I’ve started blogging in a new place.  I realised that as I’m not involved professionallly in the wine businesses, maintaining a blog focused solely on wine was a road to ruin.  In the early days it meant far too much drinking wine in order to have something to write about (which was bad in equal measure for my wallet and my liver.  Actually, that’s incorrect.  It was much worse for my wallet); in more recent times it has meant a dearth of content.

So, I’ve started a new blog called (appropriately) “Another flamin’ blog“.  It’s going to have a much broader remit, covering lots of different aspects of my personal and professiona life.  Wine will no doubt crop up on occasion, so stay tuned.

Thanks for reading this far!

hospital.jpghospital.jpghospital.jpghospital.jpgI had a magnum of wine the other evening.  Not all to myself you understand – that would’ve been silly.  No, my father-in-law was here, which is all the excuse needed to open a bottle twice the size of a normal one. 

I’d picked up a magnum of Chateau de L’Hospital 2003, a Graves, a couple of months ago in the Jonzac Leclerc.  I think it cost me 26 or 28 euros…certainly less than 30.  I’d been meaning to try a magnum since reading somewhere that it is regarded as the ‘proper’ size bottle from which to drink decenbt red wine.  Something about having the perfect ratio of wine to air in the bottle.  It’s probably a load of old guff, but I bought it.

Having said that, the wine was delicious (as I’m sure it would have been coming out of a regular 75cl bottle).  Oz Clarke says of Chateau de L’Hospital that “the Merlot-dominated red is round and supple with smoky red fruit” and I’m in no position to disagree.  I don’t think magnums last twice as long as a normal bottle though as we seemed to get through it quite quickly.  So much so that I had to dig out another bottle to keep us going (not another big one though…).

It’s wine fair time in the supermarkets here at the moment.  I always find it quite frustrating – so many great wines, so little ability to justify buying them all!  One of the holidaymakers staying with us last week asked me to help him choose some wine that he could buy now and drink at his daughter’s 18th birthday party (she’s currently two).  He couldn’t have chosen a better time really, with supermarket shelves groaning under the weight of thousands of bottles from the 2005 vintage for the first time, which will improve brilliantly over the next 15 years or so. 

The choice, obviously, was huge but we restrcited it by price (no more than 20 euros a bottle) and stuck to the Medoc as I thought these would age nicely.  The 2005 Chasse-Spleen looked good value at 19,95 but, by the time I made it to Carrefour on Monday (the wine fair having started on Saturday) they had completely sold out!  So I went for a dozen bottles of Chateau Poujeaux 2005 at the same price, and six Chateau Potensac 2004 at 16,50, which looked like good value.  Should make for some fine drinking at the birthday party (though I’d keep it way from the kids).

The Leclerc wine fair starts today and I’m toying with possibly making a trip down to Jonzac.  We generally pick up a few bottles of any new vintage of Chateau de Reignac – a delicious Bordeaux superior that punches well above its weight – and the Leclerc catalogue tells me they’re stocking the 2005 at 7,95 euros which is an absolute bargain.  Robert Parker gave it 91-93 points…

380px-800px-lakeannecyhautesavoyfromfrenchwikipedia.jpgI’ve just been reading news on Jancis Robinson’s website about plans to open a centre to research and preserve Alpine grape varieties.  It’s quite a coincidence as, last night, we drank a bottle of wine, for the first time, from the Savoie.  It was a Mondeuse, one of the main Alpine grape varieties (and Robinson’s favourite, according to her Wine Course book.  Or at least the copy I’ve got, which is more than 20 years old!)

Some French friends of our have recently been on holiday in the Haute-Savoie, a region right across the other side of France from us and famous for Mont Blanc (the mountain, not the chocolate sauce that comes in tins…or the pens), Lake Annecy and ski resorts like Chamonix.

Knowing our passion for all things edible, our friends very kindly bought us some regional gifts – four different cheeses, a spicy saucisson, a beautiful little cured and smoked ham and the bottle of Mondeuse.  After having lunch out yesterday, we decided to snack on the cheese and meat last night and, as only seemed appropriate, to open the Mondeuse.

Robinson talks of “the curious deep-coloured, racy, slightly bitter red Mondeuse”.  I didn’t get much bitterness, to be honest.  We found the wine quite light (unsurprisingly more Burgundy in style than Bordeaux), very fruity and exceptionally fresh.  You could almost taste the mountain air!  It was delicious and, though I think it might be tough to find in supermarkets this far west, I shall definitely try to hunt some down.

red.jpgred.jpgred.jpgberlese.jpgberlese.jpgberlese.jpgberlese.jpgberlese.jpgI spent a very enjoyable evening yesterday drinking too much with a good friend Mark and his family who are staying in our gite at the moment.  Well, he’s a good friend now but a dozen years ago he was the founder of one of the first companies I worked for…and quite scary for that.  It’s always great to spend some time with him.  He’s bright, challenging, honest – all things that make for an interesting discussion.

Inevitably, considering we were drinking a fair bit of it, the discussion turned to wine.  We’d already sunk a bottle pf 2002 Chateau Poujeaux, a Moulis-en-Medoc, and were halfway down a 2003 Chateau Belgrave, a Haut-Medoc – both very nice.  Mark will readily admit to being far from knowledgeable about wine, but was keen to learn.  We covered a broad number of subjects; the challenges of over-production in the Bordeaux wine region, the less-than-clear labelling of French wines to most of the world’s wine-buying public, the traditional ‘negociant’ system of trading wine in Bordeaux which makes it very hard to visit and buy direct from chateaux, the main Bordeaux ACs, grape varieties and more.

Mark was keen to see if he could spot differences between wines, so I decided to give him two wines that should, in theory, be quite contrasting.  One was the 2003 Chateau Belgrave Haut-Medoc we were already drinking and the other was a 2004 Chateaux Beauregard, a Pomerol and therefore a Right Bank to the Belgrave’s Left.  The Beauregard is made solely from Merlot and Cabernet Franc grape varieties; the Belgrave containing these but also a good proportion (nearly a third) of Cabernet Sauvignon and also Petit Verdot.

In a direct comparison, Mark could definitely tell that they were two significantly different wines but (like me) struggled to fine the descriptors to describe the differences.  The Beauregard was fruitier and also has a smooth richness that the Belgrave lacked.  The Belgrave – as with many Left Bank wines – was spicier and had a minerally edge.

Mark likened the tasting to that of looking at a colour spectrum; flavours not being separate but blending into one continuous series of subtly changing tones.  While someone with an eye for colour, he said, could pick a crimson from a Persian red, he was still at the stage of telling green from yellow!  Nicely put, I thought.

It’s been a bit quiet round here of late.  You may have noticed.  I know some people have, because they’ve been badgering me about it.  There’s a couple of reasons – one being that I’ve been quite busy with other stuff (you know, the kind of stuff that pays the rent!) and the other (and probably better) reason is that I haven’t been drinking quite as much.  I’ve been out on the bike quite a lot training for next year’s London to St-Emilion ride and have been trying to be as good as possible, which means consuming less wine.

Still, the arrival of old buddy James Warren and family here at Les Chapelles for a fortnight’s holiday is a considerable (and welcome) kick up the backside in terms of drinking…and of particularly drinking decent wine.  Over the past few days, therefore, we’ve enjoyed some splendid wines.  Of particular note have been a 2004 Chateau du Tertre Margaux Grand Cru Classe (5th Growth…but better than that!), a 2004 Chateau Yon-Figeac St-Emilion Grand Cru Classe (very kind gift from the Warren’s) and a 2002 Chateau Pontet-Canet Pauillac (equally kind gift from our friends the Hounshams).  Every one of them was delicious.

Speaking of our friends the Hounshams, they hosted a lovely lunch last Sunday for us all.  I took along a few bottles of wine but their names fail me now!  Always my downfall…  I do remember a couple of nice Lalande de Pomerols.

I’m off out this afternoon to buy some wine as we’ve got some more friends popping over for drinks this evening, so will hopefully have some more to report soon!

2708.jpgLast Thursday, Michelle and I left the kids at home with my parents and went down to Cap Ferret for a night away.  My folks had been down there with some friends and loved the place.  They’d also eaten at a lovely restaurant in what looked like a very nice hotel, so they suggested that we try it.  Cap Ferret’s about 60km to the south west of Bordeaux, right at the end of the thin spit of land across the bay (or ‘Bassin’) from Arcachon.  It’s become quite trendy over the last decade or so, to the point that property prices are now astronomical.  It’s to Bordeaux what somewhere like Whitstable is to London, I guess.

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lillet.jpgOut in Bordeaux last Friday with my mate Chris, we noticed a sign for Lillet, the aperitif made from a blend of wine fruit liqueurs somewhere south of Bordeaux.  Lillet has come to prominence of late due to being featured in the last James Bond film, Casino Royale (and, of course, Ian Fleming’s original book).  Bond adds it as an ingredient when explaining how he’d like his vodka martini…half a part Lillet, three parts gin, one part vodka, five ice cubes and a twist of lemon.  At least that’s how it’s described on the rather sweet Lillet website (though turn the music off).

I read somewhere soon after the Bond film was released that Lillet had experienced a – probably predictably – huge increase in interest and demand.  On the one hand I was delighted.  Lillet was featured in the film purely because it had also been mentioned in Fleming’s original book, not because, like so many other brands, it had paid millions of dollars to the producers.  On the other hand, I wondered if it would be able to cope with the increase in demand.  Reading the website, Lillet takes between 6 and 12 months to mature…it’s not like they could simply turn on a tap and get some more.  I’m sure they weren’t grumbling, though.

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pau.jpgIt’s been a bit mad, this last week or so.  I was in Seattle (or rather Bellevue, a fairly soulless suburb) for a four-day conference.  Not a great deal to report on the wine front, I’m afraid.  I did drink some, but nothing terribly memorable and, to be honest, most was held in the tight grip of a waiter and I was unable to see the label.  Given we were being entertained and I hadn’t therefore ordered any of it, I’m not sure what it was!  I’m pretty sure Merlot featured and I’m assuming it was US wine, but other than that… 

Otherwise, it was the odd beer (and if you’re ever offered some of a local brew called Arrogant Bastard I can recommend you decline…the arrogance, I suspect, describing those who could have ever claimed they’d produced a decent beer) and an extraordinarily large shot of tequila, which was totally unnecessary (but when are they not?).

I left Seattle on Thursday evening, and a rather ridiculous journey took me to Heathrow, then a car to Stansted to catch a flight to Poitiers followed by a train to Bordeaux to meet a very good mate, Chris, who’d flown into Bordeaux earlier that afternoon.  I’d therefore avoided going home altogether between the business trip to the US and an indulgent weekend of drinking, eating and watching fantastic old cars race around the streets of Pau, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

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We had some very good friends over to stay a couple of weekends ago.  Mark and I went to school together and we’re now Godparents to each other’s first children.  We had a great weekend here at the house and down on the beach; Mark and his wife Philli now have two strapping boys of similar ages to our two, and they all get on brilliantly.  Much good food and wine was inevitably consumed.  Mark very kindly bought me three bottles of Chateau Beauregard 2004, a Pomerol, and though a little young I couldn’t help opening a bottle to try.  Rather stupidly (but not for the first time) I opened it late in the evening after several bottles of various whites and reds had already been finished but, even then, I remember its quality shining through with a big burst of fruit.  I’m looking forward to savouring the other two – they really need to stay in the cave until after 2010.

During the weekend – and probably under the influence – Mark and I decided that we needed to undertake some sort of significant physical challenge in the next year or so.  He’s up for a marathon and, though I have toyed with the idea of the Medoc marathon, my running hasn’t been very comfortable and I think it might be a bad idea.  We both do a bit of cycling, however, so this seemed like a good place to start.  I’m not sure it ended in such a good place, however…

When Mark and I were at school together, we lived in villages about 15km apart and every now and then we’d cycle between the two houses.  What better thing to do, we thought, than to do the same thing again; to cycle from Mark’s house to mine.  The only thing being that Mark lives in Wimbledon, south-west London, and I live a bit north of Bordeaux, south-west France. 

But, the challenge is set.  We’ve mapped out a route which takes us from Wimbledon to Portsmouth on day one, an overnight ferry to St Malo and then five days of cycling (via my house) to Bordeaux.  The last day will see us jump on the ferry from Royan to the tip of the Medoc before cycling the D2 past some of the greatest chateaux in the world.  It’s about 648km in all…so an average of about 110km each day.

We’re doing it for charity, of course – the chosen one being Wooden Spoon and which has already been very helpful and enthusiastic.  We’re looking to get a small team together – probably 6-10 people – along with a support driver.  We’re already roping in a couple of mates but if you’ve got a burning desire to join us, email me at mark@leschapelles.com.

I’ve started training already.  My theory is that I need to train my ageing body to cycle at an average of 25km/h for hours on end.  Yesterday I rode 55km and managed to keep to pace – clicking through 50km in 1:59:52..though the second 25km was a bit slower than the first.  Still, we’re not planning on doing the London to Bordeaux run until late-May 2008, so I’ve got a while to get fit…

madeira-7.jpgIt won’t have even registered with you that it’s been a bit quiet round here for a while, because hardly anyone reads this rubbish.  But it has and the reason has been that I’ve been on holiday.  Not just me, of course; I took the family as well.  We went to Madeira.  It’s a spectacular island – the top of a volcano sticking out of the Atlantic.  There aren’t any beaches, its incredibly steep sides just disappear beneath the sea.  We were perched on the side of the island at Cabo Girao, overlooking Funchal, the capital, and on the edge of one of the world’s steepest sea cliffs.  You walked to the edge, looked over the fence and it was literally 590m straight down to, appropriately, some vineyards and the sea.  Vertigo inducing.

We had a bottle of wine each evening and, to be honest, I can hardly remember any of them!  I can’t say that I’m a fan of the fortified madeira wine itself, so we stuck to various reds and whites from Portugal (we had to, there wasn’t anything else available…).  None of them were particularly offensive; just not very spectacular.  Back home in France now though and we’ve got friends coming over this weekend so I’m off to buy some wine tomorrow to get us through the next few days.  The weather’s great so I’m hoping we’ll be doing a fair bit of cooking on the barbecue (I’ve got a brand new one to put together…how very exciting!) so I’ll be looking for some nice crisp whites and some fruity Right Bank reds, I reckon.