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bordeaux avec mes amis —trois

by Jon Rusciano

My alarm startled me from an on/off slumber.  All the lights were out in everyone’s rooms, so I walked down the hallway knocking on doors, awaiting groaning sounds which acknowledged awakening, before descending the stairway to turn on the coffee maker in the kitchen.  We were packed-up and road-ready before 7 am.  Ms. G was programmed for our first stop, Chateau d’Yquem in Sauternes.  Departing home, everything appeared fine.  Yet, once on the road for several minutes, the roadmap images left her screen, indicating only an arrow in the direction of travel.  No voice commands for turning preparations sounded.  Ms. G was in the midst of a meltdown.  This was soooo not the time for these antics.  Fortunately Bob’s I-phone had been adapted for France, his GPS was working and our first stop was in its data base.  Bob called out the turns and distances, so we were saved.  Ms. G was turned off, yet I was fearful that portions of our week’s trip could be compromised.  The confusion (and my tirade of unkind words to Ms. G and her creators) wasted at least a half hour of time, and considering the distance involved to Yquem, the journey’s duration was a bit more “snug” than I would have hoped.

Similar to my first trip there, GPS coordinates do guide the way to the property, but just not its proper entrance.  After consulting in sign language to a vineyard-tending tractor driver, we were directed to the proper path.  The morning’s cloud cover was burning off, and the day started to look brighter in several ways.  We were greeted by assistant winemaker David Marc, who would give us the tour.  The grounds were as beautiful as I had remembered in the early morning sunlight.  He explained that it was indeed a good day to visit, because the property typically experiences around 92 days per year of dense humid fog.  The guys were amazed as we walked around the Chateau/castle, which was originally constructed in the 14th century.  We learned it had been utilized as a military hospital in the First World War.

Much like other vineyards, the 2009 growing season had yielded the most high quality fruit since the last great year of 2001.  Unfortunately, the 2012 season’s crop was so poor that the owners (corporate Luis Vitton) opted not  to produce wine, selling the inferior grapes in bulk to other producers.   We toured the fermenting vats and the barrel rooms, which were lacking the previous year’s vintage.  Then it was time for the highlight, our tasting.  Due to some on-going remodeling construction to their tasting room, we were directed over to the banquet hall, where we were offered full pours of the 2007 vintage.  Although somewhat young, light honeysuckle and floral fragrances wafted up from our glasses with flavors of fresh apricot, peach and orange emerging as the “Nectar of the Gods” touched our tongues.  It was a shame that we had no strong cheese to sample between sips, because the sweet, almost syrupy nature of this 20% alcohol potion tended to overpower the taste buds without proper sensory reprogramming.  We had a long way to travel before encountering our next stop, so I must admit, I did inhale.

As we loaded up the vehicle, I pulled out Ms. G again to give her another chance to perform.  The down-time provided a chance for her circuitry to reboot, and full functions returned, allowing me to carefully program the coordinates to our next stop.  As we came near Chateau Haut Bailly a certain familiarity of the surroundings came over me.   Turns out the property is a close neighbor of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, our final stop of the day. 

We did arrive early and walked up to the reception area as our host Anne Sophie was finishing a tour with another group.  After asking my name, she acknowledged that she would be our host, offering our joining her tourist group for tasting at the beginning of the tour.  This sounded fine, since our next stop was nestled inside the busy city limits of Bordeaux, and we needed time to eat the lunch we had packed.  Thus, she wrangled with two languages, tending both groups.  It worked well.


We tasted two wines.  The first was a 2008 vintage of the second label called La Parde de Haut Bailly, which was mostly Merlot and in my opinion needing several more years before becoming approachable.  The nose was ripe with a tannic smoky berry flavor.  I sipped, swirled and spit. My interest was focused on the Grand Vin.  We were poured a nice portion of the 2008 vintage; one which Robert Parker indicates is ready for consumption.  Bowing to his superior expertise in tasting, I still believed this wine needed additional time in the bottle.  The nose was fragrant, with dark fruit and smoky spice.  Tannins were approachable but a bit too biting for my ultimate enjoyment.  Parker rated this wine with a 96 score.  I chose this winery because I had purchased futures of their 2009 vintage, rated at 98+.  Based on this tasting experience, I was hopeful, but not intending to open my bottles for another 5 years.

After the tasting, the other group parted, and Anne Sophie was all ours.  She explained that the winery was originally established in 1630, and since 1955, the current family owner (Robert Wilmers, banker from Buffalo, NY) remains directly involved in the business.  The property supports 30 hectares of vines, 4 of which are premium producers, always utilized in the first label.

At the conclusion of the tour of the winery and property, we were offered to privately taste the 2002, 2009 and 2010 vintages.  (Hmmm…. OK!)  Anne Sophie led us up to a quaint second story tasting room, different than the one we had shared with the larger group.  (Yes, writing for Sally’s Place does have its advantages.)   I still feel privileged when such preferential treatment is received.  The 2002 was much more balanced and smooth, even though RP rated at only 90 points.  Age does make a difference.   Although still youthful, the 2009 (60% Cabernet, 37% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc) was similarly styled to the 2008, yet richer in character and silky, with a long finish.  There should be some great bottles in my cellar, once my futures all arrive.  The sister 2010 (RP-98), seemed to contain a bit more alcohol, and a touch less complexity than the 09.  Truthfully, I would be proud to own either of those two classic vintages.  We descended to the main patio greeting area and thanked our gracious hostess for her kind treatment.  She seemed uncertain if we had sampled their vintages sufficiently.  I assured her that indeed we had.

I programmed Ms. G for our next stop, and drove away into the sunny late morning horizon.  The balance of the day proved as memorable as the first had been.  It will be described in my next segment.  Stay tuned.

Chateau d’Yquem

Chateau Haut Bailly


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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