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.

I was in the UK last week and didn’t drink much wine.  Hence the lack of blogging.  That and, obviously, the knock to my confidence of being entirely fished in by Decanter.com‘s April Fool gag…quite brilliant.  Completely distracted by the red heat of rage upon reading its story, I failed to check the date. 

As I say, I was in London last week and drank some beer.  Quite a lot of it, in fact.  I was out with a fella called Grant Currie, managing director of Inferno PR, a company I have worked with in the past.  Anyone who has had much social contact with Grant will realise that any sentence including the words “Grant” “out” and “beer” can only mean the following sentence will include, “and the following day was a complete write-off and I was nursing a ridiculous hangover.”  Still, it was pleasant when it happened (the beer drinking, not the hangover).

The Easter weekend at home saw a return to wine-drinking normality, however.  My dad had been out and picked up a few bottles of the secone wine from Chateau Haut Bertinerie, the first wine of which I’d bought a bottle of when visiting Blaye a few weeks ago.  I’d really enjoyed the bottle I picked up (a 2004) and thought it good value at around 11 euros.  In fact, at that price, I did wonder why you’d bother buying the second wine!  But then dad’s always on the lookout for a bargain.  It was pleasant enough but, as you’d expect, fairly light and short (if that makes sense!).  Last night we had a bottle of another second wine – this time L’Oratoire de Chasse-Spleen 2003 from Chateau Chasse-Spleen.  Lovely.

The weather’s been brilliant over here for the last week or so and we’re starting to see the first shoots come through on local vines.  Speaking of vines, my old mate James Warren thinks I should plant some of my own here at Les Chapelles.  I think it’s a great idea, but suggested that I start an adoption scheme whereby friends can purchase a block of ten vines, visit and tend them and, obviously, enjoy a proportion of the eventual vintage every year.  James thought it a splendid idea but his offer of £1 a vine was risible, I’m afraid.

Still, it’s tempting.  We’ve got quite heavy clay here on limestone, so I’m thinking that merlot might go well.  Any other suggestions?

Prompted by my old buddy James Warren, I’ve just had a listened to the first ever Berry Bros. & Rudd podcast – sorry, podcask (a truly awful pun, for which I am a sucker).  As full disclosure, James has been involved in recent BBR PR activities, specifically related to new media-type stuff, so it’s not a huge surprise to see a podcast appear on the BBR website.

Inevitably, I guess, the company’s first podcast (which it also claims is the first by a wine merchant) spends a while explaining just what BBR is and does – in fact, it spends about the first half of its eight minutes or so doing just that.  But, as it’s the Chairman himself Simon Berry doing the chatting and you’ve been eased into it all with a nice piece of classical music, it doesn’t seem too blatant. 

Just as you are getting slightly concerned the whole thing’s going to be a BBR advertisement, however, Simon quickly gets into his thoughts on the Bordeaux 2006 vintage.  Very briefly (as we all suspected) it’s nowhere near as good as the 2005 (Simon reckons it could be a touch better than 2004, particularly on the Right Bank) but the worry is that prices won’t adjust accordingly.

But don’t take my word for it!  Have a listen.  It’s a decent length for a podcast and fairly engaging.  A good first effort which bodes well for the future.

Sadly, I have to end this post on a less positive note.  I opened the Reserve de la Comtesse 1988 this evening.  Corked.  Nasty.  I’m well and truly gutted.

27-march-2007.JPGBack in 1932, a bunch of Medoc wine producers decided to establish a new classification, aggrieved – as I’m sure they were – not to be included in the 1855 classification which today still reigns supreme as the list of the top ranking 60-odd chateaux on the Left Bank.  This despite it having remained virtually unchanged in the following 150-plus years!  This is astonishing when you think about the changes that have taken place during that time; changes in weather, wine-producing technology, techniques and, not least of all, ownership.  It’s illogical to think that there aren’t a number of chateaux not included in the original classification that are producing wine as good as classed growths (and, conversely, that the quality of the wine produced by a number of those in the 1855 classification hasn’t fallen).  Which is kind of where the Cru Bourgeois classification comes in.

What’s good about Cru Bourgeois is that it gets regularly reviewed, and chateaux do get promoted and demoted.  The problem with it is that there are far too many chateaux in the classification (nearly 250 in total).  Of this, 150 are simply “Cru Bourgeois”, 87 are “Cru Bourgeois Superieur” and nine are “Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel”.  I’d be tempted to regard the simple “Cru Bourgeois” tag as fairly meaningless and the “Superieur” label as a mark of some quality – but it’s the nine “Exceptionnels” however, that would have a fair argument of producing wine as good as the classed growths, at least at the 4th and 5th levels, but for generally less money.

They will certainly be names you’ve heard of: Chateau Chasse-Spleen, for instance, and Chateau Phelan-Segur (of which we recently had a bottle).  I’ve heard good things about Chateau Poujeaux and have a couple of bottles of the 2004 lying in wait in the cave (where they’ll be, unfortunately, for a while yet) but the best I’ve tasted so far – by a long way – is Chateau Potensac (website currently under construction). We had a bottle of the 2003 the other night and, OK, it could still be argued that it’s rather young and could do with a few more years lying down in a cool, dark room but, that being the case, it must mature into an amazing wine!

It was beautifully frutiy on the nose; smooth, rich in the mouth with fantastic blackcurrant flavours and a great finish.  Not too tannic either, which was a bit suprising.  All in all, a lovely wine and – at 17,75 euros from Carrefour in Saintes – excellent value.  I’ll be looking out for some more of the 2003 and also the ’04 and ’05 when it arrives.

Talking of arriving, you’ll be delighted to hear that the Reserve de la Comtesse 1988 has arrived safe and sound.  It’s currently recovering from its journey in the cave, but I think I’ll need to drink it soon.  The label looks a bit weather-beaten and the cap’s a little tatty at the bottom edge but, otherwise, it looks in good nick.

21-march.JPGWe opened a couple of bottles last night (though I must stress, we didn’t finish them both!) – the Chateau Phelan-Segur 2001 St-Estephe red and an Abeille de Fieuzal 2003 Pessac-Leognan white. 

The L’Abeille de Fieuzal is the second wine of Chateau de Fieuzal, of which we have previously very much enjoyed a 1998 vintage of its red.  I’m keen to visit the Pessac-Leognan AC – it’s the premium appellation of the Graves region and includes some of the suburbs of Bordeaux itself.  Chateau de Fieuzal itself sits a little further out, to the south-west of the town of Leognan.  It’s a very crisp, light white – really very nice and easy drinking as an aperitif.  In fact, as a white to drink on its own, I’d probably say it edges the Chateau Bouscaut we’re tried from the same region. 

Chateau Phelan-Segur sits right in the village of St-Estephe itself, towards the nortern end of the Medoc region – in fact it’s the most northern of the individual village ACs, being above Pauillac, St-Julien and Margaux.  St-Estephe is probably the least well-regarded of the village ACs that slope gently down to the shores of the Gironde, mainly due to the fact that the soil changes quite significantly north of Pauillac, containing less of the cherised gravel and more clay.  Reputation has it that St-Estephe produces much earthier wines – and the Phelan-Segur was typical!  I thought I’d got a mouthful of soil…OK, so it wasn’t quite that bad, but it certainly had an extremely minerally edge.  It wasn’t unpleasant, but fruity flavours only forced their way through on a couple of occasions (nice suprise when they did, however!)

One final note following yesterday’s post; I’ve received an email from iDealwine saying that my Reserve de la Comtesse 1998 is on the way and should arrive in the next few days.  I’m holding my breath…