February 2007


picture-2-citadelle-vines-from-the-ramparts.jpgThe title of this post highlights a common mispronunciation of which I was guilty myself until yesterday; the temptation being to rhyme “Blaye” with “grey” and “day”, whereas in actual fact it should be pronounced “Bligh.”  You learn something every day.  Yesterday, I learnt a lot.

To my shame, having lived an hour north of
Bordeaux for exactly three years, until yesterday I’d never visited the centre of an official appellation.  The closest I’ve been to the famous appellations of the Left Bank, such as Pauillac, Margaux and St-Julien, is Bordeaux’s airport at Merignac and the only sight I’ve enjoyed of St-Emilion was a distant one through a rain splattered windscreen on a drive past from Bergerac.  It seemed like a good idea, therefore, to start as close to home as possible which meant – aside from a few standard Bordeaux Appellation Contrôlée (AC) vineyards – that I’d be heading to the town of Blaye, sitting on the eastern bank of the Gironde estuary, directly across the water from the world-famous villages on the Left Bank.

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There was a profile in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph of Simon Berry, the latest member of the Berry family to head up the well-known and esteemed wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd.  It was interesting to me on a number of levels.  Firstly, from a professional viewpoint (and in the interests of disclosure) I know that my friend James Warren and a team from the PR company Weber Shandwick where he ploughs his professional furrow have recently started working with Berry Bros, so I assume the profile had something to do with them!  Secondly, of course, I have known of Berry Bros and been a regular visitor to its website (though never actually bought anything) for a good while, so it was good to discover something about the man (and family) behind the busines and the business itself.

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8cd7_1.jpgI hadn’t realised it until this afternoon – because I don’t think it’s possible on the UK eBay site – but on the French version, there’s a very healthy wine section.  I’m not sure whether I’m ready just yet to trust my wine buying to eBay (though I’m not sure why, having previously bought stuff via the site – I just worry that it might be open to abuse) but it’s certainly worth a browse.  For instance, at time of writing there’s a bottle of Chateau Pavie 2000 St-Emilion 14 hours away from auction end currently going for about 150 euros, or how about this Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1975 – a day away from close and currently at 66 euros. 

I might try something a little more modest to see how the service is – there’s one dealer in Belgium that seems to have a lot on the site, which might be the place to start.  Perhaps the two bottles of Chateau Pontet-Canet 1989 that are currently going for 36,50 euros with a couple of days to go…

I was back in the UK last week for a few days.  While in London, I received an email from Ian, an ex-client and friend.  Ian and his family spent a year or so living and renovating a house here in France and, though they have now returned to the UK, still visit their property for holidays and are big time fans of France.  Ian has a theory that in France the paint is more expensive and poorer quality than in the UK and that the wine is cheaper and better.  I’m not sure there’s a direct link between the two but – having spent most of today decorating the kitchen in our new gite – I’d have to agree.  The price v. quality issue is an interesting one, however (at least in relation to wine). 

Many people visit France thinking that they’ll be able to buy very nice, very cheap wine.  When you’re in the supermarket, you can certainly pick up very cheap wine – a bottle of Bordeaux red can be yours for as little as a euro and a half, if not less.  But I wouldn’t recommend it.  Having said that, you can pick up a very drinkable bottle of Bordeaux for 5 euros (about £3.50).  What’s more interesting to me (and Ian) is whether the same bottle of good quality wine is significantly less expensive here than in the UK.  I’d love to do a decent comparison at some stage, but for starters I decided to pop into a UK wine retailer and see if I could find any wines that I’ve recently enjoyed here in France.

I ducked into a branch of Nicolas on Great Portland Street in London.  OK, so for starters this isn’t going to be the cheapest place to buy wine in the UK – being right in the middle of one of the world’s most expensive cities – but it was the best I could do!  I found a bottle of the Chateau Bouscaut Pessac-Leognan white we’ve enjoyed recently.  They only had a 2001 vintage – whereas we’ve been drinking the 2004 – so it isn’t a direct comparison, but I was still suprised to see it on the shelf priced at £23.75 (roughly 35 euros!) when I’d paid 12,45 euros (about £8.50) for the 2004 here in France.  OK, so the 2001 is bound to be a bit more expensive than the 2004 (though the 2004 is thought to be particularly good) and central London wine retailer v. rural French supermarket is also a factor, but such a price differential was still a shock. 

Clearly this is a tiny sample, but I’ll be making a point of checking prices on both sides of the channel in the future, if only to make some informed recommendations regarding exceptional value to visiting friends!

03-01-07_0825.jpgI was down at Bordeaux airport on Saturday picking my folks up.  It’s a nice airport – not too big, light and airy and deathly quiet on a Saturday lunchtime.  It’s also got rows of vines planted outside the terminal building! 

Typical of most aiports, it’s got a selection of shops and cafes and, inevitably, there’s a shop that sells wine for those last-minute impulse purchases before jumping on the plane.  The wine shop’s also got a sale on at the moment – and it’s definitely worth a browse.

On the floor of the wine shop there are a load of cardboard wine carriers, each holding six bottles.  There are signs on top explaining that there’s currently 25% off the price of the wines in the boxes – and it’s only when you get closer that you notice the scribbled details on each box of what’s inside. 

03-01-07_0911.jpgMost were mixed cases and the example in the photo gives you an idea of the quality.  This one contained three bottles of Chateau Cheval Blanc 2002 (at 292,10 euros each), and single bottles of Chateau Figeac 1998 and 2000 (157 and 149,50 euros respectively) and Vieux Chateau Certan (276 euros).  So a quick bit of mental aritmetic and that little lot comes to nearly 1,500 euros (I’m not sure whether that was before or after the discount!)  I noticed other boxes containing bottles of Petrus, Ausone, Latour…remarkable.  Well worth a look if you’re ever passing through the airport – the shop’s upstairs between the two terminals (and is actually part of the newsagent’s!)

02-feb-2007.JPGI haven’t done much wine-related stuff this week.  I had some proper work to do.  Not as much fun – but it pays the bills.  One thing I had found myself doing was getting slightly obsessed by Chateau Fleur Cardinale!  You’ll have seen the previous post, of course, about this lovely St-Emilion Grand Cru.  I’d picked up the last bottle on the shelf  – a 2002 vintage – in a local Leclerc supermarket and it was delicious.  Then I’d read that Fleur Cardinale had (unsurprisingly) recently been promoted to Grand Cru Classe in the St-Emilion re-classification late last year.  Well, since then I’ve been trying to find some more.  I tried the local supermarkets in Saintes and Royan with no success, so today I decided to take a trip further afield, and ventured the 25km or so to the wine department of the E.Leclerc supermarket in Jonzac – by far the best we’ve come across in the (relatively) local area.  Success!  But not at any price…

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