If you’ve ever eaten at The French Laundry or Per Se, then you might have heard this aphorism by Thomas Keller, the chef and talent behind both restaurants, on how “a recipe has no soul. You as the cook must bring soul to the recipe”. In the realm of great food and wine, one element that separates the wheat from the chaff is, undoubtedly, emotion: how it makes you feel; what feelings it evokes; what memories it will make. For Kuala Lumpur gourmets, it must have seemed, then, that the stars aligned beautifully recently when Darren Chin, chef-proprietor of DC Restaurant and hailed by KL’s culinary circles as being at the top of his game right now, hosted a special wine dinner, teaming up with none other than the legendary Château Margaux.
For those unfamiliar with the essentials and nuances of the rather closed-off world of claret, Château Margaux is one of the five great First Growths of Bordeaux, the others being Châteaux Latour, Mouton-Rothschild, Lafite and Haut-Brion. Château Margaux is also, unusually, the only premier cru that bears the name of the very appellation it is in.
If you have been blessed with the chance to experience the magic of Margaux, you would know it to be an estate of great history and heritage with exceptional terroir. The château itself dates back to the 12th century, when it was known as La Mothe de Margaux, taking its name from a play on the word motte, which means “a small rise in the land”. It was also once the residence of the Plantagenet king, Edward III, father of Edward, the Black Prince [English kings have adored Bordelaise wines since the time of the Norman invasion] and is owned today by Corinne Mentzelopoulos.
Having managed the estate since it was left to her by her father — the successful Greek businessman Andre, for over three decades — Mentzelopoulos has enjoyed the privilege of working with Château Margaux’s greatest names, from the celebrated oenologist Emile Peynaud to Philippe Barré and, most recently, Paul Pontallier, who worked for Margaux from 1983 until his passing in 2016, after battling cancer. It was with Paul that their combined talents went furthest in restoring the fame and fortune of the château to the lofty heights it once occupied.
It was a great honour then, that Thibault Pontallier, Paul’s son and global ambassador for the château, was present at the DC x Château Margaux dinner. The youthful, Bordeaux-born Thibault (he is just 32) immediately exhorted everyone in attendance to “age as well as a bottle of Château Margaux”, which drew laughter from the high-net-worth assembly (we spotted Tan Sri Ngau Boon Keat, executive chairman of the Dialog Group among other guests).
The prestigious and unprecedented partnership seemed a fabulous way for Chin to kick-start the year. His dining room was recently named Best Independent Restaurant in the T.Dining Best Restaurants 2018 list by Malaysia Tatler. Equally unprecedented was the RM2,600++ price tag that came attached to every seat that evening, although connoisseurs would understand after glancing at the menu.
The food was a worthy showcase of Chin’s classical French training, coupled with his philosophy and practice of la jeune cuisine (young cuisine). Faultlessly prepared, the essence of the seven-course meal was unstuffy, exciting and, if you are familiar with DC Restaurant, quintessentially Chin. What the guests came for, however, was to see how the creations of this bright young thing on the local culinary scene would match with one of wine’s most storied names.
The evening began with amuse-bouches of a sweet little belon oyster, accompanied by chive oil and fermented rhubarb, chased by a beetroot “cloud” atop a morsel of smoke-cured butterfish, grilled cabbage and oxalis, a type of wood sorrel. However, it was only with the first course that Château Margaux made its appearance; not the grand vin, mind you, but the 2014 Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux. A pure Sauvignon Blanc, it marked the first time I had ever tried a Bordelaise version — and it didn’t disappoint.
The estate owns an 11ha plot planted exclusively with the grape and it must be noted that Bordeaux is, after all, where Sauvignon Blanc originated from, with plantings that date back even before Cabernet Sauvignon. Château Margaux is also the first estate in Bordeaux’s Left Bank to make white wine. Chin paired this with sea urchin from Hokkaido’s Hamanaka prefecture (smaller and sweeter than bafun uni which he likes to use for his signature dish of Takao cold somen) served in its shell, hidden under vegetal foam. Quite unlike the Sauvignon Blancs I am accustomed to, Château Margaux’s version was wonderfully fresh, with no sharp acidic assault on the initial palate, before segueing into a perky creaminess, not unlike a dollop of Pepe Saya cultured butter.
From the white rose, it was time to move on to the red rose: a 2004 Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux, which Chin matched with Galician octopus, artfully plated with mussel cream and kale. Hailed as Château Margaux’s second wine, its vintages date back to 1908 and Thibault gave us a tip: “You should buy any Pavillon Rouge produced since 2000. They are excellent!” A silky chawanmushi made with snow crab and foie gras then provided a little breather before the grands vins made their highly-anticipated appearance.
Many fans of Bordeaux are well familiar with the power and prestige of Pauillac’s First Growths but for sensuality, elegance and the headiest perfume, the premier cru to turn to would invariably be Château Margaux. “I started drinking Château Margaux at the age of three,” Thibault volunteers, “dipping my finger into my father’s glass. But my first taste of Château Margaux proper was at the age of 12. I like to say there’s more Margaux in my blood than water. My father would also say that water is only good for rinsing glasses in between the white and red wines. In fact, I remember when friends came to visit me and they’d say: why is there no water on the table? I’d always reply: Don’t ask or my father will not be happy.”
Happily, we were treated to three vintages of the great wine: the 2004, 1999 and 1989. For the former, Chin served a magret de canard with burnt leeks, pegaga leaves and cordyceps while it was nothing less than Japanese A4 wagyu — accompanied by black truffles and strigoli pasta — for the 1999 and 1989. The legendary bouquet of Château Margaux was apparent at the first whiff. “It almost makes you want to take the wine and apply it to your neck; such is its perfume,” said Thibault, only half-jokingly.
All three vintages were given 95 points each by Neal Martin, a favourite wine writer of mine due to his irreverent, witty way with words and a shared love of orange-flavoured Kit-Kats. If you need proof of Martin’s prowess, just know he was formerly lead critic at Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate before moving on to Vinous, joining other mondo vino greats, including Stephen Tanzer. All three wines were quintessentally Margaux, with power hidden behind perfumed charm. The best analogy to describe this would be, perhaps, and from a man’s perspective, a romantic candlelight dinner with top model and Victoria’s Secret Angel Miranda Kerr — all tousled tresses, angelic features and slinky legs — only to discover your date transformed into Amal Clooney — no less beautiful but packing both power as well as punch. I personally loved the thrill of drinking the 1989 — a wine that is not only three decades old and still drinking so beautifully, with refined tannins, a fresh finish and layer upon layer of complexity that kept revealing itself after subsequent sips and swirls.
Although 1855 Merchants, the wine partner for the evening, generously brought out bottles of 2010 Château d’Anna Sauternes to go with our choice of clementine sherbet with persimmon and yuzu curd or DC Restaurant’s justifiably famous cheese trolley (our table decimated the epoisses de Bourgogne and tête de moine that night), I preferred to slowly and carefully ensure every last drop of Château Margaux in my glasses was finished. In this day and age — when luxury seems to be carelessly accessible and price tags don’t seem to correspond with time-honoured values of craftsmanship and paying homage to provenance — slowly savouring my Margaux was my personal obeisance to the heritage of the château and the talent and dedication of the people behind it.
The 1982 vintage of Château Margaux is said to be one of its most legendary but if you can’t get access to any, or if you can’t dig that deep, perhaps the one to stock up on would be the 2015, Pontallier Senior’s final vintage and his 33rd in Margaux. It’s already looking set to be an exceptional wine to drink but, more importantly, it will be encased in a special black bottle with the lettering and design of the estate in gold. It marks the first time the grand vin will bear a specially-commissioned, one-off design and it is a touching, heartfelt tribute by owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos to show just how highly she regarded and appreciated Paul Pontallier. The strength of the vintage coupled with the commemorative bottle has already made it highly sought-after, so don’t say you weren’t told.
Thibault told us earlier how his father had once shared with him the secret to discerning the difference between a good and a great wine, saying: “A good wine gives you pleasure. A great wine gives you emotion.” Tonight, it was twofold.
For more information on upcoming wine dinners or to make a reservation, visit restaurant-dc.com or call 03 7731 0502. This article first appeared on Mar 5, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.