On Saturday 7th July 2012 we touched down at Limoges airport in France with a group of (almost) complete strangers to begin a wine themed tour of Bergerac and Bordeaux organised by local company AdVintage Wine Services, run by Suzanne Locke and Bill Oswald. A week later we touched down back at Newcastle amongst good friends with a bag full of wine and happy memories that will never be forgotten.
I first heard about AdVintage last year when looking for local wine tastings to put on this Blog’s Events Page (the link is to its current incarnation as part of the North East Wine Tasting Society’s site). A couple of fellow NEWTS also mentioned they’d been on previous tours organised by Bill and Suzanne so when I saw their 2012 trip was to Bergerac and Bordeaux (and fitted in with when I could get time off work) then it seemed like a perfect match.
If what follows sometimes comes across as an AdVintage advert this is purely because we really did have such a good time on the trip, but this was our holiday, which we booked and paid for ourselves, and we did not receive any preferential treatment to other members of the group (it is a fact I have long understood that writing a wine blog, especially one that is read by so few people, is unlikely to change my lifestyle!).
AdVintage always try to arrange tours with flights from Newcastle Airport (previous experiences with a coach-only tour and flying out of Leeds-Bradford have proved unpopular with the clientele) which is why 17 of us arrived at Limoges. Whilst we were the youngest of the group and newcomers (all the others had been on at least one trip before and many knew each other) we were immediately welcomed as if we had known the others for ages (to be fair one there was one other NEWT, Elaine, on the trip along with her brother and friends who I had met before, so it wasn’t a completely unknown situation).
Outside in the brilliant sunshine a coach awaited for the 2 hour ride to Bergerac itself, our first meeting with le chauffeur, David, who would be with us the whole week.
Bill’s prepared announcements were abandoned as the tannoy system in the bus wasn’t working – not an auspicious start but it was fixed for the remainder of the week! – so we enjoyed the scenery as we drove past the lush green countryside (it wasn’t just the UK getting more rain than normal) through the heart of the Perigord region, with Foie Gras and Truffles featuring highly on signs (even on what appeared to be a roadside café!).
Finally arriving at the Hotel du Commerce we checked in just as the heavens opened and rain of North East proportions fell, which had us slightly worried for the rest of the week! Dinner, where we were joined by the 2 remaining members of the party who had arrived from elsewhere in the UK, was a boisterous affair, lubricated by the free bottle of red Bergerac provided in each room (Les Pujols 2009, a little rustic round the edges but smooth & fruity and very quaffable) and Château La Fougere 2010 Rosé from the hotel bar (equally quaffable, and the first of many thirst quenching Rosés for the week). What also became clear at that first meal was that we were going to be well looked after by the hotel as the food was superb (from roasted duck legs on that first night through confit chicken, foie gras, guinea fowl, salmon, more duck, Pollock, enormous and tasty salad starters… only a too-rare and chewy steak didn’t hit the mark) and we were given our own reserved dining and wining area which helped foster “group bonding” from the beginning.
For the rest of the week we woke up each day to partly cloudy skies which always managed to clear by lunchtime and give relatively sunny afternoons with average temperatures of 23-25C, much less than normal for the time of year but perfect for our excursions. Apart from a little rain on the Sunday morning we didn’t see a drop until the last evening and even that was when we had finished for the day so, all in all, the weather was on our side.
The format for the week was straightforward;
- Book-ending each day was a hotel breakfast and evening meal included in the package (lunch was our responsibility). As an added bonus AdVintage had negotiated that wine bought during the tasting visits can be opened at dinner without corkage costs.
- On Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday there would be a coach journey to two or three wineries in an area for a tour and tasting, with a lunch and tourism stop in a nearby town (Bergerac, Saint Emilion, Cadillac and Eymet).
- Tuesday, Thursday (and Saturday morning) were free days to do as we pleased, which, for Sarah and I, meant walking until our feet hurt and taking lots of photographs!
For the tasting days there were 4 themes for the wineries to try and cover the range of wines produced in the Bergerac and nearby Bordeaux area;
- Sunday: Pécharmant and Bergerac wines with Château Corbiac and Château La Grande Pleyssade.
- Monday: Canon Fronsac, Saint Emilion, Pomerol and Lalande-Pomerol with Château du Gaby and Château Tournefeuille.
- Wednesday: Sauternes with Château de Malle, Château d’Yquem and Château Guiraud.
- Friday: Bergerac and Monbazillac with Vignobles des Verdots and Château Monbazillac.
I’ll cover the specific winery visits in separate posts with my the usual surfeit of information, technical data, tasting notes etc. (I was being my usual self and filling pages of my notebook each day!) but the most memorable and enjoyable were La Grande Pleyssades, Tournefeuille, Verdots and, unsurprisingly, d’Yquem.
For the lunch breaks Saint Emilion on Monday was a perfect tourist trap with ancient churches and fortifications (including an ascent of the Tour de Roy), wine shops galore, rustic and modern lunch options and a new experience for me; sparkling Crémant de Bordeaux courtesy of Les Cordeliers, set in a 14th Century Cloisters (see this Decanter piece from last year).
On Wednesday it was the Bastide of Cadillac where we ate bread & pâté on the banks of the Garonne and viewed the impressive château of the Dukes of Épernon, while on Friday it was another Bastide at Eymet where truffle-laced tagliatelle was washed down with sweet Monbazillac before a sedate walk around the ancient town in baking sunshine.
For our free days we took a train trip to Bordeaux on the Tuesday and tramped around the city (perversely managing to ignore wine the whole time). On Thursday we did something similar for Bergerac (adding to the Sunday afternoon expedition) but included a visit to the Maison du Vin where Xavier de la Verrie of Château Jeanbrun was pouring his family wines at the dégustation table, including a delicious rosé we bought for dinner the next night (although a red 2009 Bergerac fared less well).
Our last morning before leaving was meant to be a shopper’s paradise at the Bergerac Saturday market, a grand affair covering several streets and squares. However due to 14th July being Bastille Day in France the market was brought forward to the Friday (we drove passed it on our way to Monbazillac) and instead we were treated to the pomp and circumstance of local Police, Army, Veterans and what seemed to be the entire Bergerac area Fire Service on parade!
The coach ride back to Limoges was a relaxed and slightly sobering affair, few of us relishing the end of a superb and very social week.
At last count we bought 9 bottles and 2 half bottles which we shared in the evenings
(with few exceptions everyone in the group shared wine they had bought amongst their neighbours at dinner, including two extremely generous ladies, Sue and Roz, who shared full bottles of Château Guiraud and Château Monbazillac with the other people at our table) and brought 4 bottles and 4 half bottles back home (5 of which have that golden sheen that Sarah loves!).
For me this trip had a perfect mix of wine visits and tastings (with enough technical aspects to keep me involved), tourist and social activities and I will watch with interest where AdVintage plan their next summer tour to, because, based on this experience we are likely to want to go again – although that visit to Château d’Yquem is going to be hard to top.