Monday, May 18, 2009

Join the Party at Chateau Monlot, St. Emilion, France (Saturday, May 2, 2009)

My husband and I arrived in Bordeaux on May 2 at 4:40 in the afternoon to a sunny warm 70F degree day. After leaving rainy San Francisco yesterday (May 1) and the long flight to Amsterdam, it was a pleasure to finally arrive at our destination. However, as we exited the plane we were informed that all Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans had to report to security and fill out forms on the swine flu. Despite that small set-back we found our diesel car at Hertz and managed to drive to our hotel, the Chateau Monlot, in less than the hour that Google Map told us it would take. The drive was pleasant, with very little traffic, and the sky was a clear blue with green leaves unfurling in the small vineyards along the way.

As we approached the ancient town of St. Emilion, our directions finally gave out and we found ourselves lost in a maze of tiny roads winding through the vineyards. We had attempted to rent a GPS as last year’s candidate, Robin Langton, had suggested, but Hertz refused this request because we were returning the car to the Bordeaux airport before their office opened due to a 6:15am departure time on May 9. Fortunately Portes Ouvertes was going on in St. Emilion that weekend, so we saw many small red signs along the road pointing the way to wineries -- and then we saw one for our hotel, Chateau Monlot. That’s when we realized our hotel was also a winery! Portes Ouvertes, by the way, means “Doors Open,” and this weekend was winery open house in St. Emilion. How very fortunate!

So when we arrived at Chateau Monlot – a lovely old yellow limestone manor house in the vineyards 5k from St. Emilion, we found the owner, Bernard, holding a wine party in the garden. We were promptly invited to join as soon as we settled into our charming room on the second floor with private bath overlooking the back gardens and vineyards. Back in the wine garden, we were introduced to other guests visiting from the UK, USA, and Holland, and then were handed multiple glasses of wonderful estate wine – made primarily from merlot (90%) with 10% cabernet sauvignon. The AOC is St. Emilion Grand Cru and the wines showed refined tannins, dark fruit, and elegance. Very nice! We tasted through vintages 2003 – 2007, and found them all to be quite different. Some people preferred the more pronounced and chewy tannins of the 2007; whereas others expressed admiration for the fruit forward softer structure of 2003. The 2005 was massive and serious.

Around 7:30pm people started making dinner plans and we were invited to go to dinner with several other guests, but declined because we wanted to spend a romantic evening alone. So we headed into St. Emilion, found a parking place, and wandered along the amazing cobblestone streets admiring the views of the hills, church, and ancient structures. Reading menus we tried to find a table at 3 different restaurants, but they were all “complet” due to the holiday weekend. Eventually someone told us to try La Cote Brassie which was a charming place nestled in a yellow limestone cave with tiny candle lit tables. We ordered the $22 Euro prix fixe, which was an amazing deal: 4 courses, beginning with foie gras, then escargot, roasted duck breast, and then a salad and cheese plate for dessert. We shared a class of Sauternes to go with the foie gras, but made the mistake of ordering the very sad and insipid reserve house merlot for dinner. Though the wine did improve slightly by the third course, we made a vow to spend more money on good wine at the next meal.

Walking back to our car through the deserted winding streets was very romantic with a half-full moon and the sky full of stars. Of course, we got lost on the short drive back to the chateau because the streets are primarily one-way in St. Emilion and they forced us to leave the town in the opposite direction from which we entered. Fortunately we found some more of the small red Portes Ouvertes signs and eventually made it back to our hotel around 10:30pm.

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