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French Champagne and Flowers

An exciting culinary and wine tasting adventure at Tournament Player’s Club in Westridge.
By Eve Bushman, Special to The Signal; 4/7/2006

My husband and I hadn’t been to a ritzy dinner and wine tasting in eons. Guy LeLarge, owner of Valencia Wine Co. tempted Eddie one night (over a wine tasting at his Town Center Drive establishment) with a tantalizing vision of French champagne and the Tournament Player’s Club’s culinary expertise. (I have found that Guy is excellent at tempting people about anything relating to wine!) He warned Eddie that these events fill up fast so, my dear husband confirmed our attendance. I, the dutiful wife, at home with the 10-year-old at the time, didn’t miss a beat when Ed called me from the wine bar in hopes to illicit the same excitement in me that LeLarge had in him. I called our sitter and the evening was set.

Photo by: Michelle E. Buttleman, The Signal

We were greeted by several lovely ladies, pouring the first champagne of the evening — before we even were seated. It was Comte Audoin de Dampierre Cuvee des Ambassadeurs Brut. And, at the same threshold I met Escape Editor Michele Buttelman for the first time, and other friends Dave and Nancy Bossert and Guy LeLarge and Helen Laprairie. In addition, LeLarge’s employee — the “infamous” Svetlana — knew everyone else that we didn’t.

As we made our way to our table and started to take off our coats we were greeted by two more TPC employees. I introduced myself to our waiter and made sure he knew right away that I would need a glass of water from his icy pitcher for every glass of bubbly that I consumed. He agreed to my demands. A server came bearing flowers and cheese — though the order of these was hard to decipher.

I soon discovered the cheese was inside the flower! It was called “squash blossom, tempura and goat cheese.” I quipped that we were eating the groundskeeper’s leftovers, but was quick to change my mind after one taste. These flowers were so light and airy I lied when another tray came around again, as all at our table hid their cocktail napkins, and lapped another treat up. The champagne, by the way, was just light enough for our taste buds to complement and not overwhelm the “buds” we had consumed.

Photo by: Michelle E. Buttleman, The Signal

LeLarge welcomed us all to the wine dinner and introduced Comte Andoin de Dampierre. This gentlemen, with looks reminiscent of an intelligent and experienced auctioneer at Sotheby’s, had associations with the Champagne region — going back 700 years. His voice like smooth French butter, he opened with what may — or may not — have been a joke: “Normally this first champagne is served in a magnum for two gentlemen who lunch together.” The crowd immediately laughed and relaxed in their comfortable chairs. He explained that his family was not multi-national business, but actually know their growers.

The first course, “farmer’s organic greens, roasted Muscovy duck with hazelnut vinaigrette” was served with Oeil de Perdrix Brut Rose. The words Oeil de Perdrix mean “eye of a partridge” and referred to the color of the champagne.

This was Comte de Dampierre mother’s favorite, and I instantly, upon first sip, shared the same taste. The 89 percent white grapes with the 12 percent Pinot Noir was far better than any Kir Royale I made myself with lesser champagnes splashed with Chambord liquor.

The salad — with a sauce some thought tasted more of almond — with cooled sliced duck and more flowery foliage was another perfectly matched accompaniment to the Brut Rose.

The second course, “Coquilles St. Jacques Napoleon, morel mushroom with Dijon cream and American caviar” was paired with Blanc De Blanc Grand Cru non-vintage. I didn’t taste much at first, a difference with the first champagne of the evening but, as wine sometimes does, it tasted better with food. Eddie said the nose was bigger and it had just the right amount of carbonation — not to overwhelm the fruit.

Now to bring on a red! The third course, “sautéed venison chop with truffle potato soufflé in a blackberry port wine sauce” came paired with Chateau de la Gardine Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2003. Audoin de Dampierre explained that this red was made from 13 grapes. I found it the perfect blend of fruit — yet with a nice dry finish. It came in a funny shaped bottle that I was able to admire for a minute. The first time we had this variety was at Le Chene 20 years ago and we almost sent it back as the bottle appeared so misshapen. It looks like a regular wine bottle — but a little flattened on one side. While we sipped and nibbled on tender venison and its perfect wine sauce, I hunted down Valencia Wine Co. employees to explain this phenomena. In reality, I just wanted to keep that bottle to myself a little longer. Apparently there is no mystery; some wineries in that region make the bottle that peculiar shape — and some don’t. I kept sipping while they kept talking.

The “finish” was a Domaine de la Pigeade Muscat de Beaumes de Venise served with “coffee creme brulee, brie and Bing cherry compote.” I was somewhat grateful as I was getting a little full and yet a little disappointed that my crème brulee was served in what appeared to be a Miso soup spoon from a sushi bar. Only because it was so yummy I wanted more! The desert wine tasted “peachy-keen” — as most dessert wines can stand on their own. Its name — Beaume de Venise — was the name of the village.

LeLarge then brought out TPC’s executive chef — Samson Francois — who in turn brought out his staff. They received a standing ovation that started like the wave at Dodger Stadium; slow to stand but only because we couldn’t applaud without putting down our glasses.

It was a well done evening, one I wish to duplicate soon. Unfortunately (for me), some of my table mates, along with Guy and Helen, will be visiting Audoin de Dampierre in Champagne themselves this summer while we have to stick it out here waiting for their return.

What tastings and dinners can we possibly have in their absence that would compare? Woe is me; I’ve been teased with the best and now — but wait! I can still order the wines we had! I have also heard that TPC in Westridge does a great lunch. See you there!

The Signal

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Valencia Wine Co. 24300 Town Center Drive, #105, Valencia, CA 91355