Founder of discerning boutique travel website i-escape (www.i-escape.co.uk) Nikki Tinto and husband Aidan, were with us again this autumn, forming their own Wine Weekend house party with friends that they have introduced to Rigaud. This was their third paying visit, they have already joined two of our family house parties with baby Poppy. We really should make more of their endorsement. Nikki and Aidan are THE authority upon independent boutique travel and they choose to spend a fair amount of their own holiday euros at Rigaud.
The i-escape Wine Weekend was a deliberately relaxed style of wine tour. In St Emilion we visited Grand Cru Classé Chateau Beau Séjour Bécot along with Chateau Fontrazade where the lovely Madame proprietor showed us her wines and her horses. Another highlight was lunch at La Puce, something of a St Emilion establishment, where they serve five or six courses of whatever is available that day, alongside vine workers, wine merchants and Gendarmes. It’s usually an intimidating real French experience but as a group of ten we held our ground.
The following day we headed south, driving for half an hour across the stunning rolling hills of the Entre Deux Mers vineyards, to Sauternes. We were received at the classified estate of Chateau Guiraud where they were mid harvest. We learned all about how Bordelais protectionism brought about the region’s delicious dessert wine and tasted the rotten grapes which produce it. The tasting here was nothing short of magnificent although dangerous – we ended up buying a half case to add to the Rigaud cellar. The Wine Weekend was a fabulous success as always and we’re planning several more for 2010.
I’m forever bemoaning the partisan nature of the French psyche, particularly when it comes to regional cuisine. You’ll struggle to locate a raclette outside of the Haute Savoie, cassoulet rarely features on a menu far from the Gers and the delicious Confit de Canard that we take for granted here is absent from the menus of Brittany. It’s fine for the tourists who immerse themselves in duck fat for a week then move on but it’s shame that the best of all regional cuisine doesn’t travel just a little further. The same problem extends to the wine shelves in the local supermarkets and wine merchants. We have aisle upon aisle of Bordeaux blends but try to find a decent selection of white Burgundy and you’re limited to a mighty fine Montrachet at sixty Euros and perhaps an entry level Chablis but that’s your lot. There’s literally just ONE label from New Zealand, Chili and California respectively.
We found the funniest example of how far this regional view extends in the cupboard of our camper van. We bought the camper locally of course. The previous owners had cut some handy holes in the work top to accommodate a few wine bottles without them falling in transit. The system works very well just as long as you stick to the long narrow Bordeaux bottles. Try and take a wide bodied bottle from Cotes du Rhone on holiday and it won’t fit the hole. Pah! Gallic shrug, “But why would you?”
I can hardly claim Chateau Bauduc as a personal discovery since Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein and an oak barrel full of wine writers have recommended this English owned Bordeaux estate before me. But they all seem to focus on the Sauvigon Blanc which has made the house white in the Ramsay restaurants for the past five years (and is also the house white at Chateau Rigaud as it happens!). What they don’t seem to mention is the utterly delicious, nutty, rounded, Trois Hectares Semillion.
I’m deeply unfashionable I know but I just don’t like all that grassy, gooseberries, cats pee stuff and I never have. Fabian and Alex, our wine tour tutors would both explain it all in better terms but I find it spikey whereas a good chardonnay is soft and round and doesn’t give me “Squinty Eye”.
So the Trois Hectares is a good bit more expensive than the Bauduc Sauvignon Blanc but worth the extra money. I think it drinks like a wine which has cost twice as much. Semillion is definitely the “new” Chardonnay for me and it features in my Christmas stocking this year.
Driving around the Bordeaux vines at this time of year always brings flashing pound signs before my eyes. The trees are filled with gold, or might as well be, in the shape of the mistletoe. The trees are brimming with the white berries, which are just begging to be taken down and whisked off a smart UK farmers market. At £10 for a healthy bunch there’s probably enough profit in it to justify driving a van to the UK and the van could come back laden with mince pies and Christmas puddings for selling to the Bordeaux ex pat community. Of course the Mistletoe seems to favour only the really high and difficult to access branches. It’s not that the lower down stuff is already taken since the French are just not bothered about it. It’s just that it likes to grow up high where the wind has planted the seed. So short of investing in a cherry picker it’s going to have to sit there and I will continue to drive around the vines looking at dollars in the trees!