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LUXURY CHAMPAGNES, WINES & SPIRITS

Closeries: Stéphanie Watine & Arnaud Donckele

Born out of the imagination of founder and CEO of Clos19, Stéphanie Watine, Closeries is all about encounters.
Closeries is a series of rare encounters between an outstanding personality and a bottle that is just as much.

In each chapter of this series, Stéphanie Watine brings to light her guest through a sensory story and an unforgettable tasting experience. Inspired conversations over exceptional wines.

In this chapter of Closeries, Arnaud Donckele opens the doors of his gourmet restaurant Plénitude, located in the heart of the Cheval Blanc hotel in Paris. This chapter will be paced by the tasting of a bottle of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2003 Plénitude 2. Our guest will tell us about this bottle whose poetic name recalls that of his restaurant. Poetic, this is also how we could define the cuisine of our guest, who was elected ""the greatest starred chef in the world"" by his peers in 2019. While sharing tasting notes and food and wine pairings, Arnaud Donckele reveals the secrets of the Plénitude restaurant, and invites us to discover his culinary art.

Editor’s note: Plénitude means fullness, wholeness, bliss …

 

Stéphanie Watine

Hello Arnaud Donckele. Let me introduce you to our readers. You are part of the very exclusive club of 3 Michelin star chefs, and you have been awarded a 19/20 in Gault et Millau Guide for the restaurant "La Vague d´Or". Today you run the Plénitude restaurant, the gourmet restaurant at the Cheval Blanc Paris hotel, and also the Cheval Blanc Saint Tropez restaurant, "La Vague d´or".
This naturally leads me to a first question: are you more "Paris"" or "Saint Tropez?

Arnaud Donckele

Currently I am with you, in Paris, in this magnificent Plénitude restaurant. But of course, in my thoughts I am also in St Tropez with my teams who are in full action …

Stéphanie Watine

Is Mr Thierry still in St Tropez?

Arnaud Donckele

Yes! He runs the house when I am not there!

Stéphanie Watine

Arnaud, the idea behind this series is to pair an outstanding personality with a wine bottle that is just as much.
For this chapter of "Closeries", you have chosen a great champagne and not just any great champagne: Dom Pérignon Plénitude 2. Before we start this tasting, can you tell us about this name "Plénitude"? It is also the name that you have chosen for your new restaurant. Everyone awaits to experience your menu with great interest... This name is very poetic ... just like your cuisine.

Arnaud Donckele

How kind to tell me that! Like my cuisine ... yes, but above all like Dom Pérignon. In my opinion, the delicious magic of this extraordinary champagne deserved such attention. The name Plénitude is associated with what I want this restaurant to be. “Plénitude” in urban Paris, “plenitude” in my own professional and intimate journey. And it resonates perfectly with the evolution of this champagne, whether it be Plénitude 2 or Plénitude 3. This became obvious after a conversation with Richard Geoffroy, then Cellar master of Dom Pérignon.

Stéphanie Watine

This Dom Pérignon Plénitude 2 combines the best years and the best "Crus" belonging to the same vintage.
It is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from seven Grands Crus of Champagne and a Premier Cru: Hautvillers.
An anecdote for you... Dom Pérignon was a monk of the Abbey of Saint Pierre d'Autvillers, and he was a remarkable oenologist for his time. Champagne increases its energy to reach a paroxysm of vitality after nearly fifteen years.
It becomes more radiant, it unfolds to become fuller, longer and deeper tasting, more intense. Champagne will have reached its first “fullness”or “plénitude” after seven years, as per Richard Geoffroy. It will then have a peak of intensity and a more marked depth in terms of flavours. After fifteen years of aging, it moves on to its "second fullness" or “plénitude”. At this point, its taste is even more complex and becomes more salty and spicier. You are very attached to the land and to the producers. This champagne must resonate with you ...

Arnaud Donckele

Completely… beyond the quality of the Hautvilliers terroir, there are men who grow the vines with rare care and devouring passion. A passion such as I have rarely seen. So I, who would have liked to be a farmer, can only be moved by such knowledge, such quest for quality. This champagne lives up to this exceptional Maison Dom Pérignon, which represents both the terroir and the men who take care of it every day.

Stéphanie Watine

Now Arnaud, let's see what this champagne reveals to us. Look at its colour…

Arnaud Donckele

It's coppery, soft, warm, with quite few bubbles. They become thin, almost ephemeral.
This is the signature of the work of Richard, now replaced by the wonderful Vincent Chaperon. We can only pay tribute to him.

Stéphanie Watine

Let's talk about its nose.
It has what you might call a “warm complexity”: dark golden brown and bronze colour, and a shimmering nose. With a touch of oriental exoticism: candied fruit, frangipane, sweet spices, fresh coriander. After a few breaths, the saffron seems less present, it seems more iodized, its bouquet gradually darkens, and seems more restrained, soothed and enigmatic.

Arnaud Donckele

This is where we perceive how its perfect balance unfolds, the perfection of the flavours, of the blends. They will naturally lead to absolute pleasure. Here is what defines the rarity of Plénitude 2 and 3. What makes this champagne an alien among the great champagne wines.

Stéphanie Watine

Its bouquet unfolds instantly, opulent and airy, energetic and intensively fruity. Its voluptuousness becomes more present, more profound. The nose and taste correspondence becomes disturbing. The whole holds the note intensely, it is racy, saline, almost liquorice.
What do you think? What flavours can you distinguish?

Arnaud Donckele

We are starting to reach the sublime, with a flavour that naturally brings out a brioche taste. A comforting and reassuring brioche taste. In 2002, the balance was perfect. It's like a bouquet of flowers whose perfect balanced fragrances create a "Proust madeleine of happiness". Through aging, the expansion of flavours leads to this completely perfect floral and absolutely accomplished balance.

Stéphanie Watine

In terms of food and wine pairings, which dish would you choose to let its richness fully express?

Arnaud Donckele

One of my classics would be our Mediterranean salad. A dish which reflects the bouquet you have described. A dish for which we have sought the best champagnes pairings. This is a salad composed of marinated tangerine zest, and esquinado flesh subtly refreshed with coriander, and seasoned with red flowery Sechuan pepper. The vegetables are simply poached in a light saffron bergamot broth. The whole is revived with a vinaigrette made of tangerine juice, lemon olive oil and pink ginger.

Stéphanie Watine

Let's go back to your personal journey, please. You always wanted to be a chef, right? Can you tell us a bit about your background? Since it all started at "Les Prés d'Eugénie" with chef Michel Guérard?

Arnaud Donckele

My father had a total admiration for chefs. When I was 14, I had a dad who worked a lot, 6 days a week, and was a hunter ... So, for six months of the year, the seventh day was devoted to hunting. So, I tried to get his attention. My first wish was really to get his admiration, and perhaps heal an emotional wound.
As for Michel Guérard, it really is an encounter with a chef who is also a poet. And now, without necessarily realizing it, I come back to the education he gave me. After that I worked with Alain Ducasse in Monaco and at the Plaza Athénée for three years. With Alain Ducasse, the motto was the search for perfection of the ingredients. This is his strength. And then happened an encounter that I consider essential in my career: Jean-Louis Nomicos, who was at the time at Lasserre restaurant. After that, in 2004, at the age of 26, I became chef for the first time in this incredible place which is so poetic and protective: La Pinède. In an exceptional region of France… This region and its inhabitants were kind enough to adopt me. So I, the Norman of Belgian origin, got adopted and surrounded with incredible affection. It brought me so much happiness... A sense of happiness which undoubtedly inspires my cooking.

Stéphanie Watine

Did you imagine going that far, and that young? You are a 3 Michelin stars chef, dubbed by your peers who named you "the greatest starred chef in the world" for 2019 ... Your career is out of the ordinary.

Arnaud Donckele

Thanks for those kind words. But I have the feeling that my journey has been a lucky one. I have met some amazing people who have supported me with their affection. It's important for me to stay very down to earth about my career. These encounters were extraordinary. One of the last is absolutely fabulous. It led to the takeover of La Pinède by Cheval Blanc.
I sincerely believe that there is still a long way to go, and I hope I will remain exemplary. As the father I looked for so much said: "It is when you believe you are good at something that the regression begins." We still have a lot to build and a lot to explore in order to fully grasp culinary arts and to master them as well as possible. This is the journey I have started with my teams.

Stéphanie Watine

And now, your Parisian adventure begins in this magnificent and magical place in the center of Paris, above the Seine. Tell us how you see this "Plénitude" restaurant... your approach and what we will find there …

Arnaud Donckele

Above all, I hope that we have built with my team and with Peter Marino, our architect, a place where "too much" does not exist. As in St Tropez, we have a magnificent natural exterior decor, and a relaxing interior decor. The hectic rhythm of city life shall stop when you walk through the door.
I hope that we will work on the human and emotional aspect too. We will work on sincerity so that we can develop what I call "emotion through affection". I am looking for the three stages of “plénitude”. Firstly, the standstill of time and the “plénitude” of the panorama: the Pont-Neuf bridge, the river Seine, Porte Dauphine, the Museum of Monnaie, magnificent buildings ... the disconcerting poetry of a Paris that few are lucky enough to see. The second stage of “plenitude” is the human and emotional aspect. Without showing-off, in a serene way, because that is how we trigger emotions that naturally transcend people. The third step is culinary balance, it is my passion for sauces, for blends and pairings. I define myself more as a sauce chef than a chef. Deeply balanced sauces are the main focus of this restaurant. I simply and humbly wish to achieve the “plénitude” of a contemporary "madeleine of Proust". This “plénitude” is really something very sincere.

Stéphanie Watine

Arnaud Donckele thank you for sharing this Closeries chapter with us.
It was a pleasure to discuss together and discover what the Dom Pérignon Plénitude 2 hides. Dom Pérignon Plénitude 2, 2002 vintage, is available on Clos19.com. Will it be on the Plénitude restaurant's wine list?

Arnaud Donckele

Yes it seems obvious… Besides its Mother House in Hautvilliers, Dom Pérignon now has his own second "Maison Dom Pérignon" in the heart of Paris. I hope that this restaurant will be its favourite place for vacation, this place where you come to recharge.

Stéphanie Watine

Thank you so much Arnaud.