Dream became reality in April during a special event at Le Lafayette, the classic French restaurant owned and operated by Chef Sebastien Maillard. The occasion was a stellar tasting of wines from the personal collection of Francois Louis Vuitton, the great-great-grandson of the fashion icon, accompanied by a special menu created by the chef. The wines were presented by Emmanuel (“Manny”) Burnichon, a wine importer and friend of Vuitton’s, who shared his expertise with guests when Francois was unable to attend. Even in Naples, which regularly sees great wines paired with stellar chefs, the combination was memorable.
Vuitton, who has a summer home in Pyla Sur Mer 40 miles west of Bordeaux, drew on a lifetime of experience with winemakers and château owners to assemble his collection. The idea began with a visit to Maison Bouey, a Bordeaux négociant (broker). “My meeting with Bouey was the opportunity to make my passion become the subject of a personal collection,” says Francois. “I wanted my personal collection to embody French style, with wines of outstanding pedigree, from the finest Bordeaux terroirs. That is why I decided to select Classified Growths.” He says he visited each property and personally tasted the wines before adding them to his portfolio.
The decision to focus on Classified Growths was a significant one. There were two classifications ranking Bordeaux wines in 1855: one focused on red wines of the Médoc, the other on sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac; in addition, there is a separate classification in St. Emilion that changes periodically. The 61 properties included in the Médoc classification are written in stone, and are still regarded by connoisseurs as the great and most sought-after in the region.
Those wines were well known to the Naples connoisseurs who were drawn to the dinner. “I always appreciate being surrounded by people who are friends as well as customers,” says the chef, describing the 60 diners who attended the event. “The guests were special clients who would really understand the wines.”
To create the menu, Sebastien drew on a lifetime of experience. “My parents always joked that I was born in the pan,” he says, noting his first New Year’s Eve was spent in a playpen in his father’s restaurant. After a stint in the Caribbean he arrived in the U.S. in 1998 and gravitated to Naples, where he opened Le Lafayette in 2001.
On this unique occasion, after a reception fueled by the Grand Cru Brut Champagne of Ernest Remy, guests were served a dish of Maine lobster medallions in a creamy mousseline sauce. This was accompanied by a pair of Grand Crus from St. Emilion, Chateau La Gaffeliere 2012 and Cadet-Bon 2014. Both wines are composed primarily of Merlot, which gave them a supple texture compatible with seafood. However, it was the dry white wine from Chateau d’Yquem, Ygrec 2015, that stole the show, becoming the instant favorite of many of the attendees.
“This is a very rare and unusual wine, with less than 1000 cases made each year,” says Chef Maillard. “Like Chateau d’Yquem itself, it’s a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, but something that most people had never experienced before.”
A black truffle risotto followed. Maillard sautéed Arborio rice with a court-bouillon of fish, gently simmered the dish until the rice was perfectly cooked, and finished the risotto with cream and fresh, shaved black truffles. A trio of 2014 Grand Crus each added a unique element to the experience: the silkiness of Lascombes (Margaux), the earthiness of Malartic-LaGraviere (Pessac-Léognan) and the power and elegance of Léoville-Poyferré (St. Julien).
For the third course, diners had a choice between duck and sea bass, and Chef Maillard had surprises waiting for them with either selection. The “duck burger” had an unusual presentation: placed on a slice of brioche, it was topped with slices of tomato and seared foie gras, with a Portobello mushroom cap serving as the top of the “bun.” The sea bass was finished with an intense reduction of Cabernet Sauvignon that paired well with 2014 Chateau Giscours from Margaux and 2006 Cos d’Estournel from St. Estephe, one of Bordeaux’s greatest estates in a spectacular vintage. Both dishes demonstrated Maillard’s creative talents: the ability to take simple, rustic French country cooking to new heights.
“That course was one of the high points for me,” says Gary Sharpe, a Naples businessman and wine collector. “I’ve traveled extensively and eaten in many Michelin-starred restaurants, but I’ve never seen anything like it—the duck meat was ground and presented as a patty. The 2006 Cos d’Estournel was the perfect match with the dish. It was an amazing wine, and one that will be in my cellar going forward.”
Dessert was no less unusual and delightful. Drawing on his background as a pastry chef, Maillard created a dark chocolate Toblerone “cake” that was more a culinary pun. “In French we would call it an entremet,” he explains, “or a dessert designed to entertain.” He took dark Toblerone chocolate and reconstituted it into the shape of a candy bar, filled it with frozen vanilla and coffee mousse, and garnished it with Cabernet Sauvignon ice cream made with wine from the Bordeaux region of Pauillac. Before dessert, however, Sebastien surprised his guests with an impromptu cheese course to complement 2014 Chateau d’Yquem, universally regarded as the world’s greatest sweet wine. In the Classification of 1855 d’Yquem was elevated above all the other wines of Sauternes and Barsac and ranked as a First Great Growth.
“The D’Yquem was one of the best wines for me,” says Philippe Camus, the former CEO of both Airbus and Alcatel-Lucent, who attended the event. “It paired perfectly with the strong cheeses, particularly the fourme d’Ambert (a blue-veined cheese similar to Roquefort, but with a creamy texture that balances the sharp tang).”
“The evening really became more than just a wine tasting,” adds Burnichon. “Even though most of the guests were very wine-knowledgeable, they had the opportunity to compare styles across many different regions. It was a true journey of discovery.”