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by Fred McMillin
for June 14, 2000

 

This Just In...

Napoleon Takes Marengo
June 14, 1800


Prologue

Columbia University History of the World: A major factor in Napoleon's success was his insistence on mobility. For example, his armies moved independent of base stores, living off the country, very successfully in Italy...


The Rest of the Story

A fine example of moving fast and living off the land is the Battle of Marengo, fought 200 years ago today, and the dish created that day off the land, Poulet sauté Marengo. While we learned much about it when visiting Marengo, Italy, we discovered a specialist on the subject in of all places, the Royal-Champagne Hotel, near Eperney, in France's Champagne district. Chef André Desvignes (photo) has written extensively on the subject in French. Here are some highlights, from a rough English translation he gave us of one of his articles.

Chef Andre Desvignes

Chef Andre Desvignes showing my wife his culinary awards.

"I write this with emotion because of the modest gastronome and historian that I am.

The First Consul [Napoleon], excited by the outcome of the battle, asked his chef, Dunand, for a bite. But the [food] waggons were not there. But, the chef took off his sword and cut up a chicken brought in by a trooper. Oil was brought from another farm. Other foragers came in with garlic and tomatoes. Another trooper offered his flask of Cognac. Bread was added and the dish was simmering when a "hussard" came in, proud of the few crawfish he had fished in a neighboring brook, thus bringing his contribution to his General's meal.

[The Columbia History points out that no leader was better than Napoleon at inspiring loyalty from his troops.]

Risking to call upon himself the curse of all the company, and even the Premier Consul, despite all the rules of cooking, Dunand covered the chicken with the crawfish. They were cooked slowly by the aromatic smoke coming up from the rest of the dish.

Napoleon was delighted with the dish and told the chef that thereafter he must serve it after every battle."


Wine of the Day

If he could have gotten it, Napolean would have had with the meal a red wine made from the Pinot Noir grape. (He was a Burgundy man.) One of the best California Pinot Noir my tasters have found in recent weeks is...

1996 Acacia Pinot Noir
Carneros Appellation, St. Clair Vineyard, $44 range
Production—497 Cases
The Vineyard—Its reputation is not that of a a purple powerhouse, but rather the broadest spectrum of flavors one finds in a California Pinot.
Rating—My tasters noted the unusual complexity and the long, smooth finish. They gave it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Contact—Director of Euphoria Carol Mabry, (707)226-9991, FAX (707)226-1685


Postscript

For more about wine and the way the Little Corporal with 40,000 troops exploded out of the Alps onto Morengo, see the 1999 June 14 WineDay titled, "Son of a Gun, It's Napoleon!".

 
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

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