A Franco-Texan Evening
Wine-it's what's for dinner. Well, not really. But when you are
out to dinner with two experts on wine and liqueurs, it can quickly
become the centerpiece of the evening.
In the spirit of facilitating a French connection, Mark Monfrey,
a Dallas-based expert on specialty and handcrafted beverages from
around the world, introduced me to his friend and colleague Alain
Royer, a sixth generation Cognac maker from France.* They had just
returned from an industry conference in New Orleans full of stories
about the latest and greatest in liqueurs, spirits and even types
of glasses to drink them in.
As we perused the menu at Dean Fearing's restaurant in Dallas,
chef Dean himself came over to say hello and help us with our choices.*
After much debate both en français et en anglais (in
French and English), we decided on the chef's tasting menu, a gourmet
extravaganza of several small plates of his signature southwestern
Then, of course, we had to decide on le vin (wine). Alain
kicked off our wine odyssey with an intriguing and delicious white
wine choice from the Basque region of Spain. The Txomin Etxaniz
was slightly effervescent and went perfectly with the barbequed
shrimp tacos. As we enjoyed this unusual vin blanc (white
wine) in delicate Riedel glasses, Alain pointed out that wine glasses
should always be lightweight and should never interfere with the
wine drinking experience. In other words, glassware "should
melt away so that nothing comes between you and the wine."
Our next course was another chef special, the south of the border
tortilla soup, accompanied by a Curran Grenache Blanc from the Santa
Ynez Valley in California. Although widely planted in France and
Spain, grenache blanc grapes are relatively rare in the United States
so it was a real treat to try this special white varietal. This
time, while the wine glasses were beautiful, they were heavy and
definitely changed how we drank the wine.
Next up on our menu dégustation (tasting menu) were
gorgeous Georges Bank sea scallops that tasted even better with
the Jo Pithon Savennières chenin blanc from the Loire Valley
in France. Another wine off the beaten path, this white was full
of fruit with good body. Clearly, our sommelier was taking
care of us.
Our final course included the maple-black peppercorn buffalo tenderloin-the
best buffalo I have ever had-with jalapeno grits and accompanied
by a fabulous red, L'Aventure Paso Robles Optimus from California.
More French than Californian, this wine opened up moment by moment
and was a powerful combination of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and
petit verdot. Bacchus would have been over the moon.
By the time dessert arrived, we had tasted four fabulous wines.
But more was still to come. Two additional glasses accompanied our
mini trio of sweets. The wine staff poured a lovely Black Monukka
dessert sherry from the Rotta Winery in California. I am a dessert
wine fan and have tried many French variations such as Beaumes
de Venise, Muscat and Sauternes. Still, I was
unprepared for the voluptuous caramel and nut flavors of this rare
then came the pièce de résistance (showpiece)
of the evening. The wine staff poured us each a small glass of Château
Paulet Cognac, a blend of very rare, fine Champagne Cognacs. Château
Paulet, now owned by its president Jean-Pierre Cointreau, is one
of the oldest houses in the Cognac area. The Cognac's crystal decanter
was a showstopper in and of itself-it was designed especially for
this Cognac by the French crystal house Lalique. I briefly held
the decanter and secretly wished it was almost empty so I could
take the collector's item home.
As we tasted the Cognac, one of the finest of the fine liqueurs
in the world, Alain realized that the small liqueur glass was not
quite right for this great spirit. He called over the sommelier
and explained the issue. Immediately, we were brought slightly larger
glasses. Voilà, the Cognac took on a whole other dimension.
If I were not convinced before of the power of the right glass with
the right libation, then now I was a believer. From that moment
on, I would have to think of food and wine pairings more in the
vein of food, wine and glass combinations.
As we parted for the evening, I thanked Mark and Alain for an extraordinary
night of food, wine and conversation. It had been an education and
a pleasure to break bread and taste wine with true authorities and
connoisseurs of the wine and spirits genre. I felt like I had been
to France for a night-all while sitting deep in the heart of Texas.
* Mark Monfrey works with importers, distillers and breweries that
have a passion for their products. His Artisanal
Beverage Company represents specialty and handcrafted beverages
from around the world and craft beers from the U.S. Alain Royer
is VP of Development for the Groupe Renaud-Cointreau.
Fearing's restaurant is located in the Dallas Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Paulet has an array of Cognacs including the Lalique Cognac.
September 3, 2008
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