Saint-Emilion on the Left Bank. In Paris.

One perk of being an accidental wine critic (for Wine & Spirit magazine) is that I get invited to taste some very good wines in lovely surroundings. This time it was a line-up of mature (or maturing) vintages of Premiers Grands Crus Classés from Saint Emilion in a private dining room at the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris. With the TGV taking just 3 hours from Bordeaux – and costing around €60 each way for a first class ‘IDTGV’ ticket booked over the web – it’s an easy and affordable day trip.  The lunch was arranged by the Groupement de PGCCs de St-Emilion for a handful of wine writers from around the world to meet the owners of the 14 chåteaux involved. For me, there was the added advantage of catching up with people like Neal Martin (above right, chatting to Philippe Castéja of Château Trottevielle, with Nicolas Thienpont of Pavie Macquin looking on). Neal has had a meteoric rise to wine-writing stardom since his Wine-Journal website was merged into erobertparker.com a couple of years ago.

I sat next to the equally interesting and much more attractive Christelle Guibert, Tastings Director for Decanter magazine, and before lunch had an enlightening chat with John Kolasa (left, with Christelle). John runs Château Canon, as well as Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux. We talked, as one does, about the ludicrous prices for top wines from Bordeaux, and John suggested that I write a book entitled ‘It’s only wine’. Good for him.

On my left flank, pony-tailed Helmut Knall, of Wine-Times (based in Vienna), challenged every other bottle that was presented to us over lunch. Initially, I misunderstood him when he whispered ‘Play with me a little’ but I duly played along once I cottoned on to his game. He made his point well, as there was considerable bottle variation – of the same wine – from one bottle to the next. Separate bottles of Angélus 2001 and of Troplong Mondot 2000 showed quite different personalities. Helmut suspected the cork – and he’s an ardent fan of screwcaps – but I have my doubts: I didn’t detect any hint of the dreaded TCA, the evil compound that if present in a cork will taint the wine. Bottle variation is nothing unusual with fine Bordeaux. At any rate, debating the issue of bottle-closures seemed a bit futile here, as I can’t see any wines of this type being bottled with Stelvin in the foreseeable future. 

For the record, we drank Canon 2001, Angélus 2001, Pavie 1999, Magdelaine 1990, Clos Fourtet 1989, Beauséjour 2000, Trottevielle 2000, Troplong Mondot 2000, Belair 1995, Figeac 1995, La Gaffelière 1975, Beau-Séjour Bécot 1998, Pavie Macquin 1998, and Cheval Blanc 1998. (Unfortunately, Alain Vauthier’s Ausone isn’t in the ‘Groupement’, for reasons unknown to me.) Delicious as they were, I think the younger wines would have benefited from more breathing time in their decanters beforehand. I didn’t ask but I reckon the wines were decanted not long before lunch. An hour or two more would certainly have helped. 

Neal and I popped out after the petits fours for a sharpener in a bar over the road, but our beer together was cut short when we realised that he hadn’t factored in the hour change to his return train time to London. He missed it, but thankfully caught the next Eurostar at no extra charge. After all, it’s a lot more expensive than the TGV to Bordeaux.150″ height=”150″ />