I spent most of last week in France, two nights at Château Giscours in Margaux and then two nights in Junas, near Montpellier.
I arrived at Giscours, saw the imposing château and assumed that I would be staying there. But the château is mothballed and guests stay in comfortable (albeit quite rustic) accommodation in an adjacent outbuilding.
My host was Dutch-born Alexander Van Beek, manager of Giscours and its neighbour du Tertre. He is married to Haut-Bailly’s delightful manager Véronique Sanders. They have recently had a little boy so I was left to my own devices for dinner. Alexander recommended the Brasserie du Lac at the Golf de Margaux, a swanky golf club that overlooks the Île Margaux in the Gironde.
Driving up from Bordeaux to Margaux on the D2 that day I was confronted by a seemingly endless stream of Bernard Magrez signs – even one for Château Fombrauge, his St-Emilion estate. So in revenge I ate Magret de Canard.
Alexander had very kindly given me a bottle of Giscours 2003 to take with me to dinner but it was far too hot for red wine, so instead I drank Château Turcaud 2007, a clean and simple Entre Deux Mers Sec. It was bottled under a Nomacork, the first time I have seen this closure on a Bordeaux wine.
While the water sprays kept the greens lush, the Tiepolo clouds above gradually turned grey and a huge storm broke to the south, with forked lightning hitting somewhere in Bordeaux. In bed at Giscours, the heat was unbearable and I scarcely slept – no air conditioning.
Wednesday was spent mostly with Alexander, visiting Giscours and du Tertre. The latter has been restored – at great expense probably – to a superb standard. (There is a reason why Giscours languishes while du Tertre lavishes, which I will explain in profiles of the estates to appear on this blog in due course). In the afternoon I paid a brief visit to Château Palmer to taste the 2008 with Bernard de Laage, whom I first met in 2006 at the Young Wine Writer of the Year award ceremony.
I left Giscours on Thursday morning at 7.30 to ensure that I could return my hire-car in good time before catching a train to Montpellier via Toulouse. Another huge storm hit Bordeaux, causing flash flooding in the city centre.
Traveling by train in France is so civilised, with none of the rubbish that one has to endure in the UK. I used to enjoy the journey from Marylebone to the West Midlands to visit my family but over the last couple of years it has become a free for all, with people treating requests not to use mobile phones in the “quiet carriage” with contempt. Broken Britain…
At Montpellier, I was met by Florence Brutton, translator extraordinaire of Michel Bettane’s text for The World of Fine Wine. Among many other things, Flo did the translation for the People’s Century television documentary broadcast in 1995. I watched every episode.
Flo, her husband Mark and children Louis and Amy live in Junas, a small village north-east of Montpellier. They used to live in south-west London but relocated to France in 2003 to their then holiday home, which has guest accommodation available to rent. Junas hosts an annual jazz festival in its disused quarries, has a decent boulangerie and altogether a nice feel to it – a good place to rest for a few days.
On Friday, Mark and his neighbour Santiago took me to Bouzigues to feast on the local oysters and mussels. I ate 16 oysters and at least half as many mussels. The three of us shared two bottles of Picpoul de Pinet, the tasty local white wine that is such an excellent match with shellfish.
That evening, Flo took me to Domaine de Trépaloup, a small wine estate in St-Clément, not far from Junas on the so-called “Terre de Sommières,” run by the Vendôme brothers Rémi and Laurent. They produce a series of varietal Vin de Pays d’Oc – Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – as well as some AOC Languedoc blends. The wines generally showed good varietal character, though always in a rustic Vin de Pays style.