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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

It's all about Petit Denis in London: part two

It seemed Petit Denis had temporarily forgotten about barrels as I walked into the breakfast room early Friday to the echoing sound of “hello my name is Dennis; my second mother is the Dordogne”!

After a full English breakfast we made our way to the Sunday Times Festival with plenty more innocent folk being harmlessly subjected to “hello my name is Dennis, my second mother is the Dordogne”.

Then the catastrophe occurred: Petit Denis had somehow managed during the five-minute walk between the hotel and the venue to lose – yes, you guessed it – his BERET! His panic-stricken face was as if he had suddenly found himself stark naked in centre of London!

A Frenchman with no saucisson, no knife and now no beret was serious stuff, but suddenly the festival crowds were visible and before he knew it, Petit Denis was given his back-stage pass, pushed into the to the festival hall, the main doors were opened and the customers rolled in.

Petit Denis soon learned that his well practised phrase “hello my name is Denis, my second mother is the Dordogne” was difficult to simultaneously recite to every single customer whilst pouring wine. However, he was brilliant and did manage to get one “hello my name is Denis, my second mother is the Dordogne” when Hugh Johnson presented him with a signed copy of his Wine Atlas.

JMS was in fine form, arriving (late) on his scooter with the usual large ‘morceau’ of Parmesan from Neal’s Yard cheese shop.

The festival went very well with plenty of visitors to the Chai stand and ended with a well deserved Wine of the Show Trophy for the Maury ‘Font Del Bosc’ 2005! Lunch was at the always-great Italian restaurant round the corner, and then I took Petit Denis shopping for a new beret. Innocently we went to the House of Fraser which for about 15 minutes Petit Denis actually thought we were going to ‘la maison de Frazer’ (Frazer is the English sales manager at the Chai in France!)

Petit Denis wasn’t impressed with the range of berets and settled for a new English tweed flat cap, a scarf (London being at its hottest this year), shirts, jeans, shoes and a coat. He was certainly ready for the festival's evening session. The growers' dinner afterwards was once again a brilliant meal with plenty of wines to taste and Petit Denis was in his element managing to practise his now-famous phrase all evening.

The return journey to France had been worrying me as Petit Denis was going solo! I was staying in London to judge at the International Wine Fair. I wrote every detail down for him and called him a taxi bound for Victoria Station, the taxi pulled up and whisked Petit Denis away into the distance with the trailing sound of “hello my name is Denis, my second mother is the Dordogne”….

I am very pleased to say that he did make it safely back to France and was reunited with his knife. However, the airport parking ticket was – of course – safely tucked inside his lost beret somewhere in England!

It's all about Petit Denis in London: part one

It’s been quite an eventful couple of weeks, kick-started way back on Thursday the 14th by escorting ‘Petit Denis’ to London.

Denis is not the most world-wild-travelled human being, it has to be said. But once I had briefed him on suitcase size and the essentials to fill it with all seemed to be going smoothly. We finally left Le Chai for Bordeaux airport after prising ‘Petit Denis’ from his beloved barrels after his insistence on caressing each one before his ‘voyage’!

The car journey was interesting, packed full of ‘Petit Denis’ practicing his year 11 Anglais. “Hello my name is Dennis, the Dordogne river is my second mother” being the most successfully executed phrase. All was fairly normal until ‘Petit Denis’ – panic in his eyes – realised he had forgotten his saucisson for the journey! I repeatedly explained that there would be food in London (and knives) but to no avail. I gave in and had to stop for him to buy the saucisson. I did put my foot down on the 3-litre Bergerac bag-in-box wine again convincing him that there would be ‘vin rouge en Angleterre’.

At last Bordeaux airport came into view and we were safely parked in the long-stay car park. Petit Denis, I and the large saucisson made our way to the terminal … and then it began. The next 5 minutes went rather like this: saucisson stuffed in bag; no ticket; no passport; saucisson out of bag; found passport; still no ticket; saucisson back in bag; found ticket; boarding pass; passport 10yrs out of date; saucisson back out of bag; found identity card; boarding pass; saucisson back in bag; security check; knife on belt; Gendarmes; knife in police safe (for collection on his return?); on plane.

Some confusion just before take-off when the stewardess announced “who is the owner of a black bag with a pink ribbon” beautifully mistranslated by Petit Denis to “who owns black Raybans” which he had his in his bag and confidently raised his hand! Once that small matter was explained we were off to England.

I was fortunately spared practising the “Hello my name is Dennis, the Dordogne river is my second mother” as he was glued to the plane window and quiet as a mouse. Petit Denis then had a snooze during which time I was frantically thinking of how to break the news to him that we were not having a lunch. On arrival the ‘lunch’ news didn’t go down very well at all and speeding towards our Gloucester Depot in the hire car the saucisson was brought into action along with a spare knife smuggled in his main baggage!

We arrived at Gloucester and were greeted by Nick Hurlstone. The flood gates opened: “Hello my name is Dennis, the Dordogne river is my second mother” which would set the general tone for the next 48 hours – half of the Big Issue sellers from Gloucester to Westminster are now fully aware of this information.

We finally checked into the Mint Hotel and ‘Petit Denis’ couldn’t understand why a suited and booted gentleman was prepared to carry his bag to his room. It was at this point I was started renaming him ‘Crocodile Denis’.

To be continued………………………

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Made it through (from Monday 11th)

Last week was great but became difficult and hot on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, reaching 30ºC here in St.Emilion! From what I tasted it is true that 2010 is different – but MORE balanced – than 2009! The week ended with a Voyageur lunch where I was joined by Henry, Gary, Dan, Neil and David.

The sunshine (and heat) continued on Saturday so Libby and I headed to the huge annual antiques fair in Rauzan. There were loads of stalls and some amazing things on offer and after a very strange unforeseen school canteen lunch, we headed home.

Warm evening weather meant a lamb, Bordeaux sausage and pork belly slices barbeque and the perfect opportunity to match the 2009 Syrah de Folie bottled only last week, it’s a winner!

Early this morning I met up with Olivier Cazenave for a trip around Bordeaux to check on some of our great unknown (as of yet) Chateaux. It was quite a round trip starting in the west at Pellegrue and Chateau Bellevue Favereau, where I made some 2010 blends. The next visit was to Chateau Rougier whose young French owner has formed a family partnership with an Argentinean winegrowing family. The wines here are very promising indeed and one to look out for in the future. The last visit was way out to the west towards Blaye to Chateau Geneau and a very different terroir producing rich, juicy wines from predominantly Merlot.

I was late for Easter lunch at La Clariere but fantastic Bernadette had saved some in-season asparagus, garlic omelette and roast garlic lamb! I also got to try Henry’s excellent 2005 and bottled-today 2009 Chateau La Clariere.

Back to the Chai with Tony for a little photo shoot with Martin Crook; great photos check it out www.martincrook.com. Before Tony left for his flight to the UK we had a taste of last weeks bottled wines, the Vermentino and Syrah de Folie … tasting great already!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Monday 4th - En Primeur Begins

Bordeaux is the place to be in the wine world this week as the En Primeur campaign kick starts Spring into gear. And right on cue is the warm sunshine and, of course, bud burst!

Lots of places to visit for tasting this week and the Salle des Dominicains in the heart of Saint Emilion is always a good place to start. This beautifully restored building holds the annual Union des Syndicates tasting of Saint Emilion, Lussac, Puisseguin, Montagne, Saint Georges, Fronsac and Canon Fronsac. The wines are laid out in long lines and you can serve yourself and get into the tasting groove at your own pace. It’s a bit like a warm up for the rest of the week!

What I like most about the tasting is that it gives you the chance to taste the lesser-known appellations which, after tasting the excellent wines, always leaves me wondering why they are lesser known? Lots of good wines with Haut Carles (Fronsac), Cap d’Or (Montagne), Chateau Sansonnet and Mangot (St.Emilion GC) and Clos Jacobins (St.Emilion GCC) standing out today.

Everybody is out and about and as regular as clockwork 11:30 am my phone started to ring with endless Frenchmen organising lunch! I opted for lunch with Jose and Philippe Nunes of Chateau Angelus who arrived with a film crew from I-TELE; a leading French news channel who were making a report to be broadcasted tonight. For lunch we headed out of busy St.Emilion and up to the more peaceful Montagne Saint Emilion, where we were joined by Stephan a wine merchant from Dinan. Much to my amusement, but no one else’s, we tried 2010 Chateau Munch with lunch!

A lovely 2007 Clos Bertineau from Philippe’s own tiny property in Montagne went well with the entrecote.

After lunch, I went back to the tasting room to get stuck into the Cru Classe but every time I pulled my nose from the glass somebody I knew was standing next to me. All in all it took me about two hours (consisting of one-and-a-half hours’ intense ‘bonjouring’) to taste ten wines.

Back at the Chai the 2009 Vent de Folie red tastes superb. JMS here tomorrow so looking forward to tasting at Chateau La Couspaude, Chateau La Pointe (Pomerol), Thunevin and Chateau Le Grand Barrail.

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Friday, 1 April 2011

I’ll just bid farewell till we meet again

Three more wines bottled, capsuled, labelled, boxed and transported to UK this week, next time I see them will be in London for the Vintage Festival!

Tuesday 29th

Tuesday started off dark as I loaded for bottling the first wine of the week, the 2010 ‘Révélation du Baron’. So with the routine bottling line programme; sterilised, wine ready, bottles cleaned, filling heights regulated, cork pressure perfect, labels at the right height ready amidst the April showers we started the bottling.

Last year I made the last vintage of the Baron’s Roussanne before he grubbed up the vines. After having a more in-depth look at his vineyards I discovered some excellent Marsanne (another southern Rhone grape varietal) and what I thought was the perfect blending partner for the remaining Roussanne vines. Six months down the line my vision became reality! The Marsanne gives zest and structure to the rich sun loving Roussanne, very pleased indeed!

Wednesday 30th

Wednesday saw the Grand Chai Bordeaux Blanc 2010 loaded for bottling. Our new little bottling centre JMS and I carefully planned has certainly been tested to the full with no problems at all, phew! Routine bottling line set up done and then I began to load yesterday’s wine onto the truck bound for UK, first time it has left my sight since last September!

The afternoon I scooted off to an area in the Entre Deux Mers I had never heard of called Saint-Martin-De-Sescas to meet my friend and winemaker Vincent Maestri. He showed me a wine by pure chance last week, it was very good indeed so I wanted to see the owner, vineyards and cellar for myself … a very good little hidden find indeed, I will be taking this one under my wing from now on.

Back to the bottling to check all is good before passing to the Chai to see that Denis has started to place the 600 DIFFERENT barrels in the correct rows for the 9 reds that will arrive during next week!

Thursday 31st

Truck was waiting when I arrived at 7 am to load yesterday’s first batch of 2010 Grand Chai Bordeaux bound for England, another wine I have nurtured from grape over the last 6 months also to be reunited with soon. Routine bottling line set up done.

Mid morning more trucks arrived but this time carrying our newly purchased stainless steel wine vats. This is a winemakers best present but these ones are extra special. They are called in French ‘cuves chapeau flottant’ (or floating hat vats) which is when the lid can be lowered to sit on the surface of whatever volume of wine you have in the vat. The food grade bicycle tyre around the edge of the ‘hat’ is then pumped up sealing the lid and hey presto zero air contact whilst the wine is stored. The vats were carefully unloaded off the truck and onto little skateboards and simply wheeled into the cellar!


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The rest of the day was spent moving 400 barrels and arguing with ‘petit’ Denis about which end of the barrel was the cleanest end to face outwards on show. End of the day back to bottling to check the and clean the vats ready for tomorrow.

Friday 1st

Friday we bottled a very different wine and in very different weather, sunshine and 26ºC by mid morning! The last bottling of the week was the 2010 VO made from Spanish varietal Verdejo from the sunny region of Rueda - viva l’Espana!

A well deserved Voyageur lunch for the Chai team, all the locals in including barrel man Jose who brought over a little taste of fellow diner the unknown Clos de la Cure Saint Emilion Grand Cru . No wonder the Chef was acting strange last week - even serving deserts - as I learn from Madame Mimi he has left to Madagascar alone on his annual 3 week fishing trip. Madame Mimi seems to be rather looking forward to the next 3 weeks as much as he his! Chipman is on hols too so chips were good but NOT chipman worthy!

Tied up the end of the VO bottling, 2010 Bordeaux Primeur next week!

Bon weekend


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