Monday, May 18, 2009

Another Sunny (and Lazy) Day in St. Emilion (Sunday, May 3, 2009)

We slept well and enjoyed listening to the crickets and frogs outside of our window. Breakfast is included in the rate of $98 Euros per night to stay at Chateau Monlot, so we headed downsides to the charming dining room where we feasted on good coffee and too many fresh and heavenly croissants of every type. Bernard, the owner, joined us and invited us to join his family for lunch at 1pm, as well as a tour of the wine cellars. What a friendly place! We gladly accepted.

Next we wandered around the sunny grounds of the chateau taking pictures, and then Phillipe – the resident intern from North Carolina who is studying in Bordeaux to learn how to make wine so he can return to North Carolina and start his own winery – took us on a short tour of the vineyards. They are using double guyot on taller and wider spacing here – around 1.5 by 1.5 with primarily clay and sand soils. The vines had a small number of green leaves and just the beginning of clusters, but bloom is still a month or more away. He said they get about 45 hectoliters per hectare (3 tons per acre) – which is the St. Emilion Grand Cru limit. This winery is located in the St. Emilion Grand Cru AOC, rather than the St. Emilion AOC – however, it does not fall into the classifications for Premier Grand Cru Classe A, B, or one of the 55 Grand Cru Classe. For my friends outside of the wine industry, this concept is usually quite confusing – because many people get St. Emilion Grand Cru AOC confused with St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe.

After that we drove about 10 minutes to Pomerol and were able to located Chateau Petite Village where we taste tomorrow. On the way we passed Cheval Blanc, which is on the border of St. Emilion and Pomerol. We also located Chateau Figeac hidden on a knoll in some trees across from Cheval Blanc. It is one of the oldest and largest estates – dating from Roman times, and we will taste there tomorrow afternoon. It makes me sleep easier if I know where we are going the next day.

Arriving back at Chateau Monlot at 1pm, we were ushered into the garden where a lovely table was set out under the magnolia tree for lunch. We met Bernard’s beautiful wife and daughter, and were also joined by Andre the winemaker, Phillipe, the intern, and another couple visiting from London – both in finance and over for the weekend. I always get jealous when I hear of the European lifestyle of jetting to London, Rome, Vienna, or St. Tropez for the weekend. Must be nice! Anyway, we had a long, lazy delightful lunch of 3.5 hours chatting under blue skies and drinking many of Bernard’s wonderful wines. Most everyone spoke English, and we also did a few translations.

We began with a refreshing white Bordeaux from Entre-Deux-Mers with peanuts and chips as an aperitif. The first course was pork pate prepared by Beatrice, Bernard’s wife, and we had it with a high acid sweet Cadillac, which seemed to have an interesting hint of pine on the finish. The main course was lamprois – a local specialty of melt-in-your-mouth river eel from the Garonne. At first my stomach turned a bit when I realized I would be eating a huge “snake,” but it was cooked in red wine with leeks and was quite tasty. It reminded me of slow-cooked short ribs. The color was very dark – almost black – but it was very filling and paired quite well with the earthy merlot wines. Third course was an amazing platter of 4 different local cheeses. This was followed by a pear tart with espresso. The conversation was lively and intelligent, ranging from wine, art, finance, and philosophy. Andre, the winemaker, was able to describe the process of creating the reserve Ch. Monlot 2005 for which they have won several gold medals.

After lunch, we toured the cellars and saw the large cement fermentation tanks, as well as the stainless blending tanks, and the barrel room. They also use basket presses and crusher-destemmer. Phillipe said all grapes are destemmed before using a commercial yeast for fermentation, which lasts approximately one week.

Though we had meant to visit other Open Door wineries in St. Emilion, not surprisingly after the long lunch, we took a one hour nap. Refreshed, we headed back into St. Emilion to wander around and look at all of the ancient structures. We visited the fortress, bell tower, the church and took photos of the famous arch. Eventually we settled down for a light dinner in the main tourist plaza in a small outdoor bistro under the large church tower. Starting with a glass of Cremant de Bordeaux, I quickly switched to a local rose to match my wonderful salad of warm goat cheese with local ham. I think the Cremant was a mixture of sauvignon blanc, Semillon and muscadelle – it tasted like a bubbly white Bordeaux, but had a sweet finish. Not to my taste. Next time I might try a sparkling rose. This was my first time to try a Cremant from Bordeaux. I’ve never seen them in the States where we seem to sell more Cremant de Bourgogne, Loire, or Limoux.

Heading back to our chateau around 9pm, we were surprised to see a lovely pink sunset. It gets dark rather late here, but it was a beautiful ending to a long, lazy, sunny, and perfect day in St. Emilion.

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