We needed to get yet another accessory fitted to the car today (soon it’ll be too heavy to move) which meant a trip back to the dealer in La Rochelle.  No hardship there.  La Rochelle’s a beautiful place – particularly the old town – and with both kids in school/nursery all day, Michelle and I decided to make a trip of it and go out for lunch.  We went to Les Flots, a restaurant right by the old port with an excellent reputation.  In fact, Michelle had eaten there before with her friend Emma, but it was my first time.

We had a lunch menu at 39 euros and the food was delicious.  As you’d expect, being on the coast, the menu is dominated by seafood (which suits us fine) and I started with (using my own words here!) curried crab spring rolls, followed by stuffed squid with risotto and pear fritters for dessert.  Michelle had salmon kebabs for her entrée with the same main and what appeared to be a mango and papaya Swiss roll to finish. 

Not wanting to drink too much as (a) it was lunchtime and (b) I had to drive home we just had half a bottle of dry white from the Vendée region, which was very nice.  I cast a (hopefully more knowing eye) over the Bordeaux section of the wine list and while it wasn’t long, it was pretty impressive.  I was pleased to see some names I’d recently tasted – notably Clerc-Milon and Clos Floridène – and they certainly had some big names on the list, with equally big prices, including two different vintages of Château D’Yquem at more than 1,000 euros a bottle and two of Château Pétrus at upwards of 2,000 euros.

Now, we all know about the mark-up on alcohol in restaurants, but I guess through my recent journey into the wine world, I was more acutely aware of it today than ever before.  The Clerc-Milon brought it home to me most of all.  As you might remember, soon after New Year we enjoyed a Clerc-Milon 1998 which was bought from the E.Leclerc supermarket for just under 30 euros.  On the wine list at Les Flots, the Clerc-Milon 2000 on offer was priced at 104 euros a bottle.  I realise that 2000 was regarded as a great vintage, but even so that’s more than a 200% mark-up.  No matter, we had a great lunch and finished in time for Michelle to have a scoot round the sales and for yours truly to have a wander. 

An hour or so later, winding my way back to the car I came across a small but nice-looking wine shop.  It was quite contemporary in style, and only looked to have about 100 bottles on display.  I couldn’t actually see anyone inside, but as soon as my feet touched the doormat, I was greeted by a cheery “bonjour” from somewhere.  I still couldn’t work out where it had come from, until a few seconds later an equally friendly face popped out of a hole in the floor. 

After pleasantries, the man (who I assumed to be the owner) gave me a brief rundown of the shop.  There was a section of Bordeaux reds, one of Burgundy reds, one of Loire whites, one for champagne and a final section for local wines, both red and white.  I had a good look round but inevitably concentrated on the Bordeaux reds.  It was quite an eclectic selection – though I presume well chosen – and I didn’t recognise many of the châteaux represented.  In terms of prices, bottles seemed to range between 10 and 30 euros – that was until one caught my eye at 44 euros.  No, hang on (double take) that’s 440 euros!  Sitting there, amongst the other, fairly regular Bordeaux reds, was a bottle of Château Mouton-Rothschild 1971 (a wine as old as Michelle!). 

All Mouton-Rothschild vintages have their labels designed by a famous artist, and the 1971 vintage was designed by Wassily Kandinsky.  You can see the label here (and all but the most recent vintages).   The 1971 vintage of Château Mouton-Rothschild was, of course, a couple of years before the château got promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé status.  While still a fine wine, I can only presume that 1971 wasn’t a classic vintage.  Had it been a 1982, for instance, the price would probably have been more than 1,500 euros.  Still, nice enough, n’est-ce pas?

I reached out to pick it up, but then thought better of it.  Now would not be a good time for butter fingers!  So I just touched it.  Yep, that’s right, I touched the bottle, just, well, to have touched it.  Realising that this might appear to be a rather sad thing to do, and that the shopkeeper was probably watching me, I turned in embarrassment.  He was watching me – but his face showed nothing but a look of complete understanding.  “Incroyable, oui?”  he said.  “Oui, incroyable,” was my rather inadequate response.  Soon afterwards, I shuffled out of the shop without buying anything.

I did pick up a bottle of wine later that day which directly lead to my buying 22 bottles of wine this morning!  But more on that in a while.