An early start on Monday morning to see the new winery at Faugères in St Emilion.
Modern architecture is all too rare in Bordeaux, so I was happy that owner Silvio Denz showed me round this elegant example .
Then I drove back into St Emilion, where I spotted the American journalist Eric Riewer striding up the steep lane to Ausone.
I went in hot pursuit. He had an appointment and I didn’t, so I snuck in under his coat-tails. Ausone’s owner Alain Vauthier affected disapproval of my gate-crashing, but didn’t bar my way.
His daughter Pauline assured me the wines were in excellent balance, despite my concerns about their approachability.
Moreover it was clear that Ausone itself, and its second wine, were beautifully structured, as well as being strikingly perfumed and stylish. ‘We didn’t pick especially late, as we didn’t want jammy flavours.
The alcohol was over 14%, but that’s normal here, and the acidity was excellent too.’ I was bowled over by the wines.
I then went to the Thunevin tasting in the village. Jean-Luc Thunevin told me, as we tasted his Valandraud: ‘We did pick late, being high up. This late harvesting actually concentrated the acidity, though I’m not sure why.’
Nearby James Suckling of the Wine Spectator had set up his computer on a vacant table, and his comely assistant was pouring the wines for him.
I greeted him and was treated to a hug. Suckling these days is an honorary Italian, since he has long lived in Tuscany.
We’ve known each other for 25 years, so I appreciated the hug, but also worried that it might be a Mafia code that foretold my imminent demise.
In the next room Peter Sisseck was pouring the new vintage of Pingus, which outprices some of the grandest Bordeaux.
He is now making wines in Bordeaux as well as Spain, so he had a view on the vintage.
He observed: ‘I know you worry that the wines are so accessible now, but that’s the beauty of the vintage. You didn’t need to extract vast amounts of colour and tannin. Nature did it for you, and I suspect the best wines will prove to be the ones that don’t have enormous tannins and extraction. It’s a vintage that resembles 1982, only most wines are much better made.’
Having booked myself into three lunches – not out of greed but because I don’t know a month in advance where I will find myself at noon – I settled on La Conseillante, a wine that makes me sink to my knees with rapture.
Top vintages since 1989 were being poured, so I rooted among those before nibbling away at the buffet.
Then off to Sauternes to taste the 2009s – certainly very good, but perhaps not at the same level as the spectacular 2001 and 2007 vintages.
Chateau Climens, which blends very late, doesn’t show its wines at the public tastings, but is happy to let visitors taste different pickings directly from barrel.
It’s always fascinating to see the components from which a truly great Sauternes is put together. And I grudgingly admire Climens’ refusal to cobble together an approximate sample for the official Sauternes tasting.
The inaugural dinner (although my third) was at La Dominique in St Emilion. In his welcoming speech, the owner Clément Fayat, told us, if I understood him correctly, how many zillions of Euros he was worth and how many zillions of people he employed.
Sylvie Cazes, the president of the organizing body, the Union des Grands Crus, announced triumphantly that a record number of visitors were attending this year.
Indeed 220 journalists had requested accreditation; only 120 had been granted it, so presumably the remaining 100, probably mostly (ahem) bloggers, were floating around on their own.
There is no seating plan at these splendid dinners, so subtle maneuvering is required to ensure (a) that you are seated among good company, and (b) that you are near proprietors who have brought along outstanding bottles.
At my table Thierry Manoncourt’s daughter ensured a steady supply of 1999 Figeac, Sophie Schÿler kept the Kirwan flowing, and some discreet lobbying of Alexandre de Lur-Saluces at the next table provide ample great Sauternes at the end of the evening.
It was my journalistic duty to pump the proprietors for information on the latest rumours, such as the probable sale of Phélan-Ségur in St Estephe and Troplong-Mondot in St Emilion.
Despite official denials, reading between the lines – or glasses – suggested the rumours were likely to be true.
I was spending the night at Ch Grand-Mayne in St Emilion, and since my hostess, the always charming Madame Nony, had volunteered to take the wheel, I drank a few extra ‘units’, though perhaps not quite as many as the American journalist who told me she had successfully wangled a lunch invitation from M. de Lur-Saluces.