Buying wine in Bordeaux and Rioja
Last year at this time we took a trip by car through Germany and Alsace, coming back with enough white wine to last us for a few years. This year, we thought we’d better redress the balance by visiting red wine areas. Accordingly, we have just returned from a trip to Bordeaux and Rioja, with a short deviation to Muscadet (a white wine area) en route.
Before Muscadet we stopped off at the Rance hydroelectric barrage near St Malo – well, you can’t expect a couple of engineers to miss that. It is one of only two such barrages in the world and has been in operation since 1967. We’ve both seen it before, and even been round EdF’s very good interpretation centre on previous occasions, but we felt another look was warranted in view of the fact that a similar barrage across the River Severn is once again being proposed. As with so many other forms of renewable energy, there are adverse environmental impacts associated with the barrage as well as positive effects, but after five decades it’s hard to disagree with EdF’s conclusion that both the wildlife and fauna, and the humans in the area (fishermen, the tourism industry, local inhabitants, tourists) have adapted and found a new balance. Yes, the salinity and water levels of the Rance estuary have altered, and there is some inconvenience for water-users associated with the physical presence of the barrage, but to me that is a small price to pay for a clean, renewable, low-cost energy supply sufficient for the needs of 250,000 households.
There are some interesting things happening in Muscadet. A substantial proportion of producers have gone out of business in the last 10-15 years and those that are left are, understandably, trying to raise the quality of their output so as to compete more effectively, particularly in the important British market. We talked to one such producer, Château de la Galissonnière in Le Pallet. As well as making their own wines, including some very acceptable sur lie and more innovative offerings such as a sparkling wine and a late harvest sweetie, they contribute (in grapes, time and expertise) to the Le Pallet commune wine, Jubilation. This is one of three communes that are raising their game by producing a communal wine that is better than traditional Muscadet, without being so radically different that it is unrecognisable as such. The Le Pallet Jubilation 2009 has been commended by Jancis Robinson, no less. We bought a bottle of that vintage, but won’t be drinking it until it has settled down after its journey here via Spain and a ferry across the Bay of Biscay.
After Muscadet we headed to Blaye to stock up with reasonably priced red wine and then took over a Cru Bourgeois chateau in the Medoc with 10 friends for three nights. We had three tastings at other Bordeaux chateaux while we were there, two of which were Second Growth (the second to highest in the 1855 classification which still pertains in the Medoc) and the third was Fifth Growth, the level above Cru Bourgeois. Each of these chateaux did things slightly differently in terms of viticulture and/or vinification and maturation, and each (of course) was convinced that its way was the best. This just serves to convince me that, the more I learn about wine – and it’s nearly 20 years since I passed the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Diploma, a qualification that is intended for the trade and involves tasting as well as written exams – the more there is to know.
Then we crossed the border into Spain and picked up some good value wine in Rioja. While we were at it, we had a look at a couple of the new architectural wonders of the Rioja Alavesa, Bodega Marqués de Riscal, which has an attached hotel designed by Frank Gehry and Bodega Ysios where the extraordinary winery is Santiago Calatrava’s work. Both look rather incongruous, to my mind, in their rural settings, although the Gehry building is at the edge of a village and is perhaps less of a shock than the Calatrava one which sits in splendid isolation.
We caught the ferry back to England from Bilbao, which gave the opportunity to see another Gehry building, the Guggenheim art gallery.
I was disappointed that none of the permanent collection is on show at present, but there was a big Jeff Koons exhibition across two floors. I’ve always rather liked Koons’s kitsch sculptures, and I certainly had my fill of them on this visit. Unfortunately, the Gugg only allowed photos of a small number of them, but one of those was the famous Balloon Dog – or should I say one of the Balloon Dogs, Mr Koons never misses an opportunity to capitalise on his talent and has sold a number of them.
The second Adrift
My linen-and-cotton Adrift cardi is done, it just needs to be blocked. I went to Yarndale and bought some scrumptious yarn for winter jumpers that I can’t wait to get started on, but I’m going to knit a pair of socks while I’m deciding what patterns to use.
Yarndale was fabulous – really well organised. Everyone I know who went appreciated the plentiful seating areas. It was great to be able to have a quick sit down every hour or so to gather one’s wits, chat to fellow knitters and look at what everyone else had found to buy. Skipton auction mart was heaving with people, 99% female, but everyone was in a friendly and excited mood. What a great day! Full credit to the team who organised the festival in this, its third, year.