Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Guest Blogger visits Bistro à Champlain

Guest Blogger Lloyd returns with this write up of Bistro à Champlain...

Since returning to Montreal 20 years ago, wine fanatics have bragged to me about Bistro à Champlain on Lac Masson about an hour north of Montreal. Apparently, an excellent bistro with an outstanding wine cellar. I wrote it off to locals promoting the local, and put it off as long drives and lots of wine are hard to match up.

But last July, in need of a meeting place between Montreal and points further north, we connected with dear friends for a memorable dinner at this venerable spot. I can't believe I waited so long.

First, this was more than just a great wine may be one of the most impressive cellars anywhere in North America. It boasts among the largest collections anywhere of DRC magnums (see photo), numerous verticals of first growths back to the 40s, and a broad range of offerings from the old world in its 35,000 bottles (unbelievable CDPs, Burgundy, Hermitage - the full set of Guigal's "La La"s - and smaller but outstanding collections of Barolo, Super Tuscan and Napa). Yes, 35,000 bottles. And that cellar is made all the more exciting by its builder and host, Dr Champlain Charest, a radiologist turned restaurateur with a gift for storytelling and a depth of wit that matches his collection.

We started with a 1993 d'Angerville Clos des Ducs, recommended by our waiter with a clear and deep knowledge of the incredible offerings. He considered the '93s to have really come out, and that they were under appreciated on the whole. He guided us through our selections in the context of our food order, and made subtle suggestions on that order ensuring great matches between food and wine. The d'Angerville was bright berry in colour, almost luminous. The nose started subtle, but was bolder as it warmed from cellar temp, all cut flowers, morning-after campfire and spice. Surprisingly full-bodied, on the palate it was ripe plums, cherries and a hint of black fruit. Great complexity with a note of stones and lingering minerally, dusty tannins that, after 45 mins, were leaving a long and light aftertaste. Really wonderful stuff! 18.5 on the Joe scale.

We followed with a 1982 Talbot, a selection of my good friend Robbie, who had tasted one years back and proclaimed it a hidden gem. Hard to disagree. Right out of the bottle this wine was spectacular. Purple with only a bit of bricking at the edges, the nose was an assault of black tea, truffles and leather. Hints of liquorice. Full-bodied and even a bit creamy as it warmed up, at 27 years of age the tannin has melted perfectly into a sea of dark fruit, earth and something meaty. Round and soft, there was some chocolate there, that sung for close to a minute. It hurt to see the end of the decanter. Who knew that a Talbot could be that impressive - or long-lived! 19+ on the Joe scale. The plus, as we downed this so quickly, I'm certain this would've continued to improve!

I can't say enough about this dinner and our host. Though I did not note the prices of these wines, I will say that the price for both was below recent auction values for each. Bistro a Champlain's list is incredibly reasonable for the unique - perhaps unmatchable - offering. I did not take notes on the '93 d'Yquem - an 'open bottle' for the evening special of seared fois gras - but it was delightful and a perfect match for the dish (and served complimentary by our host!). Do not miss the tour of the cellar graciously offered - and annotated - by Dr. Charest, truly a collector's collector and a man who, after years at this, never tires of discussing his passion. Bistro a Champlain is undoubtedly worth the trip...but book one of the many neighbourhood B&Bs and enjoy it fully!

Editor's Note: It has been two years since my buddy Lloyd has provided me a guest blog, but I might forgive him if he takes me here for some DRC...

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