Some roads in Bordeaux were just made for overtaking. Several stretches of tarmac running up and down the Médoc are so pencil-straight, and so long, that they look as though they might disappear over the horizon, never deviating left or right for even an inch. Even in the cheapest hire car, its tiny engine better suited to a moped or perhaps a lawnmower, its toy-town wheels and skinny tyres the same, I find the urge to pass is irresistible. Pressing down hard on the accelerator, the increase in speed is almost tangible. Almost, but not quite. There is no denying the increase in noise from the engine though, half-whine and half-buzz, and eventually – after an age – the needle begins to creep upwards to a heady 80 or even 85 kilometres per hour. The g-force pushes you back into the seat. The blood drains from your now pallid, terror-stricken face. All around you, the body of the car begins to vibrate under the strain. You can sense that this is not something this Daewoo Matiz has ever been asked to do before.
Having whined past the enjambeur that was holding you up (not to mention thirty other motoristes lined up behind you) the open road now lies ahead. Although not much of it, as overtaking in a 796 cc Daewoo Matiz is never a quickly executed manoeuvre. The road turns left up ahead, and begins to gently climb, up from the lower marshy land and onto the gravel beds that lie beneath the villages and vineyards of Beychevelle and St Julien. Care is required taking these long, sweeping corners into the village, especially at harvest time, when they are crawling with vendangeurs, crossing from the château on the right side of the road, to the vineyards on the left.
This is Château Beychevelle, standing proud, a gatekeeper to the St Julien appellation. The buildings are understated (well, before the new cellars were built they were), but the gardens are colourful and extravagant. And the wines have their fans, too. Although not one of the most highly ranked properties in St Julien, the estate’s history is unparalleled. There is a sequence of noble proprietors running back to the 14th century, and in more recent times the Achille-Fould family, descendents of Napoleon’s finance minister, were the owners. It is certainly a history worth exploring. Let me park up my Matiz and I will tell you about it.