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Nov 12, 2008

Royal Banquet in Yountville

Entrance to V Wine Cellar"Beautiful," I said, peering down at the small plate held before me. It contained a dozen tiny mother-of-pearl spoons, neatly lined up. Each was filled with something resembling black jelly topped by whipped cream. "What is it?"

"Caviar with creme freche," the server said.

Intrigued, I picked up a spoon and was delighted with the intricate combination of flavor and texture: the slight salt and even slighter tart, the tiny smooth grains and thickish cream. Another server stepped from behind the first, proffering another lovely plate--this one unadorned and intended for my empty spoon. Someone else materialized to refresh my champagne. Another plate appeared holding quarter-sized hors d'oeuvres whose starring ingredient was duck confit.

And so it went until it was time to sit down to the immensely long table for the dinner that had brought us all together.

The place was V Wine Cellar, part of the impressive Vintage Estate in Napa Valley's plush Yountville. The occasion? An inaugural dinner to introduce the first year (2009) of the Vintage Estate V Wine Cellar Winemaker Dinner Series. The Chef: Vintage Estate's Kevin Miller. The night's winemaker, whose wines we reveled in for hours, was Christian Moueix of Napa's Dominus Estate and various legendary wine-making chateaux in Pomerol.

V Wine Cellar is housed in the historic 1870 Groezinger Winery and Distillery, a beautiful red-brick building that's been updated periodically through the decades and has lately been sumptuously refurbished throughout. The Cellar, with its exposed stone and gleaming mahogany woodwork, holds about 3000 bottles of wine from around the world. The room is much longer than it is wide, and the table, set up handsomely for about 60, ran right down the center.

The surroundings, the fantastic wine, the incredible food, and the invitees collaborated to create an unusually fine evening.

The eclectic crowd was made of up of customers, friends, and food and wine writers. As the evening progressed--as we took flight on those generous flights of wine--strangers grew friendly. I had never met the man to my left, a rock 'n roll photographer whose clever business card was shaped like a guitar pick. But by midway through dinner we were engrossed in a discussion of the way in which wine, unlike, say, even the most amazing of single-malt whiskeys, is a living breathing organisim capable of change from one day to the next. "A great whiskey tastes the same anywhere in the world no matter when or how you drink it," he said. "Not so with a great wine or even a merely good wine. The taste of wine reflects what you bring to it at any given moment, and what it brings to you. "

A writer colleague of mine stopped to chat. Taking note of the endless table, she said: "How many times in life do you get to dine at a table this long? It's like a royal banquet from one of those movies about Louis XIV or Henry VIII. Not so formal, though."

Indeed. By the penultimate course any attempt at formality had completely disappeared. People had struck up lively conversations up and down and across and at angles all along the table. I learned that a woman sitting across from me, on the other side of a lovely floral centerpiece, had the same first name. Not too long ago, Suzanne Knecht and her husband took two years off and sailed around the world, resulting in her first book, Night Watch: Memoirs of a Circumnavigation. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Dominus wine label 2004Finally it was time to leave and walk back to my room at the fabulous Villagio Inn & Spa. As I headed out the door with friends I fell into conversation with charming French winemaker Christian Moueix. At the helm of Chateau P├ętrus, he's been called wine's "reclutant superstar" by Decanter, which named him their 2008 Man of the Year. We had a short but intense conversation about creativity and the similar way it manifests in winemaking and writing, providing the perfect topper to a perfect evening.

For more information about the 2009 winemaker dinners, visit the V Wine Cellar.

And for all you foodies out there, here's the night's menu:

Seared Foie
Current Bread Pudding, Sultana & Red Flame Raisins
White Balsamic Glaze
2000 Chateau Certan Marzelle, Pomerol
2003 Chateau Magdalene, Saint-Emillion

Roasted Squab
Crisp Pancetta, Butternut Squash Risotto
Elderberry Jus
1996 Dominus, Napa Valley
2001 Dominus, Napa Valley

Omaha Prime New York Strip
Truffled Potato Gratin
Cabernet Sauce
2005 Napanook, Napa Valley
2005 Dominus, Napa Valley

Beignets
Huckleberry Gastrique
1997 Ramos Pinto, Portugal
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