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Anthony's Trip Diary

It is circa 5am in Meursault and the swifts have woken and are wheeling and screeching outside. I have been awake for ages, my mind fizzing with ideas, so I am writing some notes to fill in the time. We have a full day ahead of us in Chassagne and Nuits St Georges followed by a visit to the BIVB (The main Trade Association that is the fount of all general statistics and knowledge).

Our trip began inauspiciously, as we were delayed by 20 minutes disembarking from the Shuttle, on account of one unhappy tourist in front of us who had broken down. This is clearly a bad place to break down and the callout recovery van had great difficulty manoeuvring to reverse itself up onto the top floor of the shuttle to drag him off.

The drive from Calais to Beaune is about 375 miles and with an absolutely clear run we took five hours from driving off the Shuttle to arriving at the A6 payage at Beaune. It was only 6 pm and unlike the last occasion, when we arrived after dark, it was fully light and with a clear sky and brilliant sunlight the vineyards stood out perfectly across the hillsides as far as we could see, all around Beaune and down towards Pommard and then Meursault. Not only was it sunny, but it was so much warmer than England.

How quickly things have come on. On our last visit in April the buds were just bursting, while now everywhere is a mass of fresh new greenery. When we arrived in Auxey, Michel, Estelle and a friend were sitting outside in their outer courtyard waiting for us and when we joined them they explained that with these weather conditions the vines will grow 8 centimetres a day or, as Michel firmly put it, "every 24 hours, because the vines continue to grow at night". Flowering started last week in the early flowering vineyards (the Cote de Nuits will be a little later) and as of yesterday, the 7th June, it should be 100 days to the commencement of the vendange.

Our travels on this occasion have taken us to Auxey Duresses, Chassagne Montrachet, Givry, Rully, Nuits St Georges and finally to Meursault. As always our journeys have an element of "Three Men in a Boat" about them. For anyone who has not read Jerome K Jerome's Victorian comedy classic this will mean nothing. For the rest of you, well, you understand, don't you? Picking a couple of safe examples (there is one in particular which, while it had us splitting our sides, is sadly but unavoidably unrepeatable), there was the evening we decided to dine in Rully, at the suggestion of Madame Tatraux-Juillet. While waiting for a table, outside on the terrace fronting the main square, we found ourselves next to an elderly couple with a small poodle. They had positioned themselves so that nobody could enter or leave without bumping into either them, their table, or their dog and whenever this happened, which was frequently (we did it at least three times), instead of moving away from the entrance they would sit tight and tut-tut and mutter darkly. The dog however took all this very personally and would scoot from side to side looking vexed. At this point we heard a noise in the distance, rapidly growing into a shattering roar as a small boy swept round the corner on an absurdly small scooter from which he had removed the silencer. The square exploded as the racket bounced from wall to wall and in another instant he had gone, leaving a trail of gradually diminishing sound that faded into silence. The respite was short-lived however as he clearly enjoyed the disruption he had caused to a restaurant packed with diners and soon we could hear that now familiar gathering crescendo as he began his second "fly by". The poodle cracked and shot under his mistress's chair for safety while the rest of us would probably cheerfully have reached for a few rocks to throw at him if this had been a legal option. Dinner was excellent.

The other example? Well I have never seen anyone so instantly and emphatically dissolve into raptures over an inanimate object. It happened at Le Chassagne, in Chassagne Montrachet. After ordering our food, I turned my attention to the wine list. It is very long, with pages devoted to single vineyards (Chassagne 1er Cru alone occupied three pages), but it appeared that it did not tell one the vintages, which seemed extraordinary. Fortunately, before I summoned the Sommellier to advise him of this serious omission, I noticed some hyroglyphs in pencil in the margin. Instead of reprinting the whole list on a regular basis, all the sommelier did was to erase the year which was finished and insert the new vintage.

The wine I decided to order had no vintage alongside it so I asked the sommelier which year it was. "There is no vintage marked in the list Monsieur, because that wine is currently out of stock" Ah well, I should have guessed! In trying to find an alternative I sought his advice. He asked whether we preferred our wines full, round and rich or leaner and more minerally. I prefer them full and Graeme, who usually prefers the leaner wines was happy to go along with me on this occasion, so I ordered a St Aubin 1er Cru 2000. The sommelier returned with the bottle, poured us each a glass and a few moments later I found myself sitting opposite a huge grin. At the first sip Graeme announced that this was fantastic and by the time he had finished half a glass he was grinning from ear to ear with such enthusiasm that I really feared something was about to dislocate.

"I want five cases of this, in fact I want to take so much of it home that I may need to break your axles". In a long and chequered life I have never before found myself sitting opposite someone who has threatened to break my axles and looked so sincerely as though he meant it.

Our visits to various vignerons have made it clear to us that taste is very individual. This is so much the case that we are thinking of noting who preferred which wines as this may be a useful indicator to you in deciding which you yourselves are most likely to enjoy. My preference is definitely for full flavour and richness. Graeme prefers the leaner and more mineral wines while Steve tends towards strength and robustness, which may be on account of his South African upbringing. We find plenty of areas where two of us agree, but each of us is now noticing, when tasting a wine for the first time, that it is immediately obvious which one of the three of us will enjoy it the most. Then, on occasions, as in the case of the St Aubin, one of us will score a direct hit on the others' taste buds, which is a tremendous added bonus.

The church clock has just struck 7am so it has finally become a legitimate moment to wander downstairs and sample a croissant and a cup of tea. Yesterday I had coffee which was almost strong enough to be cut with a knife and eaten with a spoon and this may have some connection with my waking today, long before dawn. So tea today, even though brewing tea is one tiny culinary art where the French, mysteriously, remain in the Dark Ages.

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