The $36,000 Dinner

November 2, 2008

For most people, fine wine is a rare indulgence. For Lynn Duplessis and Peter Henricsson—whose West Vancouver home, high up the hillside, includes a custom-crafted, electronically secured, Chubb-indemnified, computer-tracked, 5,000-bottle cellar—it’s almost an obsession. At any given time, several dozen bottles are wrapped in tin foil. Often, if they’re home for the evening, they’ll choose one, uncork it, sample its contents, and try to identify it. They swirl, and peer, and sniff, and taste. They make copious notes. They rate the wine on a 100-point scale. Finally, after perhaps 20 minutes, Duplessis will ask him, “Are you ready to talk?”

What they talked about one night was replicating a charity wine auction they’d attended in Naples, Florida, where a dinner for eight went for $80,000. The Lions Gate Hospital Foundation’s annual gala was coming up, and they could donate some wine. Perhaps the folks at Fuel, one of their favourite restaurants, would kick in a lovely dinner, prepared at the house?

For the wine pairings, Duplessis suggested, they could raid their cellar for 10 of the most coveted labels on the planet, each having been awarded 100 points by the American wine critic Robert Parker, whose pronouncements in the Wine Advocate can elevate a garage wine­maker in Napa to cult status and send a French château to ruin. “Ten 100-point wines,” says Duplessis, a Saskatoon native who spent a good part of her career at IBM. “I don’t think a thousand-point dinner had ever been done before.”

Her husband liked the idea. A Swede who learned to appreciate wine at university in Uppsala, he went on to be a star decathlete at North Carolina State, where he got his MBA. In 1995 he and Duplessis started a high-tech firm, CellPoint, that in its heyday counted the likes of France Telecom among its clients and had a NASDAQ market cap north of a billion dollars. He likes travelling to wine auctions, meeting legendary makers, and adding to his collection (they keep another 3,500 bottles at their home near Palm Springs, where the racks are tilted back at an 8.5-degree angle, a safeguard against earthquakes); but mostly he likes to taste wine with people who share his passion.

The Fuel team signed on after thinking about it, says Duplessis, “for, oh, maybe 10 seconds.”At the gala and auction, held in April at the Capilano Golf & Country Club, bidding for the meal reached $36,000—short of the $50,000 they hoped to raise, but not exactly chump change. Five couples shared the cost. The dinner was set for August 28, and the couple worked closely with Rob Belcham (the Fuel chef) and Tom Doughty (the sommelier) to create the food-and-wine pairings.

The guests began arriving just after 6 p.m. The first course—Dungeness crab salad and foie gras mousse—was served with a magnum of the rare 1989 Krug Clos du Mesnil Champagne. Seared Qualicum Bay scallops were accompanied by a 2003 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge (Parker: “It represents the essence of a terroir and varietal character”). The Polderside RedBro heritage chicken was paired with a 1982 Château Mouton Rothschild (“I have always felt the 1982 Mouton was perfect”) and a 1985 Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido (“one of the greatest wines made this century”). Next came Sunflower duck confit, served with a 1989 Château La Mission Haut-Brion (“a spectacular wine…extremely full-bodied, unctuously textured, sweet, jammy, and rich”) and a 1990 Château Margaux (“the quintessential example of this château”). Then came Berkshire pork loin with a 1994 Harlan Estate (“comes close to immortality in the glass”). Then a saddle of lamb with both a 2002 Araujo Eisele Vineyard (“exceptionally rich, nuanced, and precise…a tour de force”) and a 2002 Quilceda Creek (“harmonious, graceful, and awesomely long”). The dry-aged prime beef cap was accompanied by three wines: a 2002 Sine Qua Non Just for the Love of It Syrah (“the greatest California Syrah I have yet tasted”), a 2001 Greenock Creek Shiraz Creek Block (“it represents the essence of wine”), and a 2000 Domaine du Pegau Cuvée da Capo Châteauneuf-du-Pape (“a modern-day legend in the making”). Dessert—a Valrhona Manjari chocolate terrine—was eased down with a 1963 Graham’s Vintage Port (“truly sublime and sumptuous”).

It was 1 a.m. by the time the last guests staggered into a taxi and began making their way back down the hill—back to reality. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” says Chris Tomanik, who’s in the mining business.“Wonderful food, great company, lovely hosts, and unbelievable wine. A perfect night.”

“We wanted to do something to help the North Shore Hospice,” says Duplessis. “And tasting 22 bottles of wine was way more fun than writing a cheque."

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