A Month of Dinner Parties

There was a spate of dinner parties at our house in September. The first was in honor of our friend, Eric, returned from Leiden for a few weeks to give lectures upstate for the New Netherlands Institute. He spoke to one audience about the relationship of the 17th century Dutch in Albany to the native Algonquin, and to another about Abraham Staats’s sloop. Margaret thought it would be a good idea to have him repeat the lectures to a group of our friends, and so it was.

There were eleven of us, for what turned out to be a cold supper of marinated leg of lamb, grilled eggplant with red onion, basil and balsamic vinaigrette, white beans with sage, various breads and cheeses, and Aunt Shirley’s blueberry cake. We hauled out the banquet plates and generic wine glasses — items we bought years ago for an ill-fated Austrian Hapsburg dinner. Ellen brought a green salad and sliced tomatoes with mozzarella; Mercer brought a projector so Eric could show his slides. Sandy provided the screen. Joe and Lee were there, as were Gail and Jim and Margaret’s friend, Kylie. As it turned out, we were not to hear a repeat performance, rather Eric had prepared an original presentation for his New York City audience.

Whenever a crowd shows up at our house, Margaret and I enforce our prime directive: No Red Wine. This has been a rule ever since we bought a white oriental carpet for the livingroom. Rosé was okay, and, in accord with the occasion, bubbles were surely appropriate, ergo our choice of Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore, and plenty of it. This rosé Crémant de Bourgongne is festive and fun, while at the same time maintaining the dry dignity of a well-balanced champagne. Made from 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay, the wine undergoes bottle fermentation for at least two years, far longer than the legally required 9 months. All that extra time on the lees adds aromas and elegance.

When the 5 bottles I’d chilled were gone, I opened another non-vintage sparkler, Thierry Germain Saumur Brut “Bulles de Roche.” Made largely from Chenin Blanc, with a touch of Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, this Val de Loire wine had strong minerality and acidity, with a touch of pear. Moreover, it served quite well the next day with a lamb sandwich.

A week later, we settled down to a Provençal dinner with Michael and Peter, and their friend Linda. Linda had lived in the south of France, Michael and Peter were soon going there, and Margaret and I had lots of suggestions for fun things to do.

We started the evening with Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore for the ladies, while Peter drank a Manhattan and Michael and I drank gin. I’ve been experimenting with Manhattans lately, using Old Overholt, an American rye whiskey, instead of VO, or some other Canadian rye, Lillet Rouge instead of sweet vermouth, The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters instead of Angostura, and finally, Luxardo maraschino cherries, an Italian specialty item, instead of the supermarket brand with stems. “Don’t change everything at once,” Margaret advised, so I stuck with Old Overholt and Luxardo; Peter seemed happy.

For Michael and me, I made an antique Martini, consisting of 6 parts gin, one part dry vermouth and a few drops of orange bitters. I call it antique because a century ago, cocktails were defined as two kinds of booze with bitters. Michael too seemed happy, especially after his second one.

The first course was pissaladiere, a carmelized onion pizza with olives and anchovies, served in the livingroom with our drinks, along with duck liver mousse and other nibbles. At table we ate scallops and a potato salad with green beans, and drank the remaining sparkling rosé, topped with a bottle of 2010 Domaine Tempier Rosé. This wine never fails to impress, with its light salmon pink color, bracing acidity and flavor of berries, melon and flowers. While the conversation turned from one great French anecdote to another, the food and wine carried us forward, through the cheese course, to a table top of empty plates and empty glasses.

Dessert was Margaret’s biscotti, with a side of lemon and mixed berry sorbet, and that most favored of Provençal treats, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, in this case a 2009 from Paul Jaboulet Aîné. The wine is pleasantly sweet, owing to its fortification with grape spirits before fermentation is complete. It tasted of honied peach and apricot – no, it tasted of Provence, with an edge of envy for our friends.

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