Remembering a mentor and honoring a friend with a 1996 Château Angélus Bordeaux.
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Chateau Angelus
Credit: Victor Protasio

So much of what I know about wine came from a single mentor: sommelier and wine retailer Jean-Luc Le Dû, who was head sommelier at Restaurant Daniel when I worked in PR and marketing for Daniel Boulud from 2002 to 2004. Jean-Luc was known as a force in the industry, with a deep love of wine from his native France and a passion for unconventional collecting. One of my many jobs was to assist during his quarterly wine dinners. After one such meal, featuring the wines of the fabled Bordeaux house Château Angélus, he gave me one of the unopened bottles that remained, from the 1996 vintage.

“Keep it in a cool, dark place for a few years,” he told me, “and it will be perfect.”

So I did. In fact, that bottle followed me for more than 15 years, to three different apartments, through marriage and the birth of my first child, as I waited for the right occasion. Jean-Luc, for his part, left Restaurant Daniel shortly after I did—to open Le Dû’s Wines, his dream shop in the West Village, where for years he could be found expertly, joyfully guiding customers to their next favorite bottle. Then, early last January I learned Jean-Luc had died suddenly in his sleep at the age of 52.

I was heartbroken and in shock, as were so many others in the restaurant and wine community. I knew the time had come to open my bottle—and honor my friend—but I was five months pregnant, so again the bottle waited. Finally, after my second child was born, I gathered a few close friends who had worked with us, including Georgette Farkas, at whose restaurant, Rotisserie Georgette, we met.

Over a lunch of perfectly roasted chicken and tarte Tatin, we swapped stories and memories of our time with Jean-Luc. And then we decanted my cherished bottle. I was nervous. There was, in my mind, a good chance it was off; maybe there had been too many temperature transitions through the years. And then there was the finality of opening it, the knowledge that it would soon be finished and we would have to say our last goodbye. But the wine was just what it needed to be: like a warm hug, mellow and comforting, with lots of dark fruit and notes of leather and earth. It was meant to be shared with this exact group, at this exact time. It brought us together to remember our friend. I know Jean-Luc wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.