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Copyright © 2018
Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for June 29, 2000


The Chef Blew It!


America's foremost wine critic, Robert Parker, Jr.: The venerable Rhone Valley firm was founded by the Chapoutier family in 1808. Owners of 175 acres of vines including much of the prestigious Hermitage hill, the firm has been directed for much of the Post World War II era by 5th-generation Max Chapoutier, an enthusiastic, witty, animated, friendly gentleman.

Needless to say, my wife and I were thrilled to be invited to lunch by the Chapoutiers at the Castle of Pilate hotel-restaurant in the shadow of the Hermitage hill topped by an ancient stone chapel.

The Rest of the Story

Lunch with Max Chapoutier

At lunch with Max Chapoutier
with his wife (foreground)
and mine.

Chef Tony Fetouh

Chef Tony Fetouh.

The table was bedecked with minature flags of the U.S.A, and France. The food had been exquisite. Little wonder. Chef Tony Fetouh had honed his skills at the world-famous La Pyramide for 12 years before taking over the Pilate kitchen. We had just finished the herbed lamb with two of the legendary Chapoutier red wines, when the chef blew it!

The dessert was very disappointing. It appeared to be a small, solid cantaloupe, with a slice off the bottom so it wouldn't roll on the plate. One can't eat a melon like an apple, so my wife and I just waited.

Then, with a twinkle in his eye, Max lifted off the upper third of the melon. Aromas of perfectly-ripened melon and port wine drifted across the table. Sure enough, the top of the sphere did lift off, and the seeded melon was half full of delicious port wine. Chef Fetouh had come through.

I mention this in June, since small melons are available in our markets this time of year.

Pick a Port

Today's wine is a California port particularly suitable for this dessert. (Incidentally, in her cooking lessons my wife adds a little flair by using an ice pick and pushing the stem of a single flower blossom into the top third of the melon, of course, after it has been cut and seeded.)

Port of the Day

Charles Mitchell Port
Tasting Notes—My 19 tasters liked this wine particularly because it is not as harsh as much of the competition. That makes it even more suitable for not overwhelming the flavors of the ripe melon.
Rating—For those who enjoy dessert wines, this gets a very solid RECOMMENDED.
Contact—Office of Kathy Dawson, (530)62O-3467, FAX (530)620-1005
Price—$20 range


About that lunch on the Rhone, we must give Mrs. Chapoutier equal time. She spoke five languages and loved history. Hence, we asked her about the background of the Castle of Pilate, since beneath the dining room was something one doesn't find in the basement of American restaurant-hotels... Roman tombs with coins that existed when Christ was alive. Here's what we learned.

In 122 B.C., the Romans built a fortress on the site of the restaurant. A few years after the Crucifixion of Christ, Pontius Pilate was exiled to the Rhone and lived in the castle. In 39 A.D., the despondent administrator jumped from the fortress' tower to his death in the Rhone River. Thus the name, Castle of Pilate.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


This page created June 2000