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Bordeaux Avec mes Amis -- Deux

by Jon Rusciano

Each of us slept in our rooms until varying times the next morning.  As we emerged downstairs, there was coffee awaiting and a beautiful day to greet us, as the first floor shutters were opened.  The kitchen was a large bright room where we all congregated, creating the breakfast concoctions from our previous day of provision shopping.  It was surprising how “chipper” we were all feeling, thus concluding that a drive through nearby Right Bank vineyard territory and into St. Emilion was in order.  By mid-morning we were in the car (with the coordinates guide in hand) and trekking across Libourne into the realm of the grape.


Pomerol would be the first viticultural district encountered.  Almost as quickly as the municipal features of the town disappeared, vineyards emerged.  The guys were fascinated with the close proximity of the Chateaux to each other.  By the time the familiar structure of Vieux Chateau Certain was spotted, I had my bearings, and it was no longer necessary to listen to Ms. G for directions.  We drove around this wonderland of wineries (all closed on Sunday), spotting the likes of Chateaux Petrus, Lafleur, Le Pin and Cheval Blanc.  At each location where a recognized name was encountered, they wanted to stop the car for pictures (a normal reaction for first exposure to such greatness).  I had done the same in 2011.


After passing the now completed domed addition to Cheval Blanc, I continued driving in the direction of “St. E.” (Saint Emilion).  I was fearful that the town would be as packed with tourists as it had been on my first visit.  Crowded it was, but not nearly so congested to preclude finding a cramped place to park (town center) and start a walking tour of this ancient French settlement. 


Considering the sacred nature of Sunday for the French, numerous retailers and restaurants were opened.  We visited several wine shops, some of which displayed bottles from the nearby great properties, but mostly offered vintages from hundreds of virtually unknown “Mom & Pop” vineyards.  Most were very reasonably priced (7 to 25 Euros per bottle), with no way of determining drinkability characteristics without consulting the merchants in each store.  It was amusing that the shops which seemed to sell the most bottles were those with a pretty girl or two in charge of customer interaction.  Funny how that works…   We made some purchases for our evening dinners “back home,” beginning that evening.  Throughout the week, we sampled various wines from St. E.  All (vintages from 2002 to 2009) proved compelling, with distinguishing mineral-infused flavors of the Merlot, Cabernet Franc and other blending varietals of surrounding vineyards.  The quality of these inexpensive vins was an unexpected treat.


By mid-afternoon we were hungry and looked for a reasonable place to dine.  We spotted a restaurant with interesting fare and scenic seating in a plaza area near St. Emilion’s Monolithic Cathedral.  A shady table was available, so we sat and ordered a light lunch, not wishing to overshadow the five course feast planned for that evening back at Chateau La Roque.  Everyone needed the rest, because there were noticeable remnants of jet-lag still affecting each of us.  From that plaza, a vast array of sights were available, including bird’s-eye views of the town’s winding stone streets and its surrounding countryside. 

I now regret we did not tour the cathedral, after recently learning that it was as much a sub-surface limestone sculpted excavation as the portion built above ground.  This explains the lines of people entering and exiting at all times of the day.  The town was named after “Émilion,” a travelling confessor, who settled in a spring-fed hermitage carved into the rock atop the hill there in the 8th century.   The monks who followed him started commercial wine production in the region.  The cathedral took nearly 500 years to complete.

Walking back to the car, we ventured into many of the shops, completing our wine and souvenir purchases for the day.  I started the car and required some assistance from Dave and Calvin in determining how far I could back up before crashing into a building or some other structure.  It was not a typical retail center parking lay-out, even for the French.  The trip home was beautiful, with the sun in its evening setting casting a golden glow onto the buildings and vineyards.  We decided to stop in at Carrefour to acquire some additional items we missed in the previous evening’s adventure.  Having patterned itself after the always opened super-markets of the USA, this store would surely be operating on Sunday, right?  Wrong!  Outside of a few opened “petrol” stations and “tabacs,” the town’s sidewalks had been rolled up tightly.

Our disappointment melted away as we drove up the gravel driveway to Chateau La Roque.  Christophe’s van was parked at the top.  He had the key to the place and was inside preparing our evening meal.  It was a tantalizing treat walking inside, with smells of our dinner wafting through adjacent rooms to the kitchen.  The first night was to be one of the two, five course meals he would create for us.  Having seen his initial planned menu before our journey, I responded with a request for fresh steamed vegetables to be added, in lieu of some of the more fat-laden creations that the French enjoy.  The small tweak was barely noticed, and with his skillful preparation, appreciated by everyone.  Christophe was a friendly yet quiet fellow, willing to talk when asked questions, but tending to stick to the business at hand.  Emails were checked and wine was sipped until the first course for the evening was ready and served.  From there, the controlled pace of the meal flowed from one course to the next.  I did not document all the dishes served throughout the week (sorry, Sally), but damn, that fellow could cook. We sat around the table and discussed the events of the day, sipping nice wine and savoring this repast, as if kings in a castle. 

Anticipation was high for what was ahead of us on our first day of wine adventures.  Because of the distances between properties in greater Bordeaux, I tried to group our visits so that we could stay in an area for the entire day.  Our first would be spent in the regions of Sauternes, Graves and Pessac-Léognan, to the south of the city of Bordeaux.  The first appointment was at 9 in the morning, and I judged that we should depart at 7 am., just to be safe.  This proved well founded, as will be chronicled in the next chapter.  Again, we were ready for bed just as Christophe had cleaned the kitchen and packed-up his utensils for home.


Saint Emilion Monolithic Cathedral
(No website available) 

Carrefour Markets

Chateau La Roque

Christophe Rohmer

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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