From Merignac to Yquem
I landed in Bordeaux right on time yesterday morning. It was quite a surreal flight; I flew with Ryanair, the most budget of all budget airlines. There is no in-flight service unless you pay, and the quality of the offerings might just be open to culinary criticism (although I admit to not splashing out to explore this first hand), so it is de rigueur to take something on board yourself. It is only two hours from Edinburgh to Bordeaux though, so after a 6am coffee and pain au raisin at the airport I took a bottle of water with me. The old (by which I guess I mean older than me) couple sitting next to me, however, each brought a full lunchbox, with ham and coleslaw sandwiches, crusts removed, and two roasted chicken legs each, the knuckle ends wrapped in foil so they could eat them without getting greasy fingers. All it needed was Hugh Johnson to pop up, wearing striped blazer and boater, clutching a chilled bottle of Clairette de Die, and the picnic would have been complete.
I don’t mean to make it sound as though I was on a mission yesterday but I was off the plane, through border security and through baggage collection (without stopping – I almost always do carry-on only) and en route to the location des voitures and I coulld see there were still passengers ambling down the steps from the aircraft. I picked up my hire car, a pristine VW Polo no doubt pumping out twice the legal emissions limt, without any problem. Less than fifteen minutes later I was at Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion which, to put it bluntly, has been turned on its head in recent years. There has been huge investment by the new owner, Patrice Pichet, including new cellars, built in a river. Yes, you read that correctly. The approach to viticulture and winemaking has also changed dramatically, with micro-vats, foudres and terracotta amphorae (pictured below) being just some of the innovations.
I spent a couple of hours at Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, before a very short drive to Château La Mission Haut-Brion, just eight minutes away. I gained entry through a gate I didn’t even know existed, although it obviously knew me, as it magically swung open as I approached. After a few minutes of hanging around (I was early – it’s a new bad habit I seem to have fallen into) I was in and checking out the 2014 vintage. From here on the afternoon was all about getting to grips with the 2014s, the most recently bottled vintage, and I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather kick off than here.
It was a much briefer visit to Château Haut-Brion, a mere hour in fact, after which I headed south to Château Brown, where I met Jean-Christophe Mau, to taste the 2014 Château Brown and the 2014 Château Preuillac, the Médoc estate Jean-Christophe owned until selling up after the 2014 vintage. This was also a good opportunity to hear a little more about the 2016 vintage, because if there is one person in Bordeaux you can trust to give you an honest and trustworthy opinion, rather than following the hyperbole of the crowd, then it is Jean-Christophe. I really think he is one of the great guys of Bordeaux. It was another short visit though, as after 30 minutes I had to head further south to Château d’Yquem, to meet up with technical director Sandrine Garbay for a taste of her two 2014s, the dry ‘Y’ and of course the grand vin.
After four visits I headed north to bed down for the night in the northern Médoc, ready for today’s visits, which start in St Estèphe and which will end in Margaux. On the A62 the windscreen of my hire car took a hit from a flying stone which I never saw (I only heard it – what a fright that gave me) but it must have been the size of a brick, judging by the three-pointed stellate chip in the glass. So my Polo is no longer pristine. This might be a more expensive tasting trip than I had hoped for.