The day begins with sad news: Christine Valette passed away overnight. The grande dame of Troplong-Mondot had been fighting illness for many years.
Last year it was Catherine Péré-Vergé; another great woman has left us this year.
Since taking over the family estate with her husband, Christine Valette had raised the cru to the highest level of its appellation. Her last creation, “Les Belles Perdrix”, the table d’hôtes where we had dinner last night is a model of good taste and refinement. I only met Madame Valette once, last year.
One may pile on all the usual clichés; say that she has gone up to the vineyards of the Lord. I prefer to bring to mind the title of a book by Derrida, Chaque fois unique, la fin du monde (literally, The end of the world, unique each time)*
The criteria of beauty
In Bellfont-Belcier, the reception rooms had been set up elegantly for the tasting of the Grand Cercle, which now includes the Left and the Right Banks.
I have one hour before my first meeting; time to cross the park on the south side in the morning mist, and to prepare my taste buds for about fifteen wines.
These first impressions are important; they draw the contours of an image, still vague, and which becomes clearer as the tastings proceed: the image of the vintage. Or the map of a country, half real, half invented, which one draws based on more-or-less stable and reliable signs (in this case the samples on offer), and on the tales of travellers, each with their subjectivity, projections and hopes; a bit like “A Mapmaker’s Dream”, the novel by James Cowan.
A little further up I find François Mitjaville on his mound. Here, the tasting always starts with a short presentation in the grand hall with its opalescent panelling. Two interns, Thomas and Caroline, help with the presentation of the vintage by a François Mitjaville in great form and fundamentally unruffled despite the apocalyptic picture he paints of 2013: “A cold and damp spring; blooming in dreadful conditions, with a horrible colour; a relatively warm month of July…this is very important as this is the month that starts the forecast reflexes about summer draughts, the falling reserves and resistance to winter; very late harvests, rain, rot, at full throttle. We saved the harvest in a state of maturing that I love!”
Like a self-assured magician (and he will prove it later on with the tasting of three astonishing wines; Domaine de Cambes, Roc de Cambes, and Tertre Roteboeuf) François even adds, ironically: “according to Denis Dubourdieu, the five conditions needed to define a great vintage are the safeguarding need to know and master life through reasoning. Hard cheese, that’s not it! Reasoning is all good and well, it is useful to build refrigerators and all that…”
On the bucolic road to Sainte-Colombe, I listen to “Ramada Inn” by Neil Young. Almost like an overdub, with a slight echo, I can still hear the voice of the philosopher on his rock, backing up his reasoning and evoking the typicality of Bordeaux, “this mugginess, this marinade that somewhat downgrades the tannins under the Gulf Stream, tannins that express themselves through depth of flavour and beautifully aromatic dynamics…”
This 2013 calls for humility
Do you enjoy bashing? This golfing term has dominated the net of late, in discussions about Bordeaux.
Who is responsible? Stéphane Derenoncourt, who, following the decision not to date Château Malescasse (where he is a consultant), was brave enough to give his opinion of the 2013 vintage in an interview to the French newspaper Le Figaro? Outcries were heard in the usually muted drawing rooms of the châteaux. On the net, some compared him to a doctor called to attend a sick patient, and who recommends immediate euthanasia. The hunt had begun!
Let us read the text again. What does the famous consultant say in substance? He speaks of 1992, of nature that is sometimes stronger than us, of humility: “Let me describe things as they are. If you ask me about the quality of the 2013 vintage, I will tell you that it is average, and sometimes mediocre. Of course, some areas have been more favoured; not all of Bordeaux is bad.” One may ask whether it is not this type of humility (anything but a Bordeaux virtue) that so upsets the gloomy people of the Aquitaine. This should not come as a surprise: disingenuousness dominates, and I have a feeling we will hear more stonewalling in the course of the week…
A few days ago, we had the pleasure to welcome Christine and Stéphane Derenoncourt at CAVE for a rare tasting of the wines of Domaine de l’A, their own estate started in 1999 and which I had not yet visited.
After a tour of the vineyards – “where I love to come and recharge my batteries” says Stéphane, – we visited the fermenting room and the splendid arch of the warehouse where the wine is aged, a place full of good vibes.
Not only for the wines and people who visit, but also for the Gascon black ham that found its ideal abode right there. The latter is the work of Patrick Duler, farmer, breeder of truffles and preserver of ham, master in the art of foie gras, who incarnates the ideal host in his estate of Saint-Géry in Lascabanes, in the Quercy region. Together with a few winemakers (Stéphane Derenoncourt, Eloi Dürbach, Thierry Germain, Anselme Selosse…), Patrick Duler tried an unusual experiment: to cure hams next to great wines.
The day comes to an end. Goodbye calves, cows, pigs, and hams. We need to get to Lignan-de-Bordeaux before nightfall! We’re headed there to see this hidden wonder: the castle of Isle-Fort, where Sylvie Douce and François Jeantet produce one of the most delightful Bordeaux wines! A place worthy of Virgil, with its secret valley of 200 acres, its meandering meadows, the hillside vineyards, and the river Isle further down, where fishes are as quick as lightening. Without forgetting the castle, where King Henri IV, though baptized with Jurançon wine, loved to stop and enjoy the exquisite libations offered by Bordeaux.
*NB: included in the expanded 2003 French version of The Work of Mourning (Chicago & London: Chicago University Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-226-14281-4).
Translation : Alex Limpach