Friday, June 26, 2009

Will I still speak with you?

Or la di da to me! Gosh, not talking to you?! For me that would be wrist-slitting time!

OK so today was the other planned highlight of our week back in Bordeaux, for today is the day we are going to Le Médoc to visit Château Mouton-Rothschild. Our appointment is for 10 am so it is an early start on the 7:30 am ferry. Today is overcast and a little cooler - much more to my liking! No time for breakfast before we go, so once on the peninsula we drive down to Paulliac on the coast for coffee and criossants. Then we visit a local vin shop that sells all sorts of regional produce and local wines from a couple of euro each up to €1584 per bottle. I bought a bottle of Pastis Citron - sounded interesting - I'll let you know what it's like Fliss.

The last lot of my whisky has reached Australia and again, there is duty and tax payable. I got Gen to scan the letter for me and there is a statement on the bottom of the letter advising 'Postal gift concession for alcohol revoked 1 September 2008' so I won't bother to send too much more home.

The road to Paulliac is locally dubbed 'the Château road' due to the countless chateaux that face it from both sides of the road. This one Château Pinchon-Baron is probably one of the ones with the best street view and epitomises the grace of these estates, but there are literally countless others - all with immaculate lawns and gardens and beautifully kept buildings. I guess if you have a chateau (translated as a castle without a keep) on Le Medoc then you also have the means to upkeep it.

We pass the daily life of Le Médoc. There is machinery amoungst the vines, huge tractors with beams that cover up to five rows, spraying, or tilling the soil. Then there are also lots of manual workers whose main job at the moment is to remove by hand any leaves that cover the grapes, ensuring that all the grapes are exposed to the maximum possible sunshine. It seems strange that they discard the leaves to mulch rather than market them for culinary purposes (think dolmades!).

We have been slowly making our way through these chateaux to Château Mouton-Rosthchild. Our guided tour is booked for 10 am and when we arrive there is only two other cars in the car park. This is very neat - so neat that it kind of looks like a raked Japanese garden!

And the visitor centre is nowhere to be seen, hidden behind gardens. Not sure why, it is a beautifully appointed building in it's own right. But the gardens are beautiful with lots of herbs and flowers. There are one or two I can't identify - and neither can anyone else I ask. There has been a mix-up in the bookngs and the château were expecting us yesterday, however, after a few hurried phone calls, the girls at reception manage to find us an English speaking guide and off we set.

Now, Mouton Rothschild is one of the premier wine estates in Le Médoc. From humble beginnings in 1853, the Rothschild family has built an incredible empire based around the wine made from the grapes grown on their properties. Our guide takes us on a tour that includes an introductory video on a 3D screen, an explanation of the history, a tour of a representative grape plot (where the plot size of the crop is proportionate to the precentage grown on the estate), a tour of the new and old cellars and a quick dash into the 100m Barrel Hall which was being set up for a dinner. And because half of our little group are wine makers or agents, we get to listen to them quiz the guide on the technical aspects of the setup which was very interesting.

But the highlight of the tour for us is a visit to the Wine in Art Museum. The museum at Château Mouton Rothschild was opened by the Baron Philippe de Rothschild in 1962. It features art displays including Persian beakers from the eighth and ninth centuries BC, Alsace tapestries, Ming vases, Delft pottery, Venetian glasswork and works by modern artists. The main hall is a former cellar. This museum is an amazing collection. While not accessible to the population at large, the family is to be commended that they make this amazing collection available to visitors to the Château. Phillipe Rothschild began the collection and his daughter Phillipina now continues the collection. They are very philanthropic in the Arts with many Rothschild collections in Europes greatest galleries. And the there are the artist labels where leading artists and other notable people are commissioned to paint the artwork for the Mouton Rothschild vintage each year.

Once we had drooled sufficiently in the museum (and felt the eyes of Chinese traders in one tapestry follow our every move!) we returned to the visitor centre where we got to taste the 2008 vintage - nice and full bodied with complex berry tones, but still carrying too much tanin - a good ager up to 10 years. I am told the average year's produce needs 10 years, but a great year needs 20 - go figure!! (help please Brian)

Then it was back to Paulliac and lunch at Le Salamandre. The clouds were really beginning to roll in and the air pressure was dropping quickly - a sure sign of rain. We managed to have our entrees and mains and were part way through desserts before the heavens opened. Most of us chose from the €13 menu and were thrilled with our choices:
Gizzard salad (Michael)

Goat cheese pizza (Maria)
We both chose the Lamb Tagine
We both had (well, at least I started one) Creme Caramel

From here with the weather having turned to crap, and unable to get into Pichon-Longueville (as the boking had also ben made for yesterday) we opted to go back to Lamarque and await the ferry. We did not realise until we got there that we would have a 90 minute wait, so we do the best thing we can in the rain - nap! When the ferry gets here it is dead low tide and so the trip is a little longer than it was last time as we have to travel further downstream to avoid the mud banks before we can turn in for Blaye.

None of us are really hungry so the idea of a barbecue gets thrown out the window. Instead, we head to LeClerc for salad ingredients, fruit, cheese and cold cuts. Add a loaf of bread and presto - we have the makings of a light feast which we enjoy a little later in the evening with a few bottles of good wine. At 10 pm, Les suggests a game of petanque and five of them head across the road to join all the others at play. Remember, it is not getting dark until 11 pm!! Anyway, I'll sign off and let Michael tell you about the game because I was thoroughly knackered and went to bed.

Petanque is very similar to Bocce, whereas the only difference is that the swearing is in French and not Italian. That may be true, however the actual differences between the two games is (as explained to me):
Petanque is where players 'toss' the balls palm down whereas Bocce players 'bowl' the balls palm up.
Petanque balls are always made of metal, about the size of an orange and hollow. Bocce balls are larger (grapefruit size) and made usually of wood or resin and are of varying bright colours.
The Bocce court should be smooth and different variations as to court size and layout; whereas Petanque players prefer any surface and preferably uneven terrain to make it more challenging.
Oh, and one last point as it was arbitrarily explained to me: 'Petanque' is a derivative of the Provincal French - pieds tanquer meaning to anchor or tie-down. Petanque balls are tossed from a stationary position, whereas with Bocce players run up to their bowling line.

Anyhow, we head across to the park around 10:10pm where there are about eight other games of Petanque being played - a veritable tournament. The French take their game veeerrry seriously as I was to find out....

Now, Petanque is played with two teams each with either 1-6 players. Teams with 1-4 players, each team member use 3 balls each. Teams with 5-6 players team members use 2 balls each. Considering there were only five of us this posed a 'red herring', how were the teams to be decided? Diplomatically of course; we each tossed a ball in turn and the the teams were sorted according to the distance thrown - if you can work that one out.....
Anyhow, I was the 'ring-in' so I was at the mercy of their honesty...and honorable people they are indeed. So, two teams consisting of 2 and 3 players accepted, and all players to play using 3 balls each.

Well, we had intended to play only one game, however, HONOUR was at stake this night. Now, I had mentioned earlier the French take their Petanque seriously - and my team-mate was Nikki, and she was just as passionate about the game as were the men. By 10:50pm Nikki and I were lagging by 5 points - the score being 6-11; and Nikki being less than impressed. The French expletives were being released at a furious rate as were the Aussie curses! By 11:05pm we creamed the bastards and wiped the smirk off their dials.

It was 10:56pm and Nikki's turn to toss...tension mounting...concentration was extending like lightening bolts...then - thud, down went Nikki's last ball and everyone was holding their breath as the toss knocked away two of the opposing teams' balls and came to bestow a kiss against the 'jack'! 10:58pm and the other team attempted to consolidate, but the pressure being as it was their tosses turned into right 'Tossers' - the balls going in every direction. The game being against the wire, it was my turn to toss my remaining two balls (...yes, I still speak with a deep voice!) and I was the last to toss. I walked up to the line, surveyed the field and fired torpedo #1. Lobbing beautifully, the ball returned to earth amongst a group of balls - CRACK! - my lobb knocked two of the opposing balls out of the loop which pushed Nikki's other two closer the 'jack'!

11:01pm, and it was my last toss...torpedo #2 - FIRE - a handsome piece of work as my silver sphere rolled gently up to the 'jack' - a ball's length away. WE WON! We were called cheats(?), so I called them 'pricks' - I have no idea what Nikki called them, it sounded pretty good though. Anyhow, as I stated - HONOUR was at stake, and now it was to make amends. An evening which started out as one game of Petanque extended into three, with the last game ending at 12:55am. An epilogue...? Petanque I have to admit could become extremely addictive and not taken too seriously. The evening's final score....Nikki and I won the first two games, however we got creamed in the third and final - 5-13!

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