Yasia Williams, who designed the sumptuous forthcoming seventh edition of The World Atlas of Wine to be published next month, sends this breathless report.
Saturday 7 September saw 8,500 runners from 55 countries meet in Pauillac for the start of the 29th Marathon du Médoc. Created in 1984 by a group of passionate marathon fans, this 42-km course has become a must for many marathon runners - not for conventional reasons but for the promise of a race built on four fundamental pillars: health, sport, conviviality and fun.
As part of a team of four female club runners (Yasia is on the right in red), we saw this as the ultimate in long-distance running. A shift from the time-conscious races we had experienced of late, to something that seemed almost too good to be true: a race that incorporated a marathon with tasting and drinking wine. With the requirement of a sci fi-themed outfit (it's a different theme every year) and a promise of running through some of the finest chateaux in the world, we set off from London to Bordeaux on an early Friday morning flight. After picking up our race packs, we headed over to Ch Lamothe-Cissac for an evening pasta party. Walking through the courtyard we made our way over to taste our first wines, three different Sauternes including Château Monteils 2004.
Over 1,500 of the competitors seated themselves in a marquee in the grounds of this beautiful château. After we shared pasta dishes, each served with magnums of different wines, including 2007s from Chu Tour Saint-Joseph and Ch Cissac, the crowd erupted on to the dance floor to a wonderful live band that played all night. Fireworks exploded over the night skies as we finished the last of our tasting and headed back to the coaches for the ride back to Bordeaux.
Early Saturday morning, with Star Trek dresses and Spock ears firmly in place, we made our way to the start where an extraordinary array of sci fi characters had gathered. As the music blared and a series of women spun above our heads attached to floating orbs, the countdown began and off we went. The route promised to take us on one single figure-of-eight loop, running past, through and around 60 of the Médoc's finest estates. The weather held, much to our delight, as as we headed up and through our first set of vines. We could hear a band playing somewhere in the far distance, a promise of our first tasting. It didn't disappoint. Our first stop was Ch Batailley 4 km in. Runners jostled to get to the front of the tables lined with tasting cups of wine as others, wine in hand, passed to the other side to pick up some energy in the form of fruit cake and sandwiches.
As a rule, you stopped, you tasted, you commented, you chatted to others, you discussed and off you went. This was the set-up for the whole race. A full 22 of the finest châteaux opened their doors so that the runners could sample their wines. An amazing array of new and old, modern and classic, simple and extravagant awaited us. Bands played, people danced and new friendships were born out of such a simple agreement that this was quite possibly the best day ever.
There was red all the way, with tastings at Ch Pichon-Longueville, Beychevelle and Mouton-Rothschild as we snaked our way through with legs tiring as we hit the 38-km oyster and fizz stop. It was a welcome change to taste the chilled bubbles of R Gabriel Pagin Fils [however did Yasia have the energy to record this name? - JR] , followed 2 km later by Le Rosé de Mouton Cadet. With the finish in sight, there was just time for a quick ice cream stop and a face-painting addition to the costume before we joined hands, lifted them into the air and ran triumphantly down the red carpet and over the finish line. Our prize for completing this epic journey was a medal, a bag and a beautiful wooden box containing a bottle of Ch La Rose-Trintaudon 2008.
An hour later and we were already talking about our plans for next year. A special 30th anniversary edition of this wonderful race is set for 13 September 2014, the theme... carnival. I cannot wait.
For more detail on the marathon wines, see Tim Jackson's report on the forum.