July 10th, 2013
“Does the fun ever end in Bordeaux for Vinexpo week?” would be a good question to ask oneself after that glorious opening night at Mouton-Rothschild covered in the last blog.
Two of my favorite traditions during Vinexpo week, while eschewing sometimes fancier and more enticing invitations, are the pair of events held every two years at Domaine de Chevalier and Chateau Phelan Segur. This was the 13th edition of the so-called Tour de France des Appellations where owners Anne and Olivier Bernard at Domaine de Chevalier get together with their great friends from around the continent – friends like Egon Muller, Domaine Faiveley, Jaboulet, Champagne Pol Roger, Zind-Humbrecht and many more – and throw an absolutely awesome garden party. There’s tremendous food and legendary three-star cheese master himself, Bernard Antony from Alsace, as well as the best selections of pre- and post-prandial delights and Cuban cigars en masse.
Meanwhile, up at Phelan Segur in the northern reaches of St. Estephe, owner Thierry Gardinier joined by his brother Laurent – now both of the Taillevent Group, which owns the eponymous restaurant in Paris, Les Crayeres in Reims, and many other incredible destination spots around the world – have the same idea as the Bernards two nights before. They have good friends like Billecart-Salmon and Jadot join them to not only present great wines, but also a multitude of incredible libations, cigars, the famous langoustines from Brittany, and Charolais beef in Texas-sized slabs on the open grapevine BBQs.
One minor issue that got in the way of both of these usually fantastic outdoor events was the goddamn cold and rain, which started pouring down in the evening at Mouton. Six days later when we left Bordeaux, it had still not let up, with 70 mm of water coming down in a two-hour span at Domaine de Chevalier. There were several completely wet, ruined days at Vinexpo and a rained-out Fete de la Fleur at Chateau Lagrange, leaving many attendants with colds the next day.
The grand finale for us however was a magical Friday night at Chateau de Fargues courtesy of Count Alexandre de Lur Saluces of Chateau d’Yquem
fame, in whose family that storied property was for over 400 years. While we thought the multimedia show at Mouton earlier in the week had been spectacular, we were in for a night of light and music at Fargues that just defied anything ever seen before. It does help that they have a massive old castle ruin from the 14th century to use as a giant projection screen, but the 20 minute “presentation” of the whole history of the property starting in 1306, as well as the 600-year history of the Lur Saluces family and its involvement – let alone influence on the great wines of Sauternes – was stupefying.
Using the inner courtyard of the castle as a staging ground for this spectacular light show interspersed with amazing classical music performed live, and the outer castle walls used to incredible effect, was just so amazing to watch, especially on the night of the summer solstice with a full moon. The rain had let up all right, but it got ridiculously cold late that night at only nine degrees Celsius. However, no cold could ruin this perfect evening at Chateau de Fargues.
Next I was on to Switzerland for an equally outrageous Christmas party, held every year around the 24th of June by one of our good collector friends, who finds it much more useful to host such a party in the summer than when everyone else does their Christmas parties, which is pretty hard to argue with. Sans stress, snow, short winter days and other tribulations often associated with December madness, this is again an absolutely original and spectacular weekend of high culture for a select group of no more than 50 to 60 people whom he likes and who are part of his inner circle. It is a celebration of the best of food, wine, music, art and camaraderie, the likes of which I don’t think exists anywhere else.
We arrived just in time for opening night dinner at a special restaurant in Basel – after a 950 kilometer straight shot drive from Bordeaux – with wines coming from several of the vignerons in attendance, most notably this year German and Austrian ones matching that fabled Swiss veal. The next day, we took a private tour of the superb new Picasso show at the Basel Kunstmuseum (museum of modern art), followed by Champagne Deutz Blanc de Blanc 1990 in magnum at his family estate overlooking the swollen Rhine River, and then had lunch at one of the hottest Italian restaurants there called Rino.
A much-needed afternoon repose later and it was time for the Christmas party, held on the grounds of the family’s compound in the center of Basel, with their 18th century garden pavilion as the setting for this magnificent and perfect evening (without rain!). The wines of the evening, to match the amazing food by top Michelin-starred chefs, were as always top-of-the-line with Dom Perignon 1990 in magnums, Coche-Dury Meursault Les Rougeots 1995 and 1997, Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets 1998, Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Clos des
Capucins 2001, Cheval Blanc 1989 in imperial and finally Chateau d’Yquem 1986 in imperial capping off what can only be described as a bacchanalian feast for the ages.
From there, I was on to Ibiza and then Burgundy for more fun and games, coming in the next blog…
Gil Lempert-Schwarz is a global wine consultant based in Las Vegas and Hong Kong.