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Jun 2, 2014 04:27 PM

Restaurant to recommend for a very special wine (Cheval Blanc 1950)

Looking for recommendations for a restaurant in SF chosen specifically for a wine.
We are planning an event among 3 friends to enjoy a 1950 Chateau Cheval Blanc. We'd like the wine to take central stage and have some food to accompany it.

We've done this a few times before with different wines at Piperade, La Folie, Gary Danko and Keiko at Nob Hill. This bottle though is definitely the most ambitious one so far and so I'd like to gather recommendations.

If you have specific food/plate suggestion to accompany it, then please by all means!

Finally, for Sideways fans, no... we will not be having our Cheval Blanc in a burger joint :-)

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  1. I'd go to Harris' and get the prime rib, or Alfred's and get the Chicago rib-eye.

    1. I like simply prepared lamb dishes with aged Bordeaux like yours - nothing too smoky/heavily grilled, no strong sauces (no garlic and nothing too acidic).

      They have a delicious lamb tenderloin dish on the menu often at La Ciccia.

      I also think Kokkari might have a roasted rack of lamb, but am not sure.

      But it sounds like you might want a more sedate, upscale experience than these two restaurants? If so, then maybe Alexander's Steakhouse might be a nice choice. I'm sure they have lamb as well as beef dishes.

      2 Replies
      1. re: farmersdaughter

        Thanks for the recommendations - I like especially Kokkari, it has such warm welcoming character. I don't know La Ciccia but will take a look at it. I would say character comes before "upscale", so I definitely appreciate the tips!

        1. re: pechartier

          if you have good associations with Kokkari, that gives it two plusses in the non-food column, with their excellent service and tranquil ambience. agree w. farmersdaughter that simpler foods would be ideal, but many calif-cuisine, farm to table establishments qualify in that regard.

      2. If you're flexible about your timing, you might want to check out the next scheduled beef or lamb weekly beast at One Market.

        1. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but the wine will probably be long gone, badly affected by Brett and VA. I have tasted a vertical of Cheval Blanc from the current release going all the way back to earlier than that vintage and the wines earlier than 1985 had badly, badly deteriorated. I have notes and photos from the vintages.

          Don't expect it to be good at all. Seriously.

          For future reference, it's not a good idea to try to pair food to such an old wine. The wine's life (if any is left) is very brief in the glass, only about 20 minutes, till it finally, finally dies. Before it dies, what flavor is left is so fragile and evanescent that you want nothing -- no food, no anything -- to compete with that fragility.

          Bring a backup bottle or order one. Also, does the restaurant know how to very very carefully open such a bottle? And, do not decant it -- the aeration alone would kill it immediately. Sorry for the bad news, but you can still make it a wonderful evening even if the wine is no longer good.

          5 Replies
          1. re: maria lorraine


            This is like Sideways 2.

            And Burger Joint it is.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Reports on of some bottles of 1950 still in excellent shape. Somebody just last month gave it 97 points and ranked it #1 out of a set of 27 old Bordeaux. On the other hand, the report previous to that just said "oxidized." Best to be prepared for all possibilities.


              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                This is great advice. We had seen great reviews and terrible ones. The risk is definitely high and so we will be ready.
                The way I see it is that it will be a historic wine... remains to be seen if it will be delicious. But it's worth a try, right?

                We are planning for the best and this is why we are looking for a 'flexible' restaurant. And we'll be prepared for the worst too...

                1. re: pechartier

                  A big plus of buying an old bottle off a restaurant list is that if it's flawed, you can send it back and get another.

                  Keiko has a lot of interesting old bottles.

                  1. re: pechartier

                    Yes, that is the way to proceed, as it is in many situations: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

              2. I am skeptical of blanket prouncements about how a wine will age. You know the saying: there are no great old wines, only great old bottles. Look at expert websites for people who have actually tasted the wine recently and have a track record. I know neal martin has a note on that wine. Maybe jancis does too. I am sure you have done that.

                16 Replies
                1. re: Polisax

                  This thread/situation/drama is extremely fascinating to me.

                  It's like getting genetic counseling ... better to know or not to know?

                  Or to turn to Financial Engineering ...
                  >I hate to be the bearer of bad ...


                  >I am skeptical of blanket prouncements
                  >about how a wine will age.
                  Maybe POLISAX can sell M. LORRAINE the wine equivalent of a (Naked) Credit Default Swap on Pechartier's bottle.

                  Anyway, M. LORRAINE is one of my fav posters here (for sheer expertise, levelheadedness, and gentility), but good luck to you M. Pechartier.

                  1. re: Polisax

                    the site has nine notes on the wine between '03 and '14, including one by a wine professional, J.Leve. two of the nine, among the most recently tasted, had flawed bottles, but storage conditions would also be likely to break down two of nine samples even for wines of younger vintages.

                    a brief survey of tasting comments from various sources suggests to me that ten years ago or so more bottles were viable than not ; after that it's been a lottery situation.
                    the wineberserkers site has an informative post from J.Danza in 2013 for three 1950 Bordeaux, with photos of the labels. [counterfeiting/fraud a problem in older elite wines of course] the Cheval Blanc had been bottled by a negociant Jean Nony, the Lynch Bages and d'Yquem at their chateaux. only the sauternes had survived as an enjoyable beverage.

                    1. re: Polisax

                      Actual experience with many Cheval Blancs is no blanket pronouncement. I've tasted about 60 pre-1985 Cheval Blancs going back to earlier than 1950, sometimes several bottles from each vintage. That's a lot of Cheval Blanc.

                      From tasting that many, I know the wine's flavor profile, and how that profile changes with age. I also know Cheval Blanc's flaws, and they are consistently medicinal Brett and volatile acidity, which become more and more prominent as the fruit fades. With age, the flaws are the only extant qualities in the wine.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        I guess the guy who gave it 97 points last month just loves flaws.

                      2. re: Polisax

                        Maria is absolutely right here and this isn't about blanket pronouncements, just trends. Every bottle is different (you can't "look up" your own bottle in someone else's notes); storage history is crucial, and often obscure.

                        I've had other, older Bordeaux that held up well, but they weren't Cheval Blanc. Even had one or two older wines that weren't what they were labeled (expertly identified as such because of forensic clues, not from tasting). Happens often with big names. (As Aubert de Villaine himself said once to a friend of mine at a SF dinner, most bottles of "1945 Romanée-Conti" on the market are fake. Including this one that we just opened.)

                        PS I thought the main Cheval-Blanc joke in "Sideways" was the implicit one that the non-wine-geeks didn't catch: this wine's MERLOT content.

                        1. re: eatzalot

                          Here's what maria said

                          "From tasting that many, I know the wine's flavor profile, and how that profile changes with age. I also know Cheval Blanc's flaws, and they are consistently medicinal Brett and volatile acidity, which become more and more prominent as the fruit fades. With age, the flaws are the only extant qualities in the wine."

                          Does that read to you as "every bottle is different"? I agree with you that learning about others experiences with your old bottle won't tell you everything about the wine. So, do you think that you shouldn't bother to learn anything about old bottles? Just be because you can't learn everything doesn't mean you can't learn anything.

                          I agree that old bottles vary. And i have not tasted 60 bottles of old cheval blanc. So i defer to maria's judgment about general tendencies. But it is a generalization.

                          1. re: Polisax

                            Every bottle is different. That doesn't mean that there isn't a pattern.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              I agree. That 's why i recommended looking at tasting notes. Not a perfect predictor of your bottle will be -- not even close -- but they can be informative. But time trends are imperfect too, especially when other respected critics have different conclusions on cbs in the pre 1985 period.

                        2. re: Polisax

                          "Look at expert websites for people who have actually tasted the wine recently and have a track record. I know neal martin has a note on that wine..."

                          Polisax, I interpreted those remarks to advocate checking notes on single bottles by various people. I don't understand what's unclear about the big difference between that, and the notes of a single (experienced) person who has tried 60 bottles.

                          "especially when other respected critics have different conclusions on cbs in the pre 1985 period."

                          As far as I understand, those critics you mention do NOT have "different conclusions" in the meaningful sense of different judgments from comparable research (as they might if they'd tasted along with Maria, or even if one of them had separately also tasted 60 bottles). moto indeed characterized recent-years CB notes as a "lottery situation," but even 60 different 1-bottle tasters wouldn't add up to the perspective of one taster having compared many bottles.

                          Meanwhile, the most important question back to the OP (posed by Maria 4 days ago in this thread) remains unanswered:

                          1. re: eatzalot

                            Is this actually the most important question, given the original question was restaurant recommendations?
                            That being said, Maria's advice was very useful.
                            1) we have decided to have our event at Nectar Wine Lounge as it gives us a location with competent sommelier and small plates which definitely will keep the focus on the wine. They have been very flexible and created a plate for the wine.

                            2) as it comes to the storage, we gave very little details as the wine was acquired through a K&L auction. We did score this at a significant discount which makes that if the wine is flawed it was worth a try....

                            Fascinating to me how the debate evolved but I love the passion!

                            I will report back on the experience.

                            1. re: pechartier

                              As you see, there are some pretty involved people on this site! (Maria comments frequently and knowledgeably on wine, I believe she mentioned it's her profession. If the discussion were just about Cheval Blanc rather than its local tasting and food-pairing prospects -- on the Wine board -- then Jason and the other Usual Suspects, with professional experience, would have joined in, and the thread would be three times as long. With side excursions into GC/MS analysis.)

                              Good luck with the restaurant experience, hope to learn more later incl. your impressions of that restaurant.

                              K&L is a great Bay Area wine retailer, they do substantial business buying up private cellars and putting the older wines on the market. They also pioneered internet wine sales, when their worthy local rival firm on the peninsula resisted doing so for years.

                              1. re: eatzalot

                                K&L is a very reputable retailer. Purchasing from them bodes well in regards to storage, since they usually inspect bottles and verify proper storage before purchasing bottles from collectors. Glad that you'll have a somm and small plates. Sounds like an adventure.

                            2. re: eatzalot

                              I am reluctant to reply as I think I agree with maria's view once she nuanced it a bit. I said that other may not agree with the statement that Chevel blank before 1985 tends to exhibit certain flaws.

                              here is an example of another tasting that really does not report on any Bret or anything of the kind she mentioned in the selected wines from 34 vintages. Take it for what it is worth.


                              I don't personally know these people (though I certainly know who they are and know them to be experienced with older wines, especially bordeaux). You can read this yourself but you might ask yourself it is really consistent with maria['s claim. Maybe it is... but if so the point it too subtle for me. If this is not enough, go read Neal Martin's views (or any of numerous others with CB experience).

                              I am not saying there is no Bret or other flaws in certain wines. but different people react differently to Bret. some people actually collect Beaucastel for example. Fine with me.

                              1. re: Polisax

                                I'm fine with contributory Brett, but as a wine ages, Brett becomes a fruit-eating bacteria. As time goes on, a wine with Brett becomes skeletal, showing very little fruit. Often, there's also a good amount of Volatile Acidity.

                                Brett and VA occur so often with Cheval Blanc gathered from all over that they are indeed part of the aging pattern in the wine, irrespective of storage. At least to me. Brett and VA emerged as a consistent theme when I last tasted Cheval Blanc in a large vertical tasting. We saw less and less fruit with each vintage of wine and and more and more Brett and VA.

                                BTW, thanks for that link. I thought the writer overly appreciative of the old, decaying wine. To me, he took too many pains not to say anything negative (wanted to appear gracious). He used lots of "code words" -- astringent, burnt, tired, bitter, for example -- that are indicative of flaws without identifying the flaws (or decay) directly. The writer did say he was able to take only the tiniest sip of the older wines, and that this limits analysis.

                                My impression of tasting many bottles of CB at one time is different from the linked writeup, as I've indicated. I don't believe old is necessarily better in wine at all -- properly aged, yes, but not old -- as has been affirmed at many tastings over the years and at the latest CB tasting in the photo above. I have been delighted by the remarkable emergence of flavors like balsamic and beef stock, for example, when tasting 50-year verticals at wineries in Europe, but didn't find the aging of CB to be similarly pleasant.

                                Since I have tasted Brett and VA so consistently in the wine throughout the years, I believe Brett is a systemic presence in the CB cellar (it's very tough to eradicate), and is a standard part of CB's flavor profile. The presence of VA was also so consistent that it is a pattern. These are my impressions, but those impressions seemed mostly shared by the winemakers and experts with whom I tasted.

                                1. re: maria lorraine


                                  normally I am pretty Brett sensitive. I don't usually like Lynch Bages or Beaucastel wines (there are exceptions which I don't fully understand because it seems endemic in those cellars... at least in the vintages pre-1990). But the few old CBs that I have had (I have still a few bottles of the 55 and 59 and assorted others) have shown what the brits call "old bones" (ie the primary fruit flavors have largely disappeared) but not really any Bret that I could detect. sometimes a bit of volatility if the wine was served above british cellar temperature but that seemed due to presentation more than the wine. But maybe I am being too generous.

                                  you have tasted much more than me of these wines. But I have usually shared whole bottles and I find that over the course of a bottle and old wines can develop and even deepen in color and flavor. not all the time... some wines simply fall apart with air.

                                  Anyway, I hope the OPs 1950 turns out to be good (I have never had that one)