by Fred McMillin
for June 14, 1999

 

Son of a Gun, It's Napoleon!


Prologue

Napoleon  
That's what the Austrians must of said when, in 1800 on this date of June 14, Napoleon and 40,000 troops popped up in the little Italian village of Marengo.

They had secretly crossed the Alps, and by the close of the day won control of the area, including the great red wine district of Piedmont.


The Rest of the Story

Readers of the June 15,1998 WineDay will recall that to celebrate the victory, his Chef Dunand created a dish from ingredients his aides could scavange in the area. Key ingredients included a chicken, Cognac from Napoleon's canteen, and an unlikely topping of crayfish. Thereafter, the Little Corporal felt Chicken Marengo brought him good luck, and it was frequently prepared by his chefs.

Hotel Napoleon

In Marengo, the authentic preparation of Chicken Marengo is explained to my wife (left) at the the Hotel Napoleon by owner Mrs. Antonietta Lentoni (standing) and Chef Guiseppe di Galbo (right).

Since food seemed to be important, he must have treated his chefs with great care. NO! "Napoleon paid his chefs poorly. None ever stayed long in his service. He had eleven, one after the other, up to 1814." Not only was the pay poor, but there was another problem. "He ate distractedly, always in great haste, bolting his food. He preferred fingers to forks. and once he settled himself to work, no one knew when he would [want his dinner served]. Therefore, chickens were placed on the spit for him at half hourly intervals, and sometimes over a dozen of them were so roasted before one was finally presented to him."

Gourmet or not, Napoleon DID have red wine with his meals. So on the 199th anniversary of the Battle of Marengo in Piedmont, I'm having a red from the most widely-planted red wine varietal in Piedmont, BARBERA. Here it is.


The Wine of the Day

We want a fairly light-bodied red for the Marengo dish. Try this $9 model. 1997 Barbera from MEXICO
Importer—Charles Mitchell
Availability - Contact Kathy Dawson, (800) 704-WINE, FAX (530) 620-1005
Quality—There are areas in northern Baja with temperature profiles quite close to Napa's. My tasters are finding the reds "RECOMMENDED IN THEIR PRICE RANGE."
Mitchell Info.—For more, see the May 26,1999 WineDay title "Mexico On The Go".
Food Affinity - If you want a heavier dish with your Barbera, there's a second version of Chef Dunand's classic, VEAL MARENGO.
Presentation - Even though this is a Napoleon celebration, we're using forks instead of fingers!


Postscript

"From the kitchen, it was not unusual to hear explosions, followed by bits of glass and food particles flying out the windows." It seems that though he didn't pay his chefs well, Napoleon had offered a huge sum to anyone who invented a way to preserve food for his armies to take on the march. The "explosive" kitchen belonged to Albert Appert an obscure cook, who labored 15 years, and then won the prize. He had invented the process we call "canning" (in glass jars).

...Betty Wasson from Cook, Gluttons

Other Credits: Quotes from Cohn Clair's Kitchen and Table.

 
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.

 
 

WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin

 

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