You expect a private champagne pairing dinner at Terrace 16 in Trump Tower to be top shelf. You expect it to exceed those expectations a little bit. You expect incredible champagne and five-star food and crystal flutes and maybe a celebrity or two in the room, and service that is impeccable. What you don’t expect is Daniel Kroes.
At a recent wine dinner, Kroes walked guests through a string of extraordinary pairings while he worked the room as if he’s been doing it for 30 years. He’s genuine and charming and makes you feel like you’re the only person in there. But he also sticks vinyl die-cut graphics onto a black plastic board to illustrate his presentations of the wines. And it’s hilarious. It disarms the presumption of snoot in the room and defenestrates the very idea that your tasting will be snobbish.
Each month, the ticketed wine dinners at Terrace 16 will feature a grape, a region, or an appellation or I don’t know, a letter of the alphabet. I get the impression Kroes is indulging his whimsical side a wee twinge when planning these and I fully support that. You should too. At an affordable price point (the champagne tickets were $106.00 each) you get more than your money’s worth in vino, with an incredible view, and a great sommelier.
Kroes started the evening with a Kir Royale – champagne with crème de cassis, a marvelously flavored cocktail everyone should be drinking immediately.
The meal began with Osetra caviar on a Bellini with crème fraiche and was paired with Vouette et Srobée’s “Textures” blanc de blanc. This champagne is an experimental cuvèe of naturally fermented Pinot Blanc aged in French oak barrels and amphorae. The caviar was unctuous, salty, and fatty even before you add the tang of crème Fraiche. But that pinot blanc cut through it with a clear minerality and a distant taste of orange peel, like you’re at the front desk in class and that kid who works in the limestone mines brought your teacher an orange instead of an apple. Delicious.
We moved on to a foie gras torchon with port reduction and sourdough paired with Agrapart Terroirs, a hard to find blanc de blanc from a small producer who’s nailed a three-star rating from La Revue du Vin de France which is like your dad finally saying you did good, kid. It’s rare. It’s coveted. It tastes like you’re in the middle of a cute-meet with Stephanie Martini in a peach and lemon orchard on a gorgeous sunny day and she’s laughing at your stupid joke.
At this point, according to the menu, we’re supposed to get the Cedric Bouchard Pinot Noir, but Kroes is a vigilant somm and at the last minute decided the Bouillabaisse paired better with the Chatogne-Taillet and I don’t know what that means but after one sip, I wholeheartedly agree. The 2012 Less Barres banc de noir is 100 percent Meunier, which is weird because Meunier has always been the unacknowledged backbone of champagne. Growers often don’t even list it on the label, an omission that borders on abuse. This glass tasted like Ellen Page as Vanya in The Umbrella Academy S1E2 staring out the window into the rain in a solemn fugue of ennui. You think, good lord, why is she even here? But then, as you dip into the glass the secret power of this grape explodes and you realize Ellen Page is a genius and this grape is amazing.
Of course grilled lobster tail. Of course. Served with rose veloute, morel mushroom risotto and I’m just going to stop right there and admit I developed a deep and abiding relationship with this dish. My lobster’s name was Loretta and we talked about South American Magical Realism as exemplified in 100 Years of Solitude and we listened to Brazil 66 and met each other’s parents. Then I left her for a glass of Cèdric Bouchard’s, “Côte de Val de Vilaine” because I don't have to explain myself. Bouchard is obsessed with technique, with purity, organic production, and with restricting the yield of his vines. This bottle comes from a 1.5-hectare vineyard that produces less than 500 cases a year. Bouchard’s champagnes are bottled at a lower atmosphere meaning there are fewer bubbles and they disappear right away leaving you with a barely effervescent white wine that tastes like you just licked a Michelangelo in the Louvre after eating a pear that’s like three days past its sell-by date which just makes it more delicious.
To serve the Bouchard at a private dinner tells a story about Kroes and about the wine program at Terrace 16. It tells you that behind Kroes’ adorkable personality is a wine pro laser-focused on discovering not only great champagnes but those new, rare, wildly fascinating vintners who are tearing the industry down to its terroir in order to build it back up better, purer. Growers like Bouchard and Agrapart are redefining how champagne is made and how it might taste if everyone would just stop trying to make a billion bottles a year and give proper reverence to their grapes. Each of the wines served at this dinner will be impossible to afford ten years from now.
The March dinner is an exploration of Burgundies. Here’s a link.