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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 138 (May 28, 2007)

Tuesday, May 15: Last night Deborah and I flew to Paris on the start of an eleven-day tour. There are twenty-three of us on the trip; about half were on the tour last year to Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto. The meal on Air France was surprisingly good – seven-grain vegetable salad and salmon with curry, chicken with wine sauce accompanied by noisette potatoes, peas and carrots, cheese, fruit compote, blueberry cake flavoured with maple syrup. They serve Jacquart Brut Mosaique champagne in cattle class. I also ordered a split of La Baume Viognier 2005. Watched an exceptionally boring movie starring Hugh Grant, Music and Lyrics. Arrived in Paris at 6 am. The bus was there to pick us up and drive to Chartres. The traffic around Paris's ring road delayed us by about an hour. When we finally arrive in Chartres we tour the cathedral and admire the magnificent stained glass windows. The sun came out just at the right time. The rose windows look like multi-coloured gemstones in a kaleidoscope. Composed the first limerick of the trip:

If you're thirsting for the wines of the Loire
Be advised that it's really quite far
From Paris via Chartres
With its stained glass art
To Saumur and straight to the bar.

Our hotel in Saumur is Anne d'Anjou, a renovated 18th-century building on the road that runs by the river. It's situated under the shadow of the chateau that dates back to the twelfth century. In the time of Louis XIV, the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned here. For the past ten years the chateau-fortress has been undergoing renovation. Walked through the town looking for a wine bar recommended by the receptionist at the hotel – Café de la Place in the Place Saint Pierre – but it was closed. Strolled up to the chateau that dominates the town with a commanding view of the river. Then our group gathered in a local bar and demolished three bottles of Bouvet Ladoubay Brut. On the way back to the hotel, stopped into Aux Saveurs de la Tonnelle, a wine store, and picked up a bottle of Catherine & Pierre Breton Bourgueil 2005 for the room. Dinner in the hotel at Le Menestrel restaurant in the garden of the hotel. Our table ordered a bottle of Pierre-Luc Bouchaud Muscadet 2005 and Pascal Lorieux St. Nicolas de Bourgeuil 2002. The meal was very tasty – vegetable terrine, chicken in a cumin sauce and potato in a phyllo pastry, finishing with chocolate tart – but the restaurant has the smallest wine list I have ever seen. Six red wines, three of which were unavailable. Went to bed at 9:30 pm, exhausted.

Wednesday, May 16: The bus to Tours and Amboise. In Amboise we walked up to the chateau and then visited the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in the Chateau of Clos Lucé. Da Vinci, invited by King Francois I, spent the last three years of his life working here until he died in 1519. The top part of the building was full of furniture and tapestries and framed quotes by da Vinci. Downstairs in the basement rooms are forty working models of his inventions recreated from his drawings by IBM. In the garden are full-scale models of several of the inventions that can be seen in the basement. The bus took us to Chenonceau where our group lunched at Auberge du Bon Labourer. The set meal started with a plate of charcuterie and a choice of Domaine de la Charmoise Touraine Sauvignon 2005 or Domaine de la Cotteleraie 2006 (obviously made by carbonic maceration). Second course was cod and mashed potatoes. Tables ordered more wine – ours, La Tour St. Martin Menetou-Salon 2005; Steve Pauwels' table ordered Yannick Amirault's Bourgeuil La Condraye 2005 (an amazingly concentrated wine). For dessert, tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream. A perfect lunch.

Then we strolled over to Chateau Chenonceau and admired the architecture and furnishings of this extraordinary building constructed like a bridge. During the Second World War it operated as a hospital. The front entrance was in occupied France, while back entrance was in Free France! Finally we drove into Tours and, while the ladies shopped, Gordon Pape and I went looking for a wine bar in Place Plumereau. We passed Irish pubs and bars, pizzerias and Japanese restaurants, ice cream parlours and brasseries but couldn't find a wine bar. So we dropped into a local branch of Nicola's wine merchants and asked where we could find one. We were directed to Mille et Un Vins, another wine shop, next door to which was a wine bar called Mille et Un Verres. The wine store was open but the wine bar was closed and would not open until 6 pm. Since we were to be on the bus at 6:15 this was not feasible. So we asked the owner of the wine shop if there was another wine bar in the area. Yes, he said, Cave à Daniel on rue des Escritoires. When finally found it we were told that under French law they could not serve us wine, only if we had a meal. So we returned to Place Plumereau and found a café. We asked if we could order wine. Certainly, said the woman behind the bar. What would we like, Loupiac or Sauvignon? Do you have a list, I asked? No. Who is the producer of the wines offered? She conferred with a colleague. The wine is in cask at the back. Is it chilled? No, but I can chill the glass with ice cubes, she said, which she proceeded to do while her colleague went into another room with an empty bottle and returned a few minutes later with a full one. The woman shook the ice out of the glasses and poured the wine. It was thin and vaguely tasted of Sauvignon. Small wonder the French are drinking beer rather than wine these days. And Belgian beer, at that. Dinner: nine of us went to the Café de la Place. The downstairs was full (there was a jazz band and a singer) so we were seated upstairs. A rowdy, wine-filled evening – four bottles of Germain Thierry Saumur 2005, two bottles of Charles Pain Vieilles Vignes Chinon 2005 and some Poire William to finish. Most of us had the Maigret de Canard (excellent) and a cheese platter.

Thursday, May 17: This morning we visit Domaine de Baumard in Rochefort sur Loire, situated at the northern end of the Coteaux du Layon appellation. The estate dates back to 1634 and has been in the Baumard family since then, although winemaking was interrupted by the phylloxera blight in the 1860s. The family went into the nursery business and only returned to winemaking in 1955 when Jean Baumard took control of the enterprise. His son Florent took over in the 1990s. Florent looks like a shorter version of Hugh Grant and the ladies in the party are very attentive as we stand for an unconscionably long time as he expounds on the history of the house and the geography of the region. The tasting takes place in the fermentation room. A series of tables are set up ranging from dry to sweet in an anti-clockwise direction. Today is Ascension Day, a national holiday, and there is a large group of French cyclists in spandex ahead of us who are clustered around the tables indifferent to our need to get to the bottles. The tasting order is as follows:

  • Domaine de Baumard La Caleche Anjou Blanc 2004
  • Vert de Loire 2001 Blanc Sec 2001 (excellent)
  • Savennières 2003 and 2001
  • Close du Papillon Savennières 2003, 2001, 2000
  • Rosé de Loire 2004
  • Savennières Trie Spéciale 2003 (very enjoyable)
  • Cabernet d'Anjou 2003
  • Anjou Cépage Cabernet 2003
  • Logis de la Giraudière Anjou Rouge 2004 (very good)
  • Le Vert d'Or Blanc Moelleux 2002
  • Coteaux du Layon 2004, 2003 and 2003
  • Coteaux du Layon Cuvée Le Paon 2003
  • Coteaux du Layon Clos de Sainte Catharine 2004 (excellent)
  • Quarts de Chaume 2004, 2001, 1999 (spectacular).

Lunch at Les Tourelles, a one-star Michelin restaurant on an island in the Loire called Béhuard. Amuse-gueule: an oyster set on rock salt with an egg cup of smoked eel. First course: foie gras with Domaine de Pithon Coteaux de L'Aubaunce La Sélection 2004. Main course: pike in a butter sauce with spinach with Domaine de Baumard Clos St. Yves Savennières 1997. Selection of cheeses followed by chocolate mousse with a tuile. A magnificent lunch. Back in Saumur I walked from the hotel to the Musée du Vin, where I had the following tasting of wines chosen blind for sale here:

  • Château Passavant Anjou Blanc 2006
  • Domaine des Quarres Les Graviers 2005
  • Saumur d'Eternes 2006
  • Domaine de Saint-Just Coulé3 de St. Cyr 2005
  • Domaine de la Paleine Saumur 2003

Then onto the reds:

  • 50 Ans 2005
  • La Source du Ruault Saumur-Champigny 2005
  • Laurent Malibeauu St. Nicolas de Bourgeuil 2005
  • Jean-Maurice Raffault Les Picasses Chinon 2005 (rich, well made)
  • Domaine de Brissac Petra Alba 2004

Bought a bottle of the Chinon for 7.50 euros.

Back at the hotel a group of us met in the lounge for a pre-dinner glass of wine – bottles that Gordon and I had purchased en route, Domaine Henry Pellé Menetou-Salon 2005 and Catherine & Pierre Breton Bourgueil 2005 (somewhat volatile). Several of the group opted to have dinner at Le Prieuré at Chênehutte-Les-Truffeaux, a twenty-minute bus ride from Saumur. The view over the Loire was, apparently, magnificent; the service and meal less so. Deborah and I decided on a quiet meal by ourselves so we walked to a pizza parlour called La Toscana which featured some twenty-odd thin-crust pizzas, the first of which was called a Canadienne for reasons that escaped us.

Tony with a barrel of cognac from his birth year
Elizabeth, our guide at Hennessy

Friday, May 18: A four-hour drive to Cognac including a half-hour pit stop at a very modern gas station where good quality espresso coffee is dispensed from a machine. Deborah and I lunched at La Bodega, a funky restaurant on the quay not far from Hennessy, our destination this afternoon. We ordered a Pineau des Charentes as an aperitif and a foie gras and smoked duck breast salad that appeared on the menu as "salad of goose liver and duck breath smoked and toasts." With this we had a half litre of Château Copis Sainte-Croix du Mont 2002. Our group was given a special tour of Hennessy by a very beautiful guide named Elizabeth who had perfected her English in Australia (if that is not an oxymoron). First we had to take a boat across the Charente River to the ageing cellars where Hennessy houses its store of 10,000 barrels of maturing cognac. Elizabeth showed us the cooperage and told us that the company owns 300 hectares of Limoges forests. They can make four barrels from one tree and use the residue as fuel for firing the staves. It takes 32 staves to make a 350-litre barrel. A good cooper can make 5 to 6 barrels a day. Hennessy, Elizabeth says, has 42% of the world cognac market. The tour ended with a tasting of Hennessy VS, VSOP and a cocktail called Moscow, made with lemon juice, sugar and cognac with a slice of lemon. Above the shop area is an exhibition space currently showing the private collection of Picasso's ceramics, drawings and lithographs of bullfights owned by the Dominguin-Bosé family. Also some charmingly intimate photos of Picasso with the bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin and his family.

Scott and Stephen enjoy the wall of cognacs

Our hotel, Château de l'Yeuse, in the village of Chateaubernard, is one of the Châteaux & Hotels of France. Our room overlooks the terrace and a pastoral landscape of the river and woods beyond. Before dinner our group meets on the terrace for a drink – Maine au Bois Sauvignon Blanc 2003. At dinner I order a bottle of Guigal Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2005 to go with the langoustine on a bed of custard, an odd combination since the custard is slightly sweet. The waiter brings the bottle, which turns out to be the 2003 vintage. I point this out but I'll try it. The bottle is maderized. I ask for the 2005. The waiter returns and tells me there is no 2005. I order a Château de Sancerre 2005, which is fine. The waiter then comes back and asks me if I want to have the Crozes-Hermitage now – the wine I had already rejected. He takes it away, obviously upset. Then I get a visit from the manager who says that the wine is indeed off and we won't be billed for it (!). The main course is breast of duck rolled around mushrooms. It tastes like a cross between liver and shoe leather. I order a bottle of Guigal Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2004 which, thank heaven, is not corked – so we order another bottle for the cheese course. The meal is redeemed by the Grand Marnier soufflé flambéed with cognac. After dinner we repair to the smoking room, which has the largest collection of cognacs I have ever seen – two large cabinets filled with bottles. There must have been 150 labels.

Saturday, May 19: The limerick of the day is based on Elizabeth, our Hennessy guide, who has been the topic of conversation at the dinner table, much to the communal exasperation of the ladies.

The glamorous young guide at Hennessy
Defied both physics and chemistry
She attracted each lad
Made all the gals mad
And drove Scott into an absolute frennessy.

Stephan von Neipperg prepares a tasting of his wines

A two-hour drive to St. Emilion. We wandered around the town, which was full of tourists, and found a restaurant at noon to avoid the rush. Logis de la Cadène has an outdoor area with vine-covered pergola but we lunched inside. Deborah had steak and I had lamb chops – three of them on a skewer. The wines were two half bottles – Château de Fontenille Entre-Deux-Mers 2001 and Château Lucas Côtes de Castillon. At three o'clock the group is scheduled to arrive at Château Canon La Gaffelière but we're late because our bus is too large for the road and the next-shortest route is under construction. Stephan von Neipperg takes us into the vineyard. From here was can see Ausone, Bel Air and Magdelaine as well as the ugly building of the local co-operative. Stephan tells us that the director of the co-operative is a decent fellow who is prepared to turn off the lights at night if Canon La Gaffelière is entertaining guests. Stephan is passionate about organic growing. "If you have no life in the earth," he says, "you have no life in the wine." Then we went through the cellars before a tasting of the properties the Neipperg family owns: Clos de l'Oratoire 2004, Canon La Gaffelière 2004, La Mondotte 2004 and their property in Côte de Castillon, Château d'Aiguilhe 2004. They are now part owners of Chateau Giraud, formerly owned by a Canadian. Our hotel is Château de Sanse outside the village of St. Radegonde, where we are to spend two nights. For dinner, a mousseline of asparagus, garavadlax wrapped around vegetables, chicken, cheese, pear cake with caramel sauce. The wines: Château des Tourtes 2005 (Blaye) and Château Moulins-Listrac Puisseguin St. Emilion 2001.

Sunday, May 20: A free day today and Deborah and I are going to spend it with my friend Philip Holzberg, a Torontonian who now owns a 4,000-case property called Château Franc Cardinal in Bordeaux's smallest region, Côtes de Franc. Philip, whose label styles him Earl du Cardinal, lives in the hamlet of Nardou (population 13) with his wife Sophie and children Amelie and Benjamin. So they collectively represent just shy of 25% of the inhabitants. Philip took us into his small barrel room adjacent to the house, where we tasted the 2006 from about a dozen barrels before lunch. Philip cooked a chicken and green beans, salad and Epoisses with three vintages of Château France Cardinal 2002, 2003 and 2005. Philip calls his Cabernet Franc "Bouchet," the local name. He gave us a bottle of the 2005 and bottle of Domaine Clivet Pierre Blanche 2004, a tiny Burgundy property in Ladoix of which he is a part owner. (I have subsequently learned that red Burgundy taken after Tums tastes like Vermouth.) Philip booked a taxi to take us back to the hotel, Burdigala, because the police are active on the roads on holiday weekends and the limit is 0.05. Two glasses of wine would put you over the limit. Back at the hotel we decided to skip dinner, as both of us were reacting to the rich food which inspired the following limerick:

God bless the French and their butter and cream
They dollop them on till your arteries scream
Add foie gras to that
And a quart from the vat
Now you're good and ready to float downstream.

Chateau Margaux - one of the wineries we did not get into
Chateau Palmer, what a charmer
Bernard de Laage pours Palmer
Chateau d'Yquem 2002
Wall painting at Yquem

Monday, May 21: A guided tour of Bordeaux conducted by a tiny guide – the Cathedral, the Quais, the old city, etc. The Quais look beautiful now with all the eighteenth-century buildings cleaned up and the new tramway system that operates with subterranean power sources. The tracks are flush to the ground and the cars move silently along them. This afternoon a visit to Château Palmer, where we tasted Alter Ego 2006 and Palmer 2006, both of which are still in the barrel. Then Bernard de Lagge, the Director of Development who gave us the tour, brought out the 2001 Palmer, a magnificent claret with notes of rose petal, cassis, cedar and spice. Dinner at the hotel: grilled quail salad with foie gras and smoked duck breast, grilled fillet of dorado, strawberry and raspberry millefeuille – with Château Coutet 2001 with the quail; Château Bonnet 2005 and Château Cruzeau 2003 with the fish. Gordon ordered a half bottle of Les Ramparts de Bastor Sauternes 2003 for dessert.

Tuesday, May 22: A free morning. The ladies go shopping and Anthony Bourne and I walk over to the Maison de Vin, a flat-iron building adjacent to the Theatre, that houses L'Ecole du vin. We had a glass of Château Cruzeau 2003 and Branaire-Ducru 1999. We walked along the main shopping area and found a creperie, where I had a galette of ham and cheese and a pichet of dry cider. In the afternoon the group took the bus to Château d'Yquem, where the assistant winemaker, David, a Burgundian, gave us a tour and a tasting of the 2002 vintage. He tells us that Sauternes gets 92 days of fog on average, which creates Botrytis in the fall. The château's dry wine, 'Y', is picked before the grapes are affected with the rot. One vine produces a single glass of wine, as opposed to a bottle in the Médoc. The grapes for Yquem are picked with a potential alcohol of 20%. The pickers have to go through the vineyard at least five or six times to gather the desiccated berries. In the tasting room, under glass, are bottles of the best vintages of Yquem according to the head winemaker – 1893, 1921, 1929, 1937, 1945, 1967, 1982 and 1989.

The visit inspired the following limerick:

The thing about tasting Yquem
It separates the boys from the men
It's as sweet as candy
And makes you randy
And now the only question is when.

On the bus Stephen Pauwels opened a bottle of Château Marzelle 2001 that he had picked up in St. Emilion. Dinner at Bistro Romain just off Place Gambetta, outdoors. The exuberant waitress wears a T-Shirt with the legend, And So It Goes. We have an Italian meal with a bottle of Geoges Duboeuf Brouilly 2004 that arrives in an ice bucket, chilled to frostbite temperature. What a pleasure it is to have pasta after all the butter and cream.

The open fire at La Tupina

Wednesday, May 23: A special day today. We are invited for a tour of Mouton-Rothschild and its museum and lunch. The museum is amazing, with wine-related artifacts dating back to Greek times. Before lunch we are treated to a glass of Pol Roger and then sit down to a four-course lunch: Filets de Rougets beurre d'anchois followed by Gigot d'agneau farci, pointes d'asperges, a cheese plate and Fraises en jus de fraises. The first wine was a white grown on Mouton's property called Aile d'Argent 2002, which I have never had before. Then Château d'Armilhac 1996, Mouton-Rothschild 1989 and with dessert Château Coutet 1997 and Marc d'Aquitaine. After lunch we drove over to Pichon Baron for a tasting of the AXA properties. We began with Château Petit Village 2004 and 2003 and then Château Pibran 2004, Pichon Baron's second wine, Les Tourelles de Longueville 2004. These were followed by Baron de Pichon-Longueville 2004, 2003 and 2002. We ended with Château Suduiraut 2003 and 2002. Back to Bordeaux for dinner at La Tupina, a traditional bistro on rue Porte de la Monnaie in the old part of the city. James Sichel is joining us for dinner and has graciously brought along his wines. The restaurant is very hot, made the more so by the open fire over which the meats are grilled. Today the temperature went up to 28 degrees. We start with either scallops in a butter sauce with morels or white asparagus followed by grilled duck or grilled lamb with white beans and French fries. The wines flowed thus: Sirius Red 2003 well chilled, Sirius White 2005, Château d'Angludet 2001, then Château Palmer 2003 with goat's cheese. The dessert was Baked Alaska. We finished dinner by 10:30 pm, by which time the heavens have opened with torrential rain and we had to wait for taxis to ferry us back to the hotel. Got to bed after midnight and set the alarm for 4 am. Our flight to Paris tomorrow is at 6:30 am.

Thursday, May 24: On the way home. Exhausted but content. Arrived back to a load of emails and snail mail. The most depressing, a form letter from Canada Border Services Agency advising me that they had "intercepted a mail item addressed to (me) that contains an intoxicating beverage/liquor (as listed below) and transferred it to Canada Post: 1.5 litre Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas 1997." Either I have to pay the return postage to Portugal or the wine will be poured down the drain. And I thought Canada was emerging from the Dark Ages when it comes to beverage alcohol. Dinner at Sam Sarick's for the fishing group. Great dinner but could hardly keep my eyes open.

Friday, May 25: A catching up day. Thank you emails.




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