January 30, 2005

thirty years

I was in a cellar of my local liquor store a couple of days ago when I took a notice of this old, really old champagne. It was Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 1975, a vintage champagne made exclusively using chardonnay grapes.

It is not very uncommon for good wines from good vineyards to keep several decades, but it is not as much a case with champagnes as with red wines; 30 years is really long for most champagnes.

And besides, this Dom Ruinart was incredibly cheap - almost too cheap. So it naturally made me guess that this would not be a) a very good vintage, or b) thus overstocked in the market, or both of the above. But again, just because I wouldn't find a 30-year old champagne so cheap everywhere, I changed my mind and grabbed the bottle to the casher (I had been there to buy another wine).

To enjoy the old bottle of wine, I whipped up a platter of small toasts:

I made three kinds of them: toasts with Vacherin Mont-d'Or cheese, chocolate toasts with olive oil and fleur de sel, and fig and brie toasts with almonds.

Vacherin Mont-d'Or is a winter delicacy that is so soft even chilled, and melts on a slightly warm toast.

Chocolate with olive oil and fleur de sel (extra-fine sea salt) might sound odd to some, but when I first came to know about it in a book by Amanda Hesser Cooking for Mr. Latte: a food lover's courtship, with recipes (2003, W.W. Norton & Co.), I thought it would be great. Thin slices of baguette with small pieces of bittersweet chocolate (I used Araguani, a Valrhona bitter chocolate) were lightly toasted just enough to melt the chocolate, then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and topped with just a sprinkle of fleur de sel. The combination of olive oil and chocolate was lovely, although a tiny bit sweeter chocolate might have been just perfect.

This combination of brie cheese, fig spread, and chopped salted and roasted Spanish marcona almonds on toast was based on samples that were given out at a Whole Foods store last year. There were his mother and I that tried one, and both of us liked it so much we bought a whole set of products for the toasts so that we'd reproduce some at home for a Thanksgiving dinner. At Whole Foods they used Dalmatia fig spread which was great, but this time I used regular fig spread as I didn't have Dalmatia's. I also tried a tiny twig of fresh rosemary on top; this worked tremendously good I think.

Now with all these small nibbles ready on a pretty white plate that my sister bought me while I was in Japan, I opened my bottle of old champagne, which came out almost amber in color and with very little bubbles left after three decades.

This was my second time having old vintage champagne; last time was when my friend got a bottle of some 25-year old Dom Perignon and we opened it at a French restaurant in Tokyo, and that was when I found out that such a old champagne could still hold bubbles, while enjoying what was totally different from regular, "newer" champagnes.

This time, however, the wine was apparently too old - it obviously didn't endure this long period of time, either because it wasn't good enough a wine to last such a long time or it had not been stored in a right condition, or maybe both. It nevertheless had a remnant of noble crispness of blanc de blancs, and tasted better with sweeter toasts (Vacherin, unfortunately, didn't really go good with this particular wine, even though I love the cheese, anyways). Thirty years seemed to have been rather too long for this bottle and I couldn't help wishing that I had had it ten years before - how good it would have tasted. But you never know.

Anyhow, cheers to the wine that has lived a bit too many years, and to myself who has to live many more years to come. Happy birthday to me.


Anonymous said...

Omedeto tanjobi! :-) 

Posted by Jo

Anonymous said...

wow great photography! the toasts look absolutley delish! and hapy birthday to you! 

Posted by gwenda

Anonymous said...

Joyeux anniversaire Chika ! 

Posted by Estelle

Anonymous said...

Hi Chika,


Posted by Reid

Anonymous said...


You've reached the big three-oh about nine months before me! (1975 was a great year, wasn't it?) How is it? Do you feel any different? More mature? Did you buy the wine to get drunk and forget about your age! Not to worry! You have many, many more years ahead of you -- and a lot more food, too!
You are a fantastic writer, and I'm very proud of you for letting your words and your pictures touch the world. You are just beginning in life, I think, and I know that you have many more adventures -- both in the cyber world and the 'real' world -- to come. Happy happy happy birthday, write if you ever need (really bad) advice, and remember, above all, that the best is yet to come.  

Posted by Scott

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday! Congrats on hitting the big three zero!

Lovely toasts ideas, I think I'll have to go hunt down some fig spread now. 

Posted by Christina

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
My name is Sara and I live in California. I came across your weblog accidentally. and let me tell you it kept me busy for hours.
I really love Japanese people and their culture. I have been looking forward to find a Japanese friend forever but it never happened :(
I even love to travel to Japan some day. I have a very special feeling abut Japanese everything and I don't know why. :)
Any ways, I love your website alot! keep up the good work girl! And I'm going to visit your site everyday from now on. 

Posted by Sara

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!!!!
These photos are just too wonderful. I'm dying for the "fig and brie toasts with almonds."  

Posted by obachan

Anonymous said...

Thanks, everyone, thank you... you guys all made my day. Or year.  

Posted by chika

Anonymous said...

Hi Chika,


Hope you had a fab birthday. I must try the 'chocolate with olive oil & fleur de sel', it looks heavenly. 

Posted by Keiko

Anonymous said...

hi chika! happy belated birthday to you. have a wonderful year full of many adventures.... 

Posted by santos

Anonymous said...

Hi Keiko & Santos,

Thanks, very sweet of you! 

Posted by chika