Partying at Vinexpo
- Monday 1 September 2003
The storm at Chateau La Gaffelière
It was a dark, stormy night on Tuesday 24 June when I arrived very late for the premiers grands crus classés 'Millésimes de Collection' dinner in St-Emilion. An already threatening sky had turned black, torrential rain was falling and something like a tornado was buffeting the car as I turned into the drive at Chateau La Gaffelière to be met by a scene of destruction: the power of the rain had broken the middle of the marquee, through which the wind had torn, turning over tables set with Limoges china and Riedel glasses. Decanter's Sarah Kemp had just been saved from a falling strut by David Elswood of Christie's, yet no one, in dinner jackets and female finery, had been hurt.
After a few minutes, while Leo de Malet-Roquefort consoled his guests, Eric d'Aramon of Château Figeac and president of the Groupement des Premiers, marshalled his troops. With a glass and napkin in our hands, we filed down into the cellars. The kitchen tent of a starry chef had been destroyed, spoiling the entire dinner – from Crumble de Foie Gras to Fraises des Bois Mara – except for the cheese.
Standing up, chatting cheerfully while eating bread and cheese with our fingers and appreciating wines from the 12 different châteaux in vintages from 1998 to 1953, this party will be talked about after other Vinexpo evenings have faded from memory.
Vinexpo, the bi-annual wine fair held on the outskirts of Bordeaux since 1979, is by far the largest in the world and has already spawned VinexpoAsia and VinexpoUSA, held when the Bordelais take the year off. Good, convenient hotels must be booked a year in advance and invitations for the six evenings – for those who stay the course – begin arriving in January for June.
In recent years I have stuck to a pattern that always begins with the tasting/dinner given by the grands crus classés de Graves (since 1986 Pessac-Léognan) on the evening before the fair opens. This time they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1953 classification at Château Couhins-Lurton, which the redoubtable André Lurton of the unclassified La Louvière had saved from the developers in the late 1960s.
At the tasting, the 2001 vintage was presented, excellent for whites and good for reds, followed by older wines at dinner, especially a remarkable Couhins-Lurton 1967 which reminded one how well the whites age.
The second evening was the diner des grands crus classés du Médoc en 1855, held for the international press, which alternates between the premiers crus of the Médoc and Haut-Brion.
Held at Château Margaux this year, we drank Krug 1988, in my view the greatest Champagne of that vintage, while the vast trees in the park did their best to shelter us from 40?C temperatures. There were 30 tables at dinner, two châteaux on each, showing wines from 1990 and 1985 (my table was Lascombes and d'Armailhac). Everyone then enjoyed Margaux 1983 and d'Yquem 1986, both superb and at the peak of what will be a longer life, for everyone.
At Couhins-Lurton there had been classical music before and Afro-jazz after dinner and Corinne Mentzelopoulos continued the theme with a concert in the cellars by renowned gospel singer Liz McComb. Three hours later, stunned by her voice and soothed by more Margaux 1983, I remarked to Paul Pontallier of Margaux and Patrick Léon of Mouton Rothschild that perhaps every 2002 should be exposed to such music.
'It would only do them good,' they agreed.
The third evening is 'free', and I usually go to Domaine de Chevalier for Olivier and Anne Bernard's 'Tour de France des Appellations'. This begins with Pol Roger and is followed on a help-yourself basis with wines from their friends Alphonse Mellot, François Faiveley, Jean-Jacques Vincent, Anne-Claude Leflaive, Olivier Leflaive, Michel Jaboulet and Leonard Zind-Humbrecht from top vineyards and vintages.
Tasting books are provided, with my writing deteriorating a little as the hours pass.
The fourth evening was the memorable wine and cheese party in St-Emilion and my choice for the fifth is always the Gardinier family's 'Feux de St-Jean' get-together at Château Phélan-Ségur. Nobody is more generous than the patriarchal Xavier Gardinier: magnums of Billecart-Salmon were followed by magnums of Pascal Jolivet's 2001 Sancerre and magnums of Phélan-Ségur 1998 with Bavarian beef. Such is the ambience chez Gardinier, that a party from Latour came over to join the dancing into the early hours.
The sixth evening is the Fête de la Fleur, this year at Mouton Rothschild, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the purchase of the château by Baron Nathaniel. Only first growths were served for the 2,000 guests: white Haut-Brion 1999, Margaux 1996, Mouton Rothschild 1982 and Coutet 1989 and musical entertainment was by Placido Domingo. But I was already back in London, exhausted.
See Decanter's coverage of Vinexpo 2009.
Steven Spurrier is Decanter's consultant editor and a renowned taster