Chris Evans, host of BBC Radio 2’s Breakfast Show, came to Bordeaux earlier this month with his lovely wife Natasha for an extensive wine tour. We were honoured to be asked to show them around, via a friend of a friend, and here’s what we got up to, along with some holiday snaps. (To enlarge any picture, click on it.)
“I beg you, if you like wine, take a plane, hire a car and go to Bordeaux,” Chris wrote in his weekly column for The Mail on Sunday, tapped into his Blackberry at his hotel in St-Emilion after just a couple of days here. “It’s a dream trip.”
On their ’kids-free wine tour’, we visited Chateau Clinet and Le Pin in Pomerol, Chateau Haut-Brion in Pessac, Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron in Pauillac and Cos d’Estournel in St-Estephe. We also tried a few wines from around the region over dinner here at Chateau Bauduc, at restaurant La Tupina in Bordeaux and in the two restaurants at Les Sources de Caudalie, the hotel set amongst vines to the south of the city.
“Twas fanbloodytastic” he texted when he got home, before appearing on Friday evening’s The One Show on the beeb. He looked fine. I was bloody exhausted.
Then, on Monday, the reality check. “Just been to gym. Nearly died. Holidays not worth the relapse,” he announced on Twitter. (Apparently, he’d put on half a stone.) The trouble with an excursion to this corner of France is that the wine and food can be a little too tempting.
The Bordeaux plan had come about because Chris and Natasha are building a wine cellar in their new house and wanted to learn more about what to put in there.
After a bit of googling, they booked their flights and a place to stay on the first night, and asked a friend with connections in the trade about where to go, and one thing lead to another. They’d been offered tours at Chateaux Cheval Blanc and Haut-Brion but, other than that, could I play host and come up with a cunning plan for their few days here?
Sure, I said. Other than being someone you’d want to have around for dinner, Chris has quite a few followers on Twitter (about 1.15 million more than me), to say nothing of his 10 million listeners for his Breakfast Show on Radio Two (source: Chris Evans).
So here’s what we got up to.
Day One, Sunday
See Chris’s article in The Mail on Sunday. (Written on his Blackberry, would you believe?)
Monday: Chateau Clinet
The tour could have started off badly. We’d originally been told that Chris and Natasha were staying in St-Emilion on their first night, the Sunday, and that the tour of Chateau Cheval Blanc nearby had been booked for the Monday afternoon. So I arranged to look around and have lunch at a Chateau in Pomerol – close to Cheval Blanc and St-Emilion, and home to some of the most sought-after wines in the world such as Petrus and Le Pin.
A few days before, it transpired that they weren’t, in fact, staying in St-Emilion on the Sunday night but in St-Estephe, which is about a million miles away on the other side of the Gironde estuary (see the map above). Added to which, Cheval Blanc had cancelled their visit in the afternoon for some reason.
Now the last thing that any normal couple would want to do on their first morning away is to drive about 100 kms to their first Chateau visit. But normal couples don’t get lent a Bentley GT Convertible, like the one that was driven from England for Mr and Mrs Evans to cruise around Bordeaux in. So we stuck to the agenda. Thankfully, it was also a lovely, sunny morning and when we met up at noon at Chateau Clinet in Pomerol, they were in great spirits.
“We’ve had a brilliant drive, and got hundreds of questions already” they said. With that, I knew we’d be okay. “What’s all this about terroir…” Before long, I was digging out handfuls of clay from deep below the surface like Monty Don, near L’Eglise Clinet.
Clinet is a small property, as is usually the case in Pomerol, with 11 hectares of vines dotted around the better parts of the appellation. Ronan Laborde’s father bought the chateau in 1999, and a new winery was built in time for the 2004 harvest, complete with oak cuves (or tanks) for making the wine in. Ronan and his small team make lovely wines and, for a top Pomerol, they are still vaguely affordable.
Monique, Ronan’s girlfriend, showed us around the chai. We bumped into Steve Blais, a friend of mine who works for Michel Rolland, the best-known wine making consultant in Bordeaux. Steve, a Canadian, is bi-lingual, and consults with wineries all over the world, so it was opportune that he could stop by to explain why Pomerol makes, probably, the greatest Merlot on the planet. It’s all to do with the ripening of the tannins in the pipe and the skins.
You soon realise that it’s the people that make wine tours interesting, however impressive the tasting rooms, the batteries of fermentation tanks and endless rows of barrels.
The wines help, of course. We were privileged to be treated to a delicious lunch by Ronan and Monique, and that’s the way that Bordeaux wines should really be sampled.
With the starter, they served my Chateau Bauduc Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc 2011. (Monique had texted me beforehand to ask if I wouldn’t mind if they served Bauduc, as it was their house white. They don’t make white in Pomerol. ’Oh, alright then.’)
We then drank Chateau Clinet 2005, Ch Clinet 1996 from magnum, and a sweet white from Ronan’s family estate in Hungary, the Essencia 1993 from Chateau Pajzos.
The 2005, from a topnotch, ripe vintage, was just beginning to open up after a sleepy time in bottle, and that the 1996, from a year that was generally better in the Medoc than on the Right Bank, proved that you shouldn’t stick religiously to vintage charts.
Chris and Ronan compared notes on sports cars and events, and Ronan pulled out some pictures of his collection of miniature cars. Boys will be boys.
There is a parallel between classic cars and fine wine, of course: investment potential. As Chris pointed out, when we talked about the leading Pomerols, “The best investments are often when you have to pay tomorrow’s prices today.”
By the time lunch was finished, I was relieved that Cheval Blanc had cancelled. We’d have been very late.
After checking into the Hostellerie de Plaisance in St-Emilion, and a chance for a rest, a local taxi brought Chris and Natasha to Bauduc, about 20 minutes down the road. With our drive in need of resurfacing, at least the the undercarriage of the Bentley wasn’t placed at risk.
A brisk, early evening vineyard tour was required – part education, part appetite-building. We’re lucky enough to have lovely views here. ’What a place’ wrote Chris in his piece for The Mail on Sunday. After the walk in the vines, we studied my oversized, 6-foot Bordeaux map before supper. Understanding the geography makes it much easier to remember the names of wines you’ve drunk, especially in Bordeaux. Wines you’ve enjoyed while sober, that is.
We cooked one of our house specialities, Cote de boeuf grilled on vines in the fireplace, and served rare with melted garlic butter. We used to do frites but I usually bugger up the timing when the pressure’s on, so Angela prepared dauphinoise potatoes, grilled tomatoes with thyme, and simple salad to follow.
We experimented with lots of wines. Firstly, our young 2010 red got the thumbs up (an Evans trademark) as did an older vintage of Bauduc, Les Trois Hectares 2003. ’That’s all you need’ said Chris. ’Seriously, I’d be very happy with that.’ I’d be happy if we had more than a few bottles left. We’ve only got the 2010.
A house favourite, Ch La Tour Figeac 1998, a St-Emilion estate that borders onto Pomerol and Ch Cheval Blanc, went beautifully. We felt it worked better with the beef than the delicious Ch Lynch Bages 2000, a top class Pauillac that is just beginning to open up and drink really well. (Wines I’d bought long ago, affordable at the time and best not to think what they’d cost today.)
After the statutory spread of cheese – we have a fantastic cheese shop locally – it was home made tarte aux pommes, made by our assistant Alexis who’s working at Bauduc during her year abroad from Cambridge Uni. A half bottle of delicious Sauternes, Ch Suduiraut 2001, went down a treat.
The evening was a treat for the Quinney family, more so as the younger ones had never heard of Chris Evans. He and Tash were delightful guests and there was never a dull moment. He has the knack of wanting to know about everyone and everything else without being intrusive or prying. A handy attribute if you talk to a lot of people for a living.
Chris wrote in The Mail on Sunday: ’Gav (sic) is a good winemaker, with a passion as fiery as anyone’s, but his legacy might well turn out to be the new secret wine-grading system he’s working on for those of us who love wine but know little if anything about what we should be buying…
’By the end of the evening we decided Gavin needed a mission statement, to get him more focused on the job in hand for the sake of all of us.
’However, because of his generous pouring, what that actual statement might be would have to wait until the morning.’
Chris thinks everyone should have mission statements. “Two, if you like – one personal one, the other professional. It makes it much easier to decide what you do with your time and energy – and what you say yes to, and when to say no.”
Tuesday: Le Pin
We were lucky that Jacques Thienpont, who was lives in Belgium, was around to show us the wonderful new winery he built at Le Pin two years ago. He’s a charming man and I doubt very much that anyone else but him would have dared open a half-bottle of the 1998.
Chris was after a bigger bottle:
— Chris Evans (@achrisevans) March 5, 2013
If you don’t know of Le Pin, it’s a tiny 2 hectare (5 acre) vineyard producing one of the most delicious yet expensive wines of Bordeaux. Jacques took us through the history of how Le Pin hade come into being, how he makes the wine in the new shiny stainless steel tanks (in contrast to the oak ones at Clinet), and the underground barrel cellar. Best of all was the small but perfectly formed bottle cellar of one of the world’s rarest and most sought after wines.
God knows what that 1998 would sell for. It was Chris’s wine of the week. Amazing Merlot, perfect Pomerol.
The view from the new roof is hard to beat too – sweeping round from Chateau Trotanoy, the church of Pomerol, the vines of Chateaux Lafleur, Petrus, Vieux Chateau Certan, L’Evangile, La Conseillante and across to Cheval Blanc.
We left with Chris wanting to buy a hectare on the plateau of Pomerol (price tag circa €4 million, if you can find one) with Jacques taking care of it. I can see the first bit happening, but probably not the second. If you own Le Pin, why would you make wine for someone else?
The good news is that while the price of Le Pin is way beyond the reach of mere mortals, the red from Jacques and Fiona’s new vineyard on the limestone slopes of St-Emilion near Ch Troplong Mondot, called ’If’, is to be priced reasonably when the first vintages of 2011 and 2012 go on sale (a few hundred quid a case). Worth looking out for.
One of the great advantages of Pomerol, as became clear later on, is that there’s no classification system. Just a dominant grape, Merlot (with Cabernet Franc in a supporting role), not a lot of land, and much-sought after, prestigious names. The problem is the good stuff doesn’t come cheap.
En route from Pomerol, and with the little time in hand, Chris needed a fuel stop and Natasha a coffee. (We’d already agreed that we’d take a break from lunch.) Pulling into the petrol station on the outskirts of Libourne, I mentioned that we’d be pressed to find a coffee in time and that maybe, God forbid, we should grab one at the McDonalds next to the garage.
’I’ve never eaten a McDonalds and I’m not going to start now,’ Chris protested. Natasha won the day, and the frites and coffee went down well in double quick time (no burgers, mind), with the Bentley gleaming next to the golden arches. ’They’re actually not bad, these chips.’