A day of wine & roses in hidden Bordeaux
Entre Deux Mers, 22 May
Most lovers of fine claret associate the winelands of Bordeaux with the grand châteaux of the Médoc that lie on gravelly terrain, often as flat as our Cambridgeshire fens: only cypress trees and the Médocain Atlantic sand dunes remind you that this is southern France. Across the Dordogne river, the ancient Roman town of St Emilion is a picture of literary and oenological history – Ausonius, where are you now? Redolent, too, of the first plantings of cabernet franc. Next-door Pomerol, which became known to Anglophone buyers only after 1945, looks to all the world like modest little plots in a market garden –a place though that miraculously produces some of the most sumptuous reds of Bordeaux, albeit at constellation prices.
So, it was a huge pleasure to discover a part of Bordeaux that the locals justly claim is the most beautiful and unspoilt in the region: the district of Entre Deux Mers that lies between the Dordogne and the Garonne. It’s an arcadia of beech and oak forests, of hilly knolls topped with weathered limestone manor houses, of meadows grazed by well –fed cows. And of course there’s the sea of vines that bear the simple, delicious merlots and sauvignons that nicely check Bordeaux’s reputation as wine for billionaires.
Under a sweltering Bordeaux noonday sun, our little group of tasters at the intimate Concours Mondial du Sauvignon 2011 had finished our two-days’ judging with a raging thirst – nicely slaked by bumpers of cold Jura beer. We were then bussed through ravishing country to the enchantingly rustic Chateau d’Haurets at Ladaux. This is home to the Ducourt family, who as wine farmers with their boots on the ground since the 19th century have acquired thirteen chateaux and 450 hectares of vineyards in Southern Bordeaux – across the Bordeaux Supérieur appellation, the Premieres Côtes, the environs of Libourne, onto Côtes du Castillon. The Ducourts have been lively traders all the while of course, the profits of their business, having progressively funded so large an estate. But their heart and spirit is truly Entre Deux Mers, d’Haurets a magical place with glades of majestic trees and a wild garden with eighty different types of roses, the pride of Henri Ducourt, the family’s head. Eat your heart out, Hugh Johnson.
Sous les arbres du château
On the bus, I had fretted that we would experience an unwelcome modern Bordeaux practice, archly called dégustation dinatoire, which is no more than a walk-round tasting and a plate of nibbles; one usually has to juggle glass, plate, fork, and pen, standing for three hours. Non, merci! Happily, the Ducourts had other ideas and this visit turned into a wonderful day of warm local hospitality and l’art de vivre. The family had put out trestle tables, with proper place settings, under the cooling great trees. Before sitting down to lunch, we wandered through the glades, stopping to taste leafy green-fruits sauvignons with freshly grated parmesan, or richly mature Ch. d’Haurets, Cuvée Gabriel, 2005 with fresh foie de canard cooked on an open-air grill. The highlight of lunch was the magret of duck, properly judged a light pink, drunk with the rounded Merlot charms of Ch. Plaisance, Montagne St Emilion, also a 2005, and unlike some grander châteaux from this stellar vintage ready to drink! Despite their expansion and modern marketing methods, the Ducourts’ philosophy is, as it has always been, simple – to provide quality Bordeaux wines at reasonable prices.
The Ducourt Brothers
The family’s agent in the United Kingdom is Charles Taylor M.W., the distinguished independent wine shipper, known particularly for fine Burgundy. Charles, as yet, does not ship Ch. d’Haurets but two other similar Bordeaux properties, Ch.de Beauregard Ducourt and Ch la Rose du Pin. For retail stockists, log onto www.charlestaylorwines.com or firstname.lastname@example.org