section of the Medoc, part of France’s Bordeaux country.

The phrase for lower sails is baisse voile in the Gascon language and through the centuries, those words slurred into Beychevelle, now the name of one of the most prestigious ancient chateaux in France. The name Chateaux Beychevelle has come to mean some of the most magnificent Bordeaux wines of the region.

That was the story Yves Fourault, export director for the winery, told us at dinner the other evening in Stouffer’s Esmeralda resort in Indian Wells.

Fourault and his wife, Marie Cecile, were having the formal dinner party to demonstrate the natural marriage of fine wines to fine dining. Joe Harris and his wife Carol of Solano Beach had invited Jean Erck and me to be their guests among all the elegant folk.

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The dinner was a production of master chef Nicholas Torres, an Italian who came out after dinner and allowed us to pay homage.

The first course was a terrine de lapin, smooth and subtle and delightful. The wine served was a Beychevelle, 1987. “The first wine is simply to prepare the mouth,” Marie Cecile explained.

Next was a slice of beef, frosted with pepper and garnished with morels, the treasure of mushroom fanciers. The wine was an ’86.

Even I could tell a difference in the wines. I can’t describe them.

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The fourth course was a slender slice of salmon in a soft red wine sauce with basil. It was delicate and delicious. The wine was another in the stately procession of Bordeaux, this one an ’85.

Lamb came next, a delicate pink slice in a pistachio sauce. The wine was an ’83. I sipped each wine, and I really could tell a difference from glass to glass.

An ’82 joined the line of march. There were now five stemmed glasses at each place. Yves’ advice at the beginning of the meal was to let each wine stand and breathe.

Next came a small chalice of raspberry sorbet spooned with creme de cassis.

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Then the waiters presented a cube of flaked, short pastry separating bands of Roquefort cheese with a sage seasoning. Its accompaniment was a Beychevelle ’75, a deep ruby wine that left drops sliding slowly down the side of the glass. “That is legs,” Marie Cecile said. “This wine has legs.”

Anthony Stewart-Moore, the general manager of the Esmeralda and his wife joined the Fouraults as hosts for the dinner. Stewart-Moore is from Northern Ireland. While studying wine in France, he met Yves. Then he went to hotel school in Lausanne, Switzerland, then to New York and then to the Coachella Valley. It’s a long way from Northern Ireland and he and his wife Guion, a pretty young woman from North Carolina, grace the hotel.

I can’t decide which of the phrases describing wines best suits my own charms. Certainly not “well balanced” or “elegant.” Either “nervous but pleasant” or “rounded with mature tannins.”


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