Vinexpo 2003: Tuesday 23rd June
"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the w...". Bugger, I look out the window and Bordeaux city is still being micro-waved, though at least it is cooler than Sunday. The good news is that Mme Lopez has returned laden with her artisan croissants, which are delicious, even though half of it ends up as detritus across the kitchen table and stuck to my chin.
This morning we are destined for the Right Bank and we have a meeting at Chateau Cheval Blanc at nine-thirty. I switch on the radio and listen to some music to get into the mood for some serious Saint Emilion libation, but unfortunately French radio only has three songs on rotation: Beyonce Knowles' astounding "Crazy In Love", MadonnaŐs mediocre "Hollywood" and Shania Twain's snappily titled "Ker-ching" (I have a soft-spot for Shania, bless her). No Johnny Halliday, malheureusement.
I have visited Cheval Blanc several times, a chateau that not only boasts some lovely wines, but also appears to employ
a harem of young, attractive French women as guides and so I was slightly deflated a couple of years ago when we were met
by the managing-director, Pierre Lurton, instead of our usual femme fatale Vanessa Paradis lookalike. I inquire about the
recent visit of Russian president Vladimir Putin that I had read about in the press. I was told that preparations had taken
months of meticulous planning and the estate had commissioned a large oil painting to commemorate the event.
I wondered how long they deliberated over the subject matter?
A blue dog?
A crimson cat?
Then an inspired employee sprung from his chair.
"I know...letŐs paint a white horse!"
And so the oil painting was completed and hung in reception ready for Mr Putin to admire.
And how long did he stay?
Apparently a fleet of armour-plated cars pulled up the drive-way, he spent a paltry twenty minutes looking round, was presented three cases of Grand Vin (including his birth year 1953) to drink on those cold nights in the Kremlin and departed with a quick "merci beaucoup". Next time I will don my Tony Blair wig and see how much Cheval Blanc I can purloin.
Afterwards we drive around Pomerol where I take a few photos for the website and drive into the tiny village of Catusseau to play my favourite game that I like to call: "Find Le Pin". This is my fourth attempt to locate the existentialist chateau and I was convinced that I would succeed this time, especially as I am armed with Hubrecht Duijker's detailed map showing the exact location. Obviously Duijker's map is not as detailed as it should be, so I ask a Catusseau local if he knows the whereabouts of the world-renowned chateau? I mean, there are only about a dozen houses in this tiny village. Surely he knows which one is Le Pin? He simply babbles something in French, something to put me off the scent and I leave defeated once more, unsure whether Le Pin really exists.
After an impromptu pilgrimage to Petrus we are bound for Saint Emilion to visit Chateau Canon-la-Gaffeliere. We are shown round by an animated winemaker who cracks about ten jokes per minute of which about one-tenth are amusing. I am intrigued by their practice of keeping the barrel-wine on the lees and racking only once during 18 months. He says that this naturally clarifies the wine, protects it from barrel taints and adds roundness. He probably made a joke about yeast autolysis though I cannot remember it. We taste wines within proprietor Stephan Von Neipperg's stable, including La Mondotte which I have never tasted before and frankly speaking it does little for me.
At lunch we drive up the hill to the village of Saint Emilion, perched on the edge of the limestone plateau that overlooks the Dourdogne valley. It is incredibly picturesque: a sea of medieval houses, churches and fortifications unblemished by any modern construction thanks to its UNESCO Heritage Site status. We are attending a tasting of 2001 and 2002 Saint Emilion wines, which is being held within the cloisters behind the office de tourisme. My main objective is to taste one of my favourite and rarest wine, Clos-Saint Martin that has me smitten whenever we meet (alas only around 400 cases are produced.)
We lunch under the intense midday sun where various Saint Emilion wines are served from magnum, many of which seem to be suffering in the heat. But at least there is abundant food and no unsightly rugby scrum that marred Dauzac the previous evening. We then head back to Vinexpo for a few more meetings and become imprisoned within one of Bordeaux city's inevitable traffic jams, where it takes two hours to extricate ourselves from the car-park. Over dinner the weather breaks and an overdue, welcome thunderstorm provides a dramatic backdrop to the meal. Perhaps this will cool down the weather for tomorrow?
I try on my dress-shirt again just to check it is a half-size to small. As long as I can survive six hours without oxygen I will live beyond Thursday.