For my wife Laurie and me our birthday, celebrations always revolve around wine and food. We bought our property here in Montecito, CA in 1993. It was vacant land when we purchased it, and we began building the guest house several years later. Next was building the main house which incorporated the guest quarters on the first floor. Before we started building the house, Laurie told the contractor that it had to be ready for us to move into for the millennium. We began construction in 1997 and moved into the house on December 31, 1999. There were still some details to be finished but we were in and had a millennium celebration. Shortly after, we asked our great friend and my oldest wine buddy, Ed Lazarus, if he would like to celebrate his 65th birthday here. He said yes and that he would like to invite some mutual friends and that he would bring a magnum of old Bordeaux. Ed’s birthday is in January, so in 2002 after we fully settled into into the house, we had a dinner here to celebrate his 65th birthday. And he invited some mutual friends and brought a magnum of old Bordeaux. Later for is 70th Birthday we again celebrated here and Ed invited some mutual friends and brought another magnum of old Bordeaux. Ed then asked if we could celebrate his birthday here in the future. So every year since, we have celebrated Ed’s birthday here. And Ed has invited mutual friends each year including his great nephew Gavin Chanin. Gavin is also the founder, owner, and winemaker at Chanin Wine Company (click here  to read an article on Chanin Wine Company). In more recent years other mutual friends have included Steve and Jennie Weiner and Randy and Patsy Sultan. As per the original plan Ed brings a magnum of old Bordeaux each year, other friends always bring some old wine, and we provide Champagne, some additional wine as needed, and create the menu for the dinner and have a chef come to the house to do the cooking and another person to do the serving. We always ask Ed what he would like for dinner and then plan accordingly. All the guests stay overnight which gives us lots of time for celebration.
So with that as background we asked Ed what he would like to have to have for his birthday this year. We offered some options and here is the menu he selected:
JANUARY 18, 2020
Union café roasted pecans
Arugula and sun dried tomato tapenade crostini
Ahi tartare with microgreens and tuile pieces
Grilled small lamb chops brushed with melted butter infused with chopped fresh mint
Sautéed sliced Shiitake mushrooms
Brillat-Savarin Triple Cream infused with black truffles
Blueberry and pecan bread
Apple tart tatin with vanilla bean ice cream
And, for wines I provided two 1988 Champagnes to start: 1988 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs and 1988 Piper Heidsieck Rare. The 1988 Champagne vintage is one of my favorite vintages to drink now (along with 1990 and 1996). Both of these 1988 Champagnes were lovely – the Taittinger with its classic style, finesse, and complexity and the Piper Heidsieck with its richness, flavor, balance and depth.
Next the Weiners and Sultans each brought a bottle of Coche-Dury Meursault Perrières: 2011 and 2012. In past years have had Grand Cru White Burgundies including Montrachets from different producers including DRC, but this year Ed was very specific. He wanted only Coche-Dury. Both of the wines were absolutely delicious and drinking beautifully.
Ed brought his usual old Bordeaux magnum. In past years he has provided magnums of such wines as La Mission Haut Brion 1934 and 1937, Calon Segur 1945 and 1947, and 1929 Rausan Segla. This year it was 1926 La Mission Haut Brion. And, true to form, like all the other magnums, the wine was absolutely delicious.
I provided a bottle of 1999 Leroy Romanee Saint Vivant to have with the cheese course. It is just now reaching a mature level of drinkability and was really lovely with a long life ahead.
My 76th Birthday
And after Ed’s celebration was over, we all said good-byes and planned to meet again for my birthday on March 27 at Melisse restaurant in Santa Monica. But, alas that was not be. The coronavirus came along, and all restaurants were closed as were group meetings and non-essential meetings. As a result, my birthday celebration was at home with my wife Laurie. Yes, just the two of us. But after over 52 years of marriage we are very comfortable in each other’s company, and we had a wonderful quiet evening with dinner at home. I marinated a prime bone in rib eye steak in olive oil and fresh garlic for a day, and then for my birthday celebration grilled it over oak wood.
To start we had a few glasses of an older bottle of H. Billot Cuvée Laeticia Champagne. This is the flagship wine of this Champagne house in Ambonnay that is a blend of many vintages dating back probably 20 or so years and consisting of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wine was at a peak and rich, creamy, beautifully balanced, complex and really delicious. Laurie made a fresh arugula with smoked Gouda and sun dried tomato crostini appetizer to go with the Champagne. This is a favorite appetizer of mine and, as usual, it was great. Then I pulled the cork on an old Ridge Monte Bello and put the steak on the grill.
I cooked the steak medium rare and then simply sliced it, sprinkled it with a pinch of very finely ground pink sea salt, and brushed the slices with melted butter infused with a dab of Pickapeppa sauce. Then I served the meat with a baked potato topped with sour cream and chive on a warm plate from the oven.
My supply of 1944 wines is now nearly depleted. For my 75th birthday last year I served a 1944 Château d’ Yquem (to read about that celebration click here ). Now I have only 2 bottles of 1944 wine left in my cellar – an Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon and a Romanée-Conti. I have had both wines twice on different occasions in the past. And, ever the optimist, I decided to save these last 2 for later birthday celebrations.
So this year I chose a 1976 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon for my 76th birthday. The Ridge was at a peak of maturity. Beautifully balanced and complex it was really stunning. Without question Ridge Monte Bello is not only the most consistent and best of all California Cabernets, it ages beautifully. The meal was simple but delicious. And, of course, the company with the love of my life was first rate. All in all it was a memorable 76th birthday. Next year is the double seven. Time will tell what it will bring.