From Bonnezeaux to Bordeaux we trundled south. With horses on board you cannot go fast but we completed the auto route in time to collect Philippa Soden from The Daily Telegraph from Bordeaux airport on time - who else was being met by an electric mint green horse box - she couldn't miss us!
We were also met by Gerome from a local computer company as my laptop just did not want to play ball with cyberspace. He came out on his Piagio and gamely climbed inside the living area of our box to administer to the grumpy laptop - another first!
We then rolled on round the Rocard to the Medoc and made our way up the lovely long field-fringed drive of Chateau d'Angludet where I had met Diana Sichel back in February when she so kindly offered to host us and the horses. They too had arrived in heaven with spacious boxes for the week and a lush paddock for Sunday lunch - not to mention plenty of other four-legged company.
With everyone unpacked we discussed the weeks plans over a truly exceptional bottle of Ch d'Angludet 1982 with our delicious feast of roast poulet and garlic, local cheeses and strawberries... human heaven.
The following morning having not been woken by a ferocious green woodpecker (who was having an ongoing battle with an old oak tree in Bonnezeaux) at 5.45am we dropped south along the edge of the Rocard to Ch Smith Haut Lafitte in Pessac Leognan where we had an excellent guide in the form of Sandrine with whom we tasted the 1999 and 2001 Ch Smith Haut Lafitte. A personal first was their white wine originally made with 100 per cent Semillon and then in 2001 with a small addition of Sauvignon Gris and Blanc - very vibrant and fresh with well integrated oak on the palate.
We walked over to the Caudalie where we met Alice Cathiard who showed us around their very impressive spa with their vinothérapie where every treatment, lotion and potion comes from the grape. Oh, to rest our aching limbs for Merlot Wrap but the horses were calling from the Médoc keen to get out in the vines again - and we still had a case of Smith Haut Lafitte to collect for our London auction (25 September at The Crypt with The Bleeding Heart Restaurant) before heading home.
On Wednesday we crossed over to the Côtes de Francs where I went back down memory lane as we wound through the vines to Château Puygueraud where I had done vintage in 1985. We received a wonderful welcome from my great friend Bernadette Thienpont and her charming mother. Her brother Nicolas who is their winemaker guided us through their most impressive cuvées including The George 2000. However my favourite remains the Puygueraud 2000 with its wonderful deep garnet hue and complex aromas of soft black fruits with a touch of cedar.
That afternoon the day was made complete - after a lunch featuring Bernadette's secret fish marinade beautifully complimented by the delicious Les Charmes Godard 2000 we took off on the horses for the gentle slopes of the Côtes and cantered along the vineyard fringes... Philippa and I agreed that life really doesn't get much better!
It was 8pm by the time we had sorted out mobile fencing (as the horses were out in a section of the Thienpont farm) and came in for a shower before racing off for dinner in St Emilion full of a mix of medieval and terracotta almost-Provençal style charm. There we enjoyed Magret of Canard with 1999 and 1988 Ch Puygd at l'Envers du Decors.
After winding up our famous mobile fencing we dropped in on Jonathan Maltas at Ch Teyssier in St Emilion who is producing a highly impressive set of wines including Le Dome - one of the garagistes of Bordeaux.
Our programme has only taken such great shape thanks to the advice of local experts such as James Lawther MW. So it was a delight to visit his charming home in Entre Deux Mers where the vineyards just seemed to be set out for riding! Here we encountered our first police road block - but at the sound of hooves and given a cheery greeting in our best French they moved aside and let us trot on by. We are always careful not to drink too much before riding!
Friday saw us making a clean departure for Château Mouton Rothschild - sans arôme de chevaux! After watching them rack the new vintage and then gazing in awe at the collection in their wine museum we decided we were ready for our tasting of this great wine. We were lucky enough to be presented with not only the very elegant Mouton Rothschild 2000 but the 2000 Ch Clerc Millon and Ch d'Armailhac - again a first for me.
That afternoon after a ride amongst the vines around Ch d'Angludet we caught up with Ben Sichel who is in charge of all their winemaking and saw inside the chais which we have ridden past so many times. We also tasted their Clairet - a deep rosé coloured wine with far more structure than your average rosé and with 13.5 per cent - it packs a fuller flavour too! A not-yet-finished blend of the 2001 d'Angludet promised much with tremendous concentration and great blackcurrant aromas - so the finished product will be well worth searching out!
We felt we must explore a local market so the horses hopped back in their box and we put them on the ferry to Blaye which caused much interest amongst the club of Saturday cyclers! For once we knew we did not look odd in our jods against the wild colours of the cylists!
Sunday witnessed another return down memory lane as we scrunched up the gravel - where my parents had led me as a three-year-old... to Château Palmer in Margaux. In the company of visiting Antipodean friends we stared into the deep garnet hue of their 2001 vintage with truly elegant blackcurrant aromas.
Tomorrow we are off in search of stickies. No visit to Bordeaux could be complete without checking out the noble rot. We will start with a visit to Ch Coutet in Barsac and then on to Ch Guiraud in Sauternes. Philippa has gone home so I will ride both Lily and Dromara in turn around this attractive appellation between tastings before packing up for the Languedoc and the big trek south...
- Wild garlic from the hedgerows
- Acacia from the trees - also provided to taste/chew on - you really can see where the honey flavour comes from
- Subtle pepper and spice - from wonderful mature Malbec in the Côtes de Francs
- Deep velvet blackcurrant and cedar - the classic Bordeaux - more left-bank