Lives of the Rich and Famous

Lives of the Rich and Famous

It was the most amazing wine tasting of Bordeaux I had ever heard of—and I wasn’t invited. Château Haut-Brion 1982, 1989 and 2000; 10 different vintages of Château Lafite-Rothschild from 1899 to 1995; Château Margaux 1966, 1982, 1989, 1990 and 2000; Château Mouton Rothschild 1928, 1970, 1982 (in magnum), 1986 and 1989; Château Latour 1966, 1975 and 1990. It is to drool.

The tasting was to be held at Sopra, the supper club on the floor above Mistura, on Davenport Road. Robert Parker (The Wine Advocate) and Pierre Rovani (another wine guru) would be there, in person, to provide commentary. The great chef Daniel Boulud was flying in from New York to help Sopra’s chef and co-owner, Massimo Capra, cook lunch once the tasting was over. I was invited to that—show up at noon, said the invitation—but the tasting was sold out, all 25 seats at the horseshoe-shaped table booked long ago at $25,000 a head. Fair enough. A little out of my league.

If you haven’t already guessed, the tasting was part of Grand Cru Culinary Wine Festival, the extraordinary fund-raising weekend put together by Toronto wine merchants Todd and Colin Halpern of Halpern Enterprises. This is only the initiative’s third year and already it has raised $2.5 million dollars for research at Toronto General Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital at University Health Network. Day one consists of a VIP Reserve Wine Tasting and Live Auction; day three is a wine and dine experience held in many private homes across the city, each venue hosting a leading scientist, a renowned international wine producer and one of Toronto’s leading chefs, who prepares a splendid dinner for the guests. Sandwiched between these events was the tasting and lunch date at Sopra.

So I showed up at noon—ever The Punctual One—only to find the tasting was running late. They hadn’t got to the Margaux, the Mouton Rothschild or the Latour. “Take a seat over there,” said the spectacularly generous Halpern brothers, “and you can join in.” OMG.

It was a surprisingly casual affair with most of the participants, including Parker and Rovani, dressed in sweaters or sport shirts. Few of us wore a jacket and tie. Some of the doctors from UHN—every one of them a leader in his field—joined me in my booth, kibbitzing the tasting, marvelling at the expertise and depth of knowledge that Parker and Rovani were demonstrating as they casually discussed other vintages, cellaring practices, the weather in south western France 42 years ago. “These guys are like full professors of wine,” murmured the head of neurosurgery. “These four hours will raise about $300,000 towards the new research tower for neuroscience,” pointed out a world-famous cardiologist. The doctors were not tasting the wines but Todd Halpern brought them a jug of red in case they got thirsty— Château Margaux 1982.

I went into the kitchen to pay my respects to Daniel Boulud—always a pleasure since he’s one of the nicest superstar chefs I’ve ever met—and to shake hands with Massimo Capra. Their lunch, unsurprisingly, was pretty spectacular. Boulud presented the first offering, a little amuse of soft, buttery, delectable scrambled eggs served in a little coupe with white Alba truffle grated on top—the eggs a gossamer net to trap the elusive aroma of the truffle.

Boulud took the next course, too: a classic French pâté en croûte of duck meat and foie gras, firm and richly flavoured in a slender frame of pastry with a moistening streak of jelly. The chef had chosen figs as a garnish, here sliced thinly, there turned into a sweet purée, and finished the plate with half an infant lettuce drizzled with a subtle vinaigrette, just to refresh the palate.

Now it was Capra’s turn and he sends forth his famous drunken risotto stained red with the amarone wine he uses to enrich the broth. The texture was perfect, each grain of rice offering a momentary resistance to the teeth. “I’ll take a little more parmesan on mine,” said Clayton Ruby who had joined our table for lunch.

The fish course brought Boulud’s art back to the table. He had roasted fillets of Mediterranean sea bass, delicately crusting the surface of the fish with powdered nuts and decorating it with a green lozenge cut from a truffled spinach leaf. Slivers of porcini and salsify echoed the moist texture of the fish, a spiral crisp added crunch.

Capra provided the main course, a trembling brick of super-tender chuck short rib, braised in a rich Barolo reduction with soft cipollini onions and baby yellow and orange carrots. Polenta, as creamy as my mother’s bread sauce, finished the dish. After that, there were cheeses with brown bread and candied nuts, then ice cream, cookies and chocolates. The wines chosen for lunch (and talk about having a tough act to follow after the morning’s tasting) were Château de Puligny Montrachet 2005 Meursault 1er cru Les Poruzots and Rolf Binder Veritas 2004 Shiraz. We all agreed they behaved admirably well.