Today’s story begins at 1am on Thursday, my fifth day of 2014 Bordeaux primeur tasting, or my sixth if you include Saturday evening. Well, actually, the short chain of events in this tale can actually be followed back to Wednesday morning, when I unwittingly left behind a laptop at my accommodation. I only realised when I received an email to say it was being held for me, and I can pick it up any time. I toyed with the idea of driving back to retrieve it after my tasting at Château La Lagune had finished, but it would have been a round trip of 1 hour 40 minutes, plus my drive to my hotel on the right bank, so I decided to leave it and pick it up later in the week. If I had gone back to get it, however, I would have perhaps realised I also left behind half my clothes. My departure on Wednesday was clearly not my most star-spangled packing performance.
I only realised I was now travelling lighter than I originally intended at 1am Thursday morning, and I thought first I should check the boot of my hire car to see if my missing clothes were in there. It was then, in the car park, that I met Marguerite (names may have been changed to protect the innocent). Marguerite seemed flustered, and it soon became apparent why. She was desperate to stay at the hotel, which is one of these budget hotels (and you thought I was staying in the Libourne Hilton) where you can take a room, any time day or night, by paying with credit card; you use a machine in the foyer which spits out a room number and access code at you. The problem was, Marguerite had cash, but no credit card. And then out came the story; I’ve quit my husband. I am here, with my son (cue appearance of eight-year old boy cradling puppy), needing a room. I went to the gendarmerie they told me to come here. I have the cash, but no card. If I give you the money can you buy me a room? I am naturally cynical, but the desperation was genuine, the story stacked up, and there was no scam I could see (it’s not like she was trying to sell me some Armani jackets she had in the back of the car). Still, I took my time assessing the situation before I agreed, and she fished €50 from her purse which I took, but then discovered at the credit card machine that the the hotel was full. Her plans were dashed, the money returned. Disheartened, she and her son returned to her car. They lingered at the gate for five minutes, perhaps wondering what to do next, before they disappeared into the night.
I came to Bordeaux for the primeurs, but thanks to some wayward socks I ended up wandering into the middle of a stranger’s life crisis, a momentary figure in Marguerite’s story, a bit part in a life-defining drama, for her and perhaps more for her son (who I had a nice chat with – my French was more his level). It makes you realise, or remember anyway, that wine is just wine, and there are so many other life changing events happening all around us, often unseen.
I went back inside and set an early alarm which gave me time to stop off at InterMarché to buy some socks. Then it was off to see Jean-Michel Laporte (pictured above) at Château La Conseillante. The main news here is that Jean-Michel is set to leave La Conseillante, he and the Nicolas family having decided to go their separate ways, after the realisation that they have different visions for the estate and its wine, and having disagreed on a number of important issues, including pricing. Jean-Michel will leave in June, and does not yet have another job lined up. It is a life decision that, while perhaps not quite on the same level as Marguerite’s tale, will change the course of a very fine career if nothing else.
Then it was on to Le Pin, where I also tasted Jacques’ new-ish St Emilion cuvée L’If, and I asked Jacques if the 2013 (which he didn’t show last year) would ever be poured for journalists. “No”, he replied, “it is for people who want to buy it. If nobody wants to buy it, I will drink it”. I suspect, somehow, it will sell, even in the absence of critical opinion. Then I followed up with Petrus, Château Le Gay, Château L’Évangile, Château L’Église Clinet, then over to Château Angélus (it was a bit out of synch, but it was the only time I could fit them in). Afterwards, it was back to Pomerol, with Château Lafleur, where the development of the white wines continues to be very strong, alongside the red wines too of course. Then it was back to St Emilion (I know the road between the two appellations better than ever now) for Château Ausone, where the wines were one greater in number than is usual, as the Vauthier family purchased Château La Clotte in September 2014, and were showing the ‘transition vintage’. I guess we should look to 2015 as their first true vintage here, having said that the wine was good, as was the rest of the range, but in a style that very much conforms to the vintage, which is very mixed and weak in parts, with a very broad range in quality from the top to the bottom.
More St Emilion then, first to check out the Neipperg wines at Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, and then up to the UGC tasting to check out Château Troplong-Mondot and others. Finishing ahead of schedule, I then unexpectedly found myself hot-footing it back to Pomerol for the Pomerol Séduction tasting at Clos du Clocher. The samples here were a little warm but felt fresh otherwise, so this was a useful exercise, allowing me to double-check these wines, as I had tasted all but two of them before.
On Friday, another Pomerol-St Emilion blend, with the Moueix portfolio first, Château Cheval Blanc, Château Figeac, the Thunevin portfolio, a tasting at Château Pavie-Macquin and finishing up at Château Tertre Roteboeuf. I have learnt to always finish up with François, as the tastings can over-run a little. After all, who knows which way the conversation with François will turn. Astrological planetary alignments? Voltaire? The taste of potatoes? Anything is possible with François.