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27. BUYING TRIP TO FRANCE Part 5

On leaving Monsieur Fornerot, we set off for Fleurie in the Beaujolais. As the day wore on, I began to feel more and more unwell: I had a bad headache and an extremely sore throat, and was positively feverish. Broo took over and did some of the driving.

When we arrived at the Domaine des Marrans in Fleurie, I had to ask Broo to unload the van, because I was really struggling. The family who own the Domaine des Marrans are called Mélinand, and their son, Mathieu, is gradually taking over the running of the estate. He is a fit, handsome, big-boned fellow, with the strength of an ox, and inexhaustible energy. At this time of year (January) he and his father prune the vines, which is backbreaking work, all done by hand; they start as soon as it is light, before eight o’clock in the morning, and don’t stop till after sunset in the evening, except, of course, for a short break for lunch.

We sat down around 8 pm at their dining table to do a tasting of the latest vintage (2010) before having our supper. It is looking like a good vintage, though not as exceptional as 2009: correct, with good aromatic qualities and lively fruit. We also tasted the rosé: very pale; fruity nose, mouthfilling, with good length. With our supper Mathieu’s father opened a magnum of his 1976 Fleurie, which was mellow, lovely, still lively, with good acidity and nice autumnal fruit.

I was keen to get to bed as soon as possible, which was not particularly early – after eleven o’clock.

I couldn’t get to sleep – I’m normally a very good sleeper, nothing keeps me awake. Broo chose that night to snore for England. My head felt as if it would explode, and my ears were so hot it almost burned my fingers to touch them. I continued to get hotter and hotter as Broo’s snoring got louder and louder.

Luckily, there was an unoccupied bedroom next to ours, so I crept off and spent the rest of the night there, eventually getting some sleep. We didn’t have a thermometer, and anyway I didn’t much want to have my temperature taken, because I knew it was high, and people might be worried, which would get badly in the way of our busy schedule.

I was still feeling groggy and feverish the next morning, as we said goodbye to Mathieu and his family after breakfast. Broo did the driving, and I sat slumped in the passenger seat. We stopped at an aire on the autoroute (where you can rest, have a pee, etc.), and Broo went off to the ladies.

While she was away, two Customs patrol cars rolled up and parked alongside the van. Two officers approached me and asked what I had in the van. I said, “Wine.” I fished out our passports to show them, and they asked why I had two passports (they hadn’t twigged that I was the passenger, because I was in what would have been the driver’s seat in a French car). They did the classic Nice Officer, Nasty Officer routine. They asked me if I had paperwork for the wine, how many bottles were in the van, where I was going, and so on. I produced the paperwork for them. The Nice Officer looked at them, and exclaimed, “Ah, Monsieur Mélinand, he makes excellent wine! And such a nice family! I know them well. I used to work in Fleurie.”

After that I was in the clear, and even the Nasty Officer said a nice polite goodbye to me.

We had been invited to dinner that evening by the Fabre family of Domaine des Romarins. They are based to the west of Avignon, and make reliably delicious Côtes du Rhône from old vines, mainly a blend of Grenache and Syrah, with a bit of Mourvèdre (in some vintages). We telephoned them to say could we cancel dinner because I wasn’t well, but perhaps we could drop in for a tasting? We also had to ring another domaine, who I had arranged to visit that day, to postpone the appointment to Thursday – luckily I had planned to have Thursday as a free day because that’s the way the appointments had turned out. I hoped I would be better by Thursday.

At Domaine des Romarins we tasted 8 wines, including their Viognier 2010 and Côtes du Rhône 2010. The Viognier displayed a green apple smell, and was delicious in the mouth, with fresh, peachy, lively flavour – and good length. The Côtes du Rhône was a tank sample, not the final blend, consisting of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache – it had good colour, and was spicy on the nose, with plenty of rich, concentrated flavour in the mouth.

We spent the night in a fairly upmarket hotel in Avignon, but it didn’t have a restaurant. So Broo went to look for pizza for our supper, and an interesting bottle of wine. She came back with a St. Joseph from Alain Graillot’s son, which was delicious – and some unremarkable but edible pizza. That night I sweated gallons and soaked the sheets. Thank goodness! I had sweated off the worst of the fever. I felt fragile the next day, but much better.