Ruinart & Villon — A Meal to Remember


Last night, I was treated to a fantastic dinner at the invitation of Mr. Frédéric Panaiotis, the chef de cave of Ruinart. Fred, as he likes to be called, is the boss of the oldest Champagne house, which is a true piece of French patrimony. He is an incredibly deep wine guy, but always a joy to be around with a great sense of humor and love of good food.

We went to one of San Francisco’s hottest spots, Villon, inside of the The Proper Hotel on Market Street. Chef Jason Franey prepared a wonderful meal, which was centered on seafood and fish. We started off with a magnum of Ruinart Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne in the lounge, and Fred explained that he likes to age this an extra year on the lees over the 750’s. This ultimately clean, refreshing Champagne is an unusual blanc de blancs because the fruit comes from the mountain of Reims as well as the Côte des Blancs. I love the white fruit character of Champagne, as well as its vivid minerality. As usual, out of magnum, it had both more depth and more refreshment.


We sat down and were served oysters on a cherry wood log garnished with Pacific seaweed. While Fred says that he doesn’t usually like the combination of Champagne and oysters, I disagreed. I thought the combination of the brine and the chalky backbone of the 2006 Ruinart "Dom Ruinart" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne was about as good as it gets. This fantastic wine has come a long way in the year since it was released, and has opened up to show Meursault like nutty richness as well as classic Champagne minerality. It too is a blend of mountain of Reims as well as Côte des Blancs fruit, but this time exclusively from the Grand Crus. The riper 2006 harvest is evident in the rich texture and generous aromatics, but there is no heaviness on the back end… It was my wine of the night!

Chef Franey served us poke and carpaccio with the lively, Chardonnay-dominated Ruinart Brut Rosé Champagne and once again the combination was spot on. Fred explained that he uses a much higher percentage of red wine in his rosé, because he prefers to make his red wine lighter. This allows him to get plenty of great rosé flavor and aroma without making the Champagne to vinous or tannic. Most of the time I have blanc de blancs with my sashimi grade tuna, but this rosé had the lift to be an inspired combination.


Our main course was one of chef Franey’s house specialties, his subtly cured and smoked salmon. I have to say it was one of the best pieces of this noble fish I have ever had with great texture and flavor. Mr. Franey did not sacrifice any of the best features of a fresh piece of salmon, the subtle use of smoke only improved on it. Fred served us two vintages of Ruinart’s top wine this course; both the 2004 and 2002 Ruinart "Dom Ruinart" Brut Rosé Champagne. The 2004 was from 750ml, and the 2002 was from magnum. The magnums are not yet released, even though we have had the 2004 in 750ml for a year! They keep them four extra years on the lees in this format, and it pays off! Fred calls the Dom Ruinart Rose the blanc de blancs of rosé because of the large majority of Chardonnay in the blend. They were fresh, seamless and subtle, with the 2004 having great lift and near infinite length, while the 2002 had more richness. The salmon brought out the fresh red cherry character in them perfectly.

The wines of Ruinart are the ultimate statement in freshness from a grand marque, and everything is done in a reductive style. Fred is never looking for oxidative notes in his wines, and does everything possible to keep them bright and preserve fruit. This does not stop them from going with food, but rather makes them even more food friendly.

Thank you Fred and Champagne Ruinart for a great evening! I won’t ever forget the fantastic way these top notch Champagnes flatter cuisine and make a dinner into a real occasion.

A toast to you!

Gary Westby

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Gary Westby