Aug 1, 2009

Challenge # 1 : Finish a Half-Read Book

I am an expert in the field of half-read books. Non-fiction especially. I have dozens of half-read books in my shelf. I read a lot, but mostly magazines, blogs, websites and the online version of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and NPR. I can probably talk about most bestsellers because I have read the book jacket during an airport layover or through online reviews. I admit that I do not have the same appetite for reading for an extended period of time as my wife. She can read an entire book before going to bed. I, on the other hand, have a stash of unfinished books and magazines accompanying me on my five minute reading ritual before going to bed. To finish a half-read book is truly an accomplishment of seismic proportion.

My brother-in-law, Raph, sent me this book after our countless days of wine tastings in Buenos Aires. I read through the first 100 plus pages within days of receiving the book. However, with nearly 200 pages left, my short attention span syndrome kicked into high gear. Thus, the "Judgment of Paris" had to wait until today.

The soft droplets of rain outside my window was the perfect backdrop for a couple of hours of reading. As my first challenge, I wasn't going to suffer in defeat. As I turned each leaf, the excitement of actually finishing my first book this year was quite invigorating.

The book recounts the historic 1976 Paris blind tasting of 20 French and California wines. What was to be a slam dunk victory for the storied French wines resulted in its Waterloo.

Despite the request for press coverage of the tasting in the InterContinental hotel, only Times magazine writer, George Taber, witnessed first hand the stunning upset. Relatively unknown Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap wineries stunned the world by outscoring signature first growth Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. To make the matter worst for the French - all the judges were esteemed French wine experts!

The book brought me back to my days at Le Ciel Bleu restaurant at The Mayfair Regent Chicago. The late 80's was a great time to be in the restaurant business. Our patrons at the Mayfair Regent were more than eager to drop the big dollars to enjoy a bottle of Margaux, Petrus, Haut-Brion, and Cristal. The site of a first growth on your table was the power sign of the times. I, along with my fellow restaurant staff, were fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of many tastings.

Jean Pierre Leroux, our French F&B director at the Mayfair at the time was my first mentor. He opened up doors which led to my decision to pursue hospitality as my career. Mr. Leroux instilled in me a true appreciation for food and wine. He used to tell me to taste all the sauces on the menu every day. Pretty soon, I was able to distinguish subtle characteristics in every sauce. Mr. Leroux also insisted that if I were to become an F&B director, I needed to study wines and make wine a part of my life. At Le Ciel Bleu, wines were so much a part of our daily lives that even the hispanic busboys fought over the few ounces of wines left over from unfinished French 1st growth bottles. Those were the best days.

I mention Mr. Leroux because about two thirds through the book, George Taber writes about Mr. Leroux as one of the young, uninvited Frenchman who snuck into the venue to take part in the historic event. Mr. Leroux was then the head of the dining room at the Paris Sofitel hotel. One of his heroes was chef Raymond Oliver of the Grand Vefour who was one of the judges for the event.

I was elated in reading about Mr. Leroux in the book, but even more intriguing, is to discover that he was one of the few people who witnessed this proud moment for American wines. Then again, as a Frenchman, I can understand why in the years I worked under him, he never mentioned his participation in the "Judgment of Paris."

This book is more than a news account of the Paris tastings. It's an in depth journey into the birth of California wines and the many characters who are credited for making this giant leap for New World wines. But for me, the genuine delight of reading about my mentor in the book and being able to reminisce my days at the Mayfair Regent makes this "Month of Living" already worthwhile.

The 1976 Judgment of Paris


1st - Chateau Montelena, 1973
2nd - Meursault Charmes Roulot, 1973
3rd - Chalone Vineyard, 1974
4th - Spring Mountain, 1973
5th - Beaune Clos des Mouches Joseph Drouhin, 1973
6th - Freemark Abbey Winery, 1972
7th - Batard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon, 1973
8th - Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Domaine LaFlaive, 1972
9th - Veedercrest Vineyards, 1972
10th - David Bruce, 1973

Cabernet Sauvignon

1st - Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, 1973
2nd - Chateau Mouton Rothschild, 1970
3rd - Chateau Haut-Brion, 1970
4th - Chateau Montrose, 1970
5th - Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, 1971
6th - Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases, 1971
7th - Mayacamas Vineyards, 1971
8th - Clos Du Val Winery, 1972
9th - Heitz Cellars Martha's Vineyard, 1970
10th - Freemark Abbey Winery, 1969


Anonymous said...

My dear friend, it was a pleasure reading about your first challenge "finish a half-read book. Especially the part when you mentioned our former boss JP Leroux from Le Ciel Bleu was very interesting for me... I think I have to get that book too.

Reading your list of adventures I found "Rekindle an old friendship" – so here I am... let's start it ;-) By the way, did you get my pictures and did you have a look at the new album of Laura on fb?

Take care, big hug, Suzie Q.

George Aquino said...

So nice to hear from you. It was so cool to read about Mr. Leroux' small role in the event. Don't you miss our Chicago days? Playing pool at Lakeside and Third Coast - Great Balls of Fire! I have to check out Laura's new pictures. She's so beautiful. Okay, my friend, this is our month of "rekindling." Let's make it a good one. Love, GA

Anonymous said...

I also worked at The Mayfair Regent, for Mr. Leroux. I was the Catering Administrative Assistant and used to type the carte du jour for Le Ciel Bleu.
Mr. Leroux made the same impression on me which prompted me to pursue a career in hospitality. I am currently Chef Concierge at a resort in Lake Geneva, WI. It was wonderful to read your blog and relive a part of my journey that took me to the Mayfair Regent and led me to Mr. Leroux.