The other night I was lucky enough to go out with a wineloving friend of mine and his wife who brought along a bottle of Château Palmer 1990 with them. It was a lovely wine but, as any 20 year old vintage would be, quite delicate so immediately created the dilemma of what to eat.
The dishes we chose - braised partridge, seared breast of duck and cassoulet were all fine with it - but none of them was perfect. Wines like this are better with unsauced dishes - simply roast partridge would have been better. The seared duck was accompanied by caramelised chicory which really needed a younger, more vibrantly fruity wine and the cassoulet would have been better with a more rustic red like a Marcillac. The Palmer also struggled with the cheese, as is inevitable if you offer a selection.
It underlines a point I’ve made before that treasured bottles like this are really better served at home. No chef can really afford to serve the sort of plain, unadorned food that suits fine wine, especially Bordeaux, best. Customers would regard it as dull and take the view (quite rightly, really) that they could do the same at home.
The ideal dish would have been a simply roast leg of lamb with possibly a gratin dauphinoise (cream and potatoes flatter most old reds). Resist the temptation to serve lots of vegetables or condiments alongside because the more flavours you add the greater the risk of taking the edge off your treasured bottle. (This doesn’t apply so much, of course, to younger wines.)
So far as cheese is concerned it also pays not to offer too much choice. If you’re going to serve cheese at all a hard sheep's cheese like a Manchego or Berkswell is going to be the best kind of foil for an old wine and again leave aside compotes and particularly chutneys. Mature parmesan can also be delicious though I’d suggest no more than two years old.
The great advantage to this strategy is that this is not difficult food to cook, you’ll enjoy your wine more and you’ll pay a fraction of what you would pay in a restaurant for it. Which is quite a result.