From time to time, Thierry Meyer of oenoalsace.com (and formerly Alsace correspondent for the Bettane & Dessauve Grand Guide des Vins de France), together with chef Jean-Philippe Guggenbuhl of La Taverne Alsacienne near Colmar cook up an appealing plan. Keeping a collective ear close to the ground – and an eye on the market – they wait for the moment when a particularly delicious item (skrei, morels, asparagus, venison, wild salmon…) is offered at a favourable rate. Then they pounce. Soon (and at shortish notice) the word goes out about a lunch or dinner at the restaurant which will privilege that particular food.
Last Saturday it was the turn of lobster. The price was right (they’re always cheaper after the Christmas rush), the date selected and 12 of us assembled, each bidden to bring a suitable bottle of wine to accompany the lobster feast.
Jean-Philippe’s menu, fairly priced at €65 all-in, opened with a salad of mixed winter leaves with lobster, diced mango and slivered black truffles. The first flight of wines featured a Pinot Gris GC Kirchberg from Louis Sipp in Ribeauvillé, a PG GC Brand 02 from Josmeyer in Wintzenheim and a Riesling GC Kitterlé 01 from Schlumberger in Guebwiller. All wines coped well with the (considerable) challenge of the salad – think sharp notes from the dressing, a touch of sweetness from the lobster and mango and slight bitterness from the salad leaves, especially rocket and dandelion. On balance the two Pinot Gris (both elegant, toasty/smoky and with a perfectly dry finish) came out best, while the minerally/petrolly notes of the Riesling (typical of some Alsace Rieslings of a certain age and from certain terroirs) offended some palates.
Next came toothsome raviolis filled with diced lobster suspended in a sternly reduced, lightly creamed bisque-like sauce. The intensity of aromas and flavours almost overwhelmed the elegant, minerally Riesling GC Florimont 02 from Claude Weinzorn’s Domaine de l’Oriel, while a massive (15%), mushroomy, lightly wooded Pacherenc du Vic Bihl Chateau Montus and a superbly iodé Chablis GC Grenouille 83 from Bouchard both coped admirably, the latter, in particular, picking up the iodine notes of the shellfish in pleasing harmony.
Next the main course, the tail of the lobster with a meat jus, which was partnered by quite probably the wickedest pommes de terre that have ever passed my lips (equal quantities of purée and cream, ‘enriched’ with butter and put through their paces in the Pacojet to give them an illusion of lightness, explained chef Jean-Philippe without batting an eyelid). With this came the third flight of wines: a golden, gently bubbly Veuve Clicquot 95 which smelled of buttered toast and tasted gorgeous, a Vouvray demi-sec 93 from Huet with hints of hyacinths and honey, wonderful balance of sweetness with a dry finish, and a Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 99 from legendary wine makers Zind-Humbrecht – astonishing richness and complexity.
Pudding was a round of puff pastry with a swirl of finely sliced apple topped with a silken vanilla ice cream and a smudge of mango puree. This elicited another Pinot Gris (my favourite food wine, I was in clover) and a brace of Gewurztraminers. The Pinot Gris, Claude Weinzorn’s GC Sommerberg Les Terrasses 08, almost had me jumping into the car and heading up the hill to nearby Niedermorschwihr in search of one of the few remaining bottles. The first Gewurz, a GC Osterberg VT 05 from Louis Sipp, was classic, understated, with a fabulous backbone of acidity – the antithesis of those OTT Gewurzes that put people off this aromatic, spicy grape. The second was a prized drop of Sélection de Grains Nobles, also 05, from Domaine Schoenheitz, described modestly by the wine maker (who was present, along with all those responsible for this last flight) as a wine that practically made itself – terrific botrytis that year and near perfect conditions for naturally sweet wines.