Water for Chefs—Rick Moonen, rm seafood, RX Boiler Room, Las Vegas
Winesplaining from behind the line.
May 18, 2016
In addition to his work behind the line at some of America’s powerhouse fine dining restaurants (Le Cirque, La Côte Basque, rm) Chef Moonen is a vocal and active advocate for sustainable seafood the world over. Fish-lovers (and fish themselves) have Moonen to thank for keeping the restaurant industry’s eye on quality over quantity.
Would you call yourself a wine drinker?
I would call myself a wine lover with an eye on the spirit world; I tend to drink more cocktails these days. I’ve studied wine for several decades and totally appreciate it as the living, breathing product that it is.
Paint the whole picture of your bangin'-est wine experience, REAL or IMAGINED.
It was cold and windy in the Las Vegas Valley the night of a rare wine dinner featuring wines from 1955. Master Sommelier Steven Geddes invited my wife and me to attend and participate in a wine experience beyond our wildest dreams; I was asked to create a seafood dish and bring a wine. I selected two bottles of 2011 J. Moreau & Fils ‘Le Clos’ Chablis Grand Cru. I figured that it would suffice, relying on everyone being so impressed with the rest of the wines that they would forget what I brought and just remember an awesome night.
After some champagne and snacks, I was up to bat with the first course: an angel hair pasta with a sauce made of fresh clam juice, finished with a butter made from an entire tray of uni (so fresh you want to smack your mama), garnished with the clams that gave up their juices to start the emulsion. A huge dollop of White Sturgeon Caviar, that I made myself at Passmore Ranch late last year, heaped on top of the mounded pasta.
I plated the last dish and rushed to the table. We tasted the food, sipped the Chablis, then back to the pasta. Silence. I hit a home run.
The rest of the meal was prepared and presented by the host. He popped open a 2000 Chablis Grand Cru, ‘Les Clos’ from Domaine William Fèvre. It was spectacular. Here is where it gets sick: 1955 Richebourg Grand Cru and a bottle of 1955 Pierre Bertrand Echezeaux. Side-by-side reds that were alive and older than me. Next was two bottles of 1955 Château Cheval-Blanc, then 1955 Château Haut-Batailley Pauillac. As if that wasn’t enough, 1970 Chateau Suduiraut ‘Ancien Cru du Roy’ Sauternes was the final glass poured to the fortunate group.
If you could choose the ultimate wine mate for the food you specifically cook, what would it be?
Shellfish with Chablis. I love the slatey minerality. Heaven.
Have you experienced a wine pairing that you felt truly elevated your food?
I prepared a True North Salmon Company dish that I thought would present a real challenge for a wine pairing. It was curry spice-cured salmon served sliced on fresh-from-the-tandoor, charred naan, slathered with my homemade harissa, raita and garnished with micro cilantro. A wine nightmare. Who ya gonna call? Chateau Musar Jeune Rouge from Lebanon, of course. Damn, it was perfect.
What makes you like a wine? What makes you not like a wine?
Wine is what it is when you open it, and it expresses itself as it feels when you open it. It’s alive and has gone through a lot before you pull the cork, twist the top, whatever. You have a good idea but you never know. That is exciting! I also like how it makes me feel happy. Always happy. I don’t like intellectualizing the perfect pairing, only to discover that I am way off or the wine is corked. That is a tragedy. But such is life. I just hate to waste a good thing.
If you could drink one wine RIGHT AT THIS VERY MOMENT, what would you want?
I have a real hankering to open a nice bottle of Chablis, only because I mentioned it so many times.
Domaine Oudin, Chablis, France
Chablis (or “Chabliss,” if you’re fresh) is that far-flung, northerly bastion of Burgundyland where steely whites built for your shellfish bonanzas dominate. Like so many old-school winegrowing regions of the world, Chablis got a little too big for its britches not long ago and nearly ruined it for everyone; overproduction of cheap wines for the Western market in the 70s and 80s, identity crises (to be Burgundy or not to be Burgundy?) and problems with premature oxidation have plagued the region over the years.
As is usually the case with these things, however, a small group of traditional producers like Raveneau, Dauvissat and DeMoor have been keeping the good wine flame alive, lighting the way for regional rejuvenation. While we’d happily crush a tower of oysters with any of those wines in celebration of our impending lotto winnings (ANY DAY NOW), we’re currently on a non-lotto-winner budget. This brings us to the wines of Domaine Oudin – possibly the best value for spectacular wine coming out of Chablis at the moment. They make a few Premier Cru wines, but their entry-level Chablis is everything it should be – steely and mineral, zippy and fresh, lean and lively.