As predicted the weather is no longer on our side. Stormy squalls, black clouds, wind and rain are the order of the day. The second day of tasting looks set to be even more intense than the first. Four chateaux visits and four UGC tastings to attend, with lunch at the legendary Lion d’Or thrown in for good measure.
The UGC tastings are something of a scrum. Various chateaux take turns to host the other growers of their appellation so that the assembled wine trade can taste many of the wines in a single place. Highly practical and extremely hard work.
However the day started in a rather more luxurious manner at Ch Latour. Their tasting room is probably the most exquisite so far. Reminiscent of a five star hotel, muted shades and textures, bowls of orchids and designer chairs are overviewed by a spectacular life size black and white photograph of a zebra. It is an extraordinary privilege to taste these wines at all and somehow the sublime backdrop just serves to emphasise further their undeniable class.
A dramatic gear change as we head for Ch Batailley where the left bank Crus from St Estephe, St Julien and Pauillac are gathered. The regularity with which we bump into our UK colleagues from Farr, Bordeaux Index, etc is becoming slightly absurd. The tastings are supremely well organised and it is an unparalleled opportunity to taste a spread of wines side by side.
Our initial thoughts of the previous day are reinforced. This is not a straightforward homongenous vintage. Considerable variation in success across appellations and producers which prevent any meaningful generalisations, but some great great wines. Several wines tasted the previous day shone again – both Barton wines, Leoville Poyferre and Pichon Baron all excelled. New favourites include Branaire Ducru, Lagrange, Talbot, St Pierre and Pichon Lalande to name but a few. As before the successful wines had beautiful ripe but critically not over-ripe fruit, firm but smooth tannins and sensible levels of alcohol.
Next UGC was the Medoc and Haut Medoc at Cantemerle. By this stage we have split into different groups based on tasting speed. I am with Julian and James and we manage to find our way to the tasting through more luck than skill without a map or tomtom. The delicious platters of cheese were a welcome break for the palate before we leapt in for more gum-staining action. Another mixed bag here with Poujeaux a clear winner but several others very pleasing and potentially good value.
The final stop pre- lunch was a welcome foray into Sauternes and Barsac at Ch Dauzac in Margaux.
Yesterday’s first impressions were confirmed – it is a stunning vintage in Satuernes. Layers and layers of dense opulent fruit and spice on the nose, ripe and round in the mouth but with plenty of the all important balancing acidity. Many excellent wines here – personal favourite were Doisy Vedrines, Suduiraut, Rieussec and La Tour Blanche.
We were meeting Luc Thienpont for lunch at the Lion d’Or in Arcins. My first visit to perhaps the most famous restaurant in Bordeaux A perfect lunch – salade verte (correctly predicting that no other vegetables would be seen during the meal), roast pigeon, apple tart and the most spectacular cannelle ever. Vieux Chateau Certan 2000 was a fitting accompaniment – very much looking forward to tasting the 2009 tomorrow.
A cannelé de Bordeaux is, according to Paula Wolfert, “is a magical bakery confection, a cake with a rich custardy interior enclosed by a thin caramelized shell”. My previous encounters with the cannelé have been rather unlovely, dense and indistinctly flavoured. These are utterly divine. It is quite simple. If you are anywhere near Bordeaux, go to Arcins, eat at the Lion d’Or and have cannelé at the end of your meal.
The afternoon was all about Margaux. Ch Margaux itself was first – truly great wine and a distinct candidate for my wine of the vintage although still too early to tell. They also have the loveliest dog in Bordeaux – Zorba come to welcome us with a tummy made for tickling. Next stop was a visit to Emmanuel Cruse at Issan and then on to Palmer.
And finally we made it to the Margaux UGC at Ch Desmirail. For me this was a more mixed bag than the appellations further up the river bank. Several exceptionally successful wines but a fair few that were over-extracted and very hard work to taste. It is always a pleasure to see Gonzague Lurton and he has made an excellent Durfort Vivens this year. Other wines which stood out include Malescot St Exupery (which incidentally has got a whopping score from the Wine Spectator), Rausan Segla and du Tertre.
We then headed into Bordeaux to our lovely hotel – a very chic B&B called the Avant Scene set just back from the Quai des Chartrons. As another night of La Grande Bouffe was planned I made my excuses, curled up in my pyjamas in high thread-count Egyptan cotton sheets for an evening of writing and mineral water followed by an early night ready for the onslaught of the Right Bank in the morning.