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The New Millennium 2001

(and a dinner and two lunches)                                                                 January 2001

                I'm superstitious.  If I see a single magpie I salute.  If I see a pair I'm convinced I'm in for lots of good luck.  On this trip, though, I had second thoughts.

                I set off from Monmouth on Sunday, to spend the night in London in order to do a delivery or two in the evening as well as to gain an early start for the ferry on Monday.  I saw three separate pairs of magpies.  This was going to be good.  The next day on the way to Dover I saw two more pairs - even better!

                I arrived in Chablis in good time at the wonderful hotel I stayed in last year.  So many people have asked me about it, I'll tell you its name:  Hostellerie des Clos.  It's in all the guides, and was as brilliant this time as last.

Tuesday morning, 9 a.m.  -

            DOMAINE LEGER, Épineuil.  The Legers make two wines, a red and a rosé.  Over the last year I have only bought the red, which is delicious and has been a great success.  I arrived early, so I thought I'd have a go at taking some photographs, to illustrate the unlikeliness of the whole set-up, with barely anything to indicate a winery (not even any vines in sight, and it's out in the fields away from the village).  I'm no good at gadgets, and the camera is Irma's, not mine, but supposedly fully automated.  It wouldn't work.  While I was fiddling about unsuccessfully, M. Leger turned up in his Renault van.  I didn't know it was him, because last year his son had attended to me.  He got out and stuck out his hand to shake mine.

                "Etes-vous M. Leger?" I asked.

                He nodded and we shook hands as I said I was Tom Innes.  He is quite short, with a wide round face and a magnificent moustache stretching the full width of his face.  He is talkative and friendly.  He says would I like to see the vines?  I say yes please, so we rattle off over the hill to visit the vines.  We do a nice little circuit, as he tells me that the vines are 20 years old, planted in 1980.  The appellation of Épineuil is small, limited to 100 ha by the authorities.  He has 7.5 ha.

                Back at the farm buildings, there is a door half below ground level in one of the corrugated iron barns.  He opens it, and we go down some steps into a cellar!  Rough-hewn is an overworked phrase, but this cellar is rough-hewn.  Clearly a JCB had been let loose on this patch of ground for a day (and probably only one day, no more) to gouge out a rectangular hole approximately 20 feet by 40 feet.  The walls - sides would perhaps be a better word - were left unfaced, unbricked, unconcreted.  Rough and lumpy.  Rough-hewn.

                We start to taste - his 99 red.  In this vintage he did two bottlings:  one light and fruity for drinking in the brasserie, bottled in July; the other more serious, bottled in September.  We taste the more serious wine first.  It has good colour, a full smell, bespeaking some weight in the wine, and good length.  Fine.  Then the July bottling.  This is, um, rather light.  I shall be buying the September bottling.

                We taste the rosé:  the previous vintage had been a bit dull.  The 99 is a much better effort, in fact a thoroughly pleasant and interesting drink.  I will probably get some for the shop.

               DOMAINE DENIS POMMIER, Poinchy.  Tasting chez Pommier is a particular pleasure, and fascinating, because Denis is a thoughtful fellow, really interested in taking you through the different wines, comparing them, comparing the same wines in different kinds of oak barrels.  Very instructive as well.

                We tasted the 2000s in tank and barrel.  And the 99s in bottle.  The 1999s seem to me to be excellent - perhaps slightly less acidity than the previous vintage and richer.  His straight Chablis is a bit fuller than the 98.  His Premier Cru Beauroy is a great success, with a marvellous array of flavours in the mouth and really excellent length.  An oddity about this wine is that in Chablis the flavour is very noticeably marked by oak, whereas in Monmouth it is virtually undetectable.  Curious.

               DOMAINE SYLVAIN MOSNIER, Beines.  M. Mosnier is in ebullient form.  He has just been to London, because his son has been at university in Kingston, and there was a ceremony in the City of London which M. and Mme. Mosnier attended.  They said London, surprisingly, was colder than Chablis.  They have been having a very warm winter in Chablis.  And isn't London expensive? he says.

                We taste his Chablis 99 and his Vieilles Vignes from the same vintage - classic Chablis, with good mineral edge to them.  Then we taste back through to his 96s.  Then his 99 Premier crus.  Actually, he's not offering his 99s for sale yet.  I've bought more of his 98.

                DOMAINE JEAN-MARIE NAULIN, Beines.  I've been invited to lunch here - my first invitation to a meal by a grower.  Very exciting.  Actually, the Naulins' Chablis has been an enormous success.  It seems to go down well with places of learning:  both Monmouth Boys' School and Merton College, Oxford have bought reasonable quantities.  Quite rightly - although it has a rustic edge to it, the flavour is just so delicious with typical Chablis raciness, that I defy anybody not to be utterly charmed by it.

                Lunch was a feast.  Following Arnold Bennett, I will set it out in the manner of a menu:


Gougères (a speciality of  Aperitif (Cremant with Framboise)
Burgundy - cheesy eggy pastry things)
Vol-au vents  Chablis 99 
Chablis 1er Cru Beauroy 99  
Jambon à la chablisienne Bourgogne Irancy 96
Colinot  Cheese, including Époisses - a local cheese 
Rich gateau, with lots of cream Champagne Coffee

                Their son, who is eighteen, was there.  He's helping in the vineyards.  M. Naulin is untalkative but friendly.  Actually, my experience is that many men seem to me to be rather inept conversationalists, so they just smile hopefully at you.  I include myself in this category, and find myself smiling hopefully back.  I sort of feel I'm expected to say something (this is nothing to do with language - it's the same in English as in French).  Mme. Naulin is full of beans and talks relaxedly.  I watch the drink carefully, because I've got two more tastings and several hours' driving ahead of me later that day, and anyway drinking in the middle of the day makes me sleepy.  M. Naulin is less careful than me (what you might call Sunday lunch quantities).  I'm impressed, and wonder if he's got work to do that afternoon.  So I ask him -

                "Will you be going out to the vines after lunch?"

                "Oui," he says.

                I'm even more impressed - I'd be going for a lie-down on the sofa.  I'd also been hoping for a fuller answer to the question.  So I try again -

                "A lot of pruning at this time of year, then?"

                "Oui."  Smile.

                He really is completely charming.  Not all of us need to be conversationalists.

                After lunch we go and taste the 2000 vintage from tank, which looks promising.

                That evening at the hotel near Dijon where I stay the night, I can't eat all my supper.  The patronne remarks - not hungry, then?  I replied that I had lunched well that day.

                DOMAINE HEIMBOURGER, Saint-Cyr-les-Colons.  I'm at least an hour late for this appointment.  I apologised, said I'd had a good lunch.  They said that was fine.  I taste through the 99s, which are every bit as good as the 98s which I bought last year for the shop.  This time I have bought a tiny bit of their red Irancy 99.  They have recently planted up their bit of land in this appellation, so the wine is from young vines, and the extra year of vine age, coupled with the quality of the vintage, has produced a much more impressive wine than in 98.

                DOMAINE ÉLISE VILLIERS, Précy-le-Moult.  Mme. Villiers makes Bourgogne Vézelay.  Her wines are, in my opinion, utterly brilliant, and they have been one of our biggest successes in the past year.  They are beautifully made, with a wonderful tautness about them, giving them a dynamic balance that I think is really thrilling.

                She has about 8 acres, split between a parcel on the slope of the hill of Vézelay (the famous Vézelay, place of pilgrimage, where relics of St. Mary Magdalene can be seen), and another parcel a little further away from the town.  She bottles them separately, with the wine from the slope of Vézelay being labelled "Le Clos" and the other "La Chevalière".  The "Chevalière" is from younger vines, producing a more immediately accessible, more exuberantly fruity wine, fermented and aged entirely in tank.  The "Clos" is from old vines (at least 30 years old), and a proportion of it (65%) spends time in large wooden barrels (demi-muids) of 600 litres capacity.  The demi-muids are mostly new each year.  The wine is absolutely not marked by new oak flavours.  In fact, if you weren't told, you almost certainly wouldn't notice.  The "Clos" is slower maturing and takes longer to open up.

                We taste the 99s.  They are as delicious as the 98s, though perhaps a bit more forward.  These wines have a really lovely finish with remarkable persistence.  For their price level they represent outstanding value for money.

*   *   *

                 During the day I see another pair of magpies.  Everything is going swimmingly.  I've had an excellent lunch, good tastings and everybody has been very friendly.  Obviously my luck is in.

                 The next day, Wednesday, I devoted mostly to tasting in and around Gevrey-Chambertin, because the domaine I had been buying from previously kept raising prices to the point where they had gone out of reach.  I visited five domaines who had Gevrey-Chambertin (among other things) to offer.  My third visit was to:

                 DOMAINE ALAIN VOEGELI, Gevrey-Chambertin.  Thank goodness for Robert Parker, the English-speaking world's most influential wine writer.  In his book on Burgundy published in 1990 he describes a bottle from this domaine as "rustic, lean, hard and charmless".  So this estate's wines have been ignored and are out of fashion, even 20 years later.  M. Voegeli is about 50 years old, with a nervy manner.  He started with a little speech about his domaine (it came from his great-grandmother), his philosophy of wine making, etc.  This really is a small domaine - 2.3 ha (7 or 8 acres), split equally between two parcels either side (north and south) of the village itself.  He makes one wine, a village Gevrey-Chambertin.  He says he likes to bottle early to conserve the fruit.

                We taste his 2000 in cask first.  He vinifies the two parcels separately, then assembles them for bottling.  They're both delicious, supple with wonderful, clearly defined fruit.  No mean achievement in 2000, which I suspect may turn out to be rather a difficult vintage for red burgundy (more on this later).

                Then back upstairs to taste the 99.  Let me just give you my tasting note written at the time:  "Supple, good colour.  Delicious.  Tannin at end.  Nice spicy smell.  Mouthfilling, with volume.  Yum yum.  Good development in mouth."

                I knew straight away that I wanted to buy some of this.  I hadn't even asked the price yet.  It is one third cheaper than the price I was paying.  Brilliant!

                DOMAINE BERNARD AMIOT, Chambolle-Musigny.  My sixth visit on Wednesday was to the tiny cellar of M. Amiot.  His tastings are always fairly brisk, though perfectly friendly affairs.  He consistently makes fine Chambolle-Musigny, which sometimes takes a while to develop, appearing one-dimensional in youth.  A good example of this was his 1994, which seemed dilute, in fact positively watery, on first tasting, and I ignored it for two years.  Luckily, 1994 was a difficult vintage to sell in Burgundy, and in the meantime his 94 had developed in bottle, there was still stock available, and I am now listing it.

                We tasted his 97s and 98s.  They are both delicious, and with any luck you will see both in the shop.

               Thursday 9 a.m. -

               DOMAINE CLAUDE NOUVEAU, Marchezeuil-Change.  A visit to M. Nouveau's immaculately clean and tidy tasting room.  We start with his whites:  his Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune Blanc 99; this is always an excellent cuvée (fermented and kept wholly in tank - it sees no wood), with pure clear flavours of undisguised Chardonnay; then we taste his Santenay Blanc 99 - 20% of this is kept in new oak, the rest in tank -at the moment it is noticeably marked by new oak, though as M. Nouveau says these flavours will settle down and be less prominent in time.

                On to his reds.  He makes two Santenays, a village wine from a vineyard known as "Les Charmes Dessus".  The 98 seems to me to have excellent balance, with good potential for development over the next 5 to 10 years.  His Premier Cru "Grand Clos Rousseau", also from the 98 vintage is a bit beefier and denser, needing more time, but also showing good potential, though over a slightly longer time span.

                After tasting these, M. Nouveau asks me if I would like to try an older vintage.  So I say, "Bien sur."  He disappears, and returns a couple of minutes later with an unlabelled bottle of red.  He pulls the cork and we taste.  It is beautiful, mellow, blackcurranty, with fine bright colour, a touch of orange at the rim.

                He asks me to guess what it is.  I guess his Premier Cru.





                1992.  And it is the Charmes Dessus.

                DOMAINE MUSSO, Dracy les Couches.  This really is a quirky domaine.  I have never met M. or Mme. Musso, though I have on occasion spoken to them on the telephone, but not for over a year now.  I deal with Alain, who is completely charming.

                The domaine is farmed organically, and most of its production is of Cremant (sparkling wine).  I do not buy their Cremant.  The wine making seems chaotic, but the wines are brilliant.  For instance, tasting the Bourgogne Pinot Noir out of a large wooden foudre (capacity of several hectolitres, thousands of bottles):  the top is covered in plastic sheeting held on by string around the rim; Alain loosens a section of the plastic, and puts in a little hose pipe and sucks to syphon off some wine into our tasting glasses.

                Alain says he thinks his 2000s are better than his 99s.  Well, the two wines that impressed me most on this visit were both 99s  -  neither yet bottled, so it's early days - but the Bourgogne Pinot Noir was unbelievable:  the vividness of the fruit was breathtaking; the other wine is from a vineyard that M. Musso has just bought in the Côte Chalonnaise (and entitled to that appellation).  Alain was saying there was some kind of problem, but I didn't altogether understand him, so maybe it will never materialise, but, if it does, it's a knock-out, with extraordinary concentration and considerably more weight than the other wines from this domaine, including their Santenay.

                 I have had difficulty in persuading this domaine to allow me to pay them.  What I have to do is go and visit them and get a blank invoice from them, which I then fill out with the prices and quantities, fax them back, and send them the money.  So this time the bill was from July last year.  I left with the blank invoice.  I don't complain - the extra credit does me no harm.

                  DOMAINE DE LA TOUR BAJOLE, Saint Maurice les Couches.  Just down the road from the Domaine Musso, except that here the proprietor, Jean-Claude Dessendre (who is a good friend of Alain), is very much hands-on.  He gave me a comprehensive tasting in both bottle and barrel.  I have only ever bought his rosé, which is something special.  He opened a bottle of the 1990 - still fresh and delicious.

                I like his other wines, but, for me, the star of the show is definitely his rosé.

                DOMAINE MICHEL SERVEAU, La Rochepot.  M. Serveau was chopping wood as I arrived.  Off we went to taste.  We started with his Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune Blanc 99 - it showed a fullness and a richness that was mighty impressive for a wine of this appellation.  We didn't taste his white Chassagne-Montrachet.  Oh well.

                Then his reds, starting with his Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune, the 99 and 98 in that order.  The 99 was a big surprise.  Last year, when it was in tank, M. Serveau gave me a taste.  He was very fed up:  in his part of Burgundy in 1999 the authorities didn't allow the growers to pick until a week later than elsewhere, and in the meantime it started raining (which has the effect of swelling the grapes, thus diluting the juice, making thinner wine).  The wine he showed me last year certainly had a very pale colour, but I thought at the time that it tasted good (and said so).  A year on, and the wine, now bottled, has taken on much more colour -and still tastes good!  We tasted through the rest of his reds, and then as a parting gift, M. Serveau gave me a bottle of his white Chassagne-Montrachet, saying he had none to sell me.

*   *   *

                Thursday evening I stayed in a hotel in Nolay that I had stayed in before, but the management had changed.  A young couple now run it - the husband has a shiny bright gold ball-shaped earring in each ear, and the wife is bustling and looks like a fashion model.  The hotel is nice enough, and the rooms have been redecorated.  The food is edible but not special, but, BUT (yes, a big but), their wine list contains two white wines from Jean-François Coche-Dury.  This is something special.  Coche-Dury makes white wines that are to die for.  They are almost unobtainable, and only at sky high prices.  The two wines on the list (both at reasonable prices) are his Bourgogne Chardonnay and his Meursault-Perrières (just about his top wine, starting price usually £200 a bottle).  I choose his Meursault-Perrières considering it's only £40 a bottle.  This is bottled euphoria.  This wine made me completely, hopelessly happy.  It has a thrilling, beautiful balance that makes me smile happily, euphorically with each sip.  It is utterly wonderful on its own, and even better with food.  It is one of the greatest bottles of wine that I have ever drunk.  Sublime.

                On my way to bed I pass a table with leaflets about the locality arranged on it.  I take one that publicises the wines of Maison Paul Dumay, which, it tells me, "exclusively distributes the production of Derats-Dumay estates which belong so many famous terrors".  Ridiculous.

Friday morning.

My first appointment is at 9 a.m. with Christophe Mary in Corcelles-les-Arts, a small village outside Meursault.  I had tried last year to visit him, but he was away.

                I arrive at 9 o'clock.  The house is all shuttered up, including the front door.  I shout "Halo", and knock on (shuttered) doors and windows.  No answer.  I wait quarter of an hour.  Knock and shout again.  No answer.

                Oh well.

                I left, and decided to ring up later.

                DOMAINE POULLEAU, Volnay.  M. Poulleau, with whom I have been dealing for two or three years now, is in.  As always, he gives me a comprehensive tasting, first of the 2000s in barrel, then the 99s in bottle.

                Thierry Poulleau's wines consistently have excellent colour, and the 99s are no exception.  We start with his Bourgogne, which is fine - showing impressive length, with quite a tannic finish.  Next his Côte de Beaune "Les Mondes Rondes", which has more richness and body, covering the tannins better.  Also, his Volnay Vieilles Vignes stands out - a complete wine.

*   *   *

                I ring M. Mary to see what went wrong earlier that day.

                I tell him I'd waited for him at 9 o'clock.

                He says he was there.

                I say I'd really like to taste his wines.

                Fine.  When?

                After 4.30 that afternoon?

                No, too late.

                What about Monday, then?

                Monday, says M. Mary, would be fine.  What time?

                Eleven o'clock in the morning?

                Yes.  Fine.

*   *   *

               DOMAINE THEVENOT-LE BRUN, Marey-les-Fussey.  This domaine is up in the Hautes Côtes, about ten minutes' drive from Nuits Saint Georges.  For Burgundy it is quite a large estate, extending to over 40 acres of vines.  They also make Marc, and Cassis and Framboise (from their own fruit).

                Their reds have a very blackcurranty flavour - almost as if the blackcurrant bushes have infected the grapes!  We tasted through their 98s and their 97s.  I preferred their 98s on the whole:  they seemed better balanced, with more fruit to cover their tannins.

                  DOMAINE PHILIPPE GAVIGNET, Nuits Saint Georges.  Philippe Gavignet is rather gruff.  Physically he reminds me of Oliver Hardy from Laurel & Hardy.  He takes me briskly down into the cellar to taste the 2000s in barrel.  We start with his two whites.  This is the first vintage of his white Nuits Saint Georges, which seems very promising.  We taste through his reds.

                Then his 99s in bottle.  His Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits "Clos des Dames Huguettes" is as good as ever, with a really lovely colour and a nice assertive finish.  He now has some vines in the Premier Cru "Les Pruliers", and this is the first vintage of this wine.  It is delicious, with less body than his Premier Cru "Les Bousselots", but spicier, with more finesse, and very impressive length.  A lovely wine.

 *   *   *

                So far everything has gone extremely well - all these pairs of magpies seem to have had their effect.

                That evening I met up with John and Carolyn Toulmin, who have a house, with vineyard, in Auxey-Duresses, near the boundary with Meursault.  They are English and live and work in London, but employ two local people, Bruno and Gérard, to look after the vineyard and make the wine.

                Bruno looks after the vineyard and is tall, thin and wiry.  Gérard does the wine making and is short and round, a sort of Burgundian Danny de Vito, and always wears a beret.  He used to be a schoolmaster.  His cousin is André Porcheret, an important figure in Burgundy who used to be in charge of the wines at the Hospices de Beaune.  So Gérard can call on some very expert help if he needs to.

                I stayed the week-end with the Toulmins, who took me out to dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant, "Le Vieux Pressoir", in Evelle, a small village up in the hills behind Auxey-Duresses.  It is run by Serge Desmollières, who does the cooking, and his English wife Karen.  The cooking was superb - worth a visit.

                The next day was the Feast of St. Vincent, a winemakers' festival which takes place over the last week-end of January.  Each year a different wine village is host to the festival.  This year it was Meursault.  The preparations take two years.  A special cuvée of wine is made to which all the growers with vines in the appellation are asked to contribute some of their wine - a true "village" wine.  The whole village is decorated with hand made flowers - startling in mid-winter.  There is a long procession with each village carrying an effigy of their St. Vincent on their shoulders:  Puligny-Montrachet, Fixin, Auxey-Duresses, Buxy, Marey-les-Fussey and so on.  And marching bands, all dressed up.  They process slowly for 2 to 3 hours all the way round the village to the church, where they take part in a service, after which they more or less retrace their steps - in all they walk about 8 kilometres - back to their original starting point, where they have the banquet (lunch).  There is street theatre, and stalls selling food, and stalls dispensing the wine "Cuvée St. Vincent".  It is like a great big party, all the streets full of people, very good-natured, some drunk, being carried off by friends.  I forgot to take my camera on the Saturday, but I thought, never mind, the jollifications (but not the procession) go on the next day and I can take photographs on the Sunday.

                I have arranged to buy some of the Toulmins' wine, Clos Toulmin (the 1998, which is light in this vintage, ready for drinking, but with good flavour, and will be advantageously priced).  And they sent me off the next day with various bottles from their collection - of other people's wine - amazingly generous.

                That evening we went out to dinner with Mme. Véronique de Mac Mahon.  That is her maiden name - she is the sister of the Duc de Magenta, and was married to a M. Jaboulet-Vercherre.  She owns vines in Auxey-Duresses and Meursault.  Recently the wines have been made and marketed by Comte Armand in Pommard, but her son Antoine (who might be at dinner) is keen to do the wine making, so she has taken back the white wines for now, the red wines to follow.

                There are some telephone calls first because of the dog, which was given to Antoine by his friends in Paris before he left to come and live in Burgundy.  The dog's name is Pasha, and it has somehow fallen to Mme. de Mac Mahon to look after the creature on behalf of her son.  All a bit mystifying to me.

                We go round - it's only a hundred yards - to her house and are let into the spacious courtyard and into the house, where we meet Pasha.  Pasha is as big as a pony.  We also meet Mme. de Mac Mahon, who has obviously spent much time in Paris - she is impeccably, understatedly, beautifully dressed.

                We go into the sitting room, which is narrow and high-ceilinged with an open fire.  We sit and drink Mme. de Mac Mahon's very pleasant white wine made chez Comte Armand.  Her voice is gravelly, she speaks fluent English with a strong French accent, and is marvellous, very funny, to listen to.

                Pasha is banished to the far end of the room, but keeps returning and getting in the way.  Mme. de Mac Mahon is smoking and has to balance her ashtray on the edge of the table because the glass surface was broken recently.  The dog keeps brushing past it, but never quite knocks it off.  Nerve-wracking.  He is threatened repeatedly with being put outside, which sends him back to the far end of the room, but he is very determined and keeps returning, till eventually he is put outside.

                A quiet soirée is interrupted half an hour or so later by the arrival of Antoine with a friend, Patrice, and an Italian vineyard owner where Antoine is doing a "stage" to learn about wine making.  Patrice is older than Antoine and rather louche-looking, with a scarf thrown carelessly around his neck.  The Italian is tall, correct, with beautiful manners.  Antoine is about twenty-five years old, wearing a perfectly tailored tweed jacket and jeans.

                We all start talking French.  We move to the dining-room and have an excellent dinner with excellent wine, including Clos Toulmin, Mme. de Mac Mahon's Auxey-Duresses and a bottle of the Italian's wine (which is in fact delicious).

                Antoine says do we want to go and taste, so the Toulmins and I follow him out and up the road to the cellar where the barrels of white wine are kept.  There is a slow way down to the cellar, round by way of the ramp.  And there is the quick way down - jumping off the wall.  Antoine jumps down.  I follow.  Ouch.  I land awkwardly, twisted.  There is searing pain in my ankle.  I try not to believe it, but I know immediately I've sprained my ankle.  The pain is intense, but I'm out to dinner, so stiff upper lip is the order of the day.

                We enter the cellar, and Antoine starts dipping his pipette into the barrels.  If you read Tintin, you will remember the exclamatory  @*%$+@#*@  when Captain Haddock overheats.  I begin seeing all these and more.  I have to sit down or I'll faint.  The tasting is fascinating - the wines seem very promising, with good, concentrated flavours.

                Thank goodness the next day is Sunday, so I have no appointments or tastings, and the ankle can rest a bit.  It is very swollen.  But no chance of taking those photographs of St. Vincent.

                And what about those magpies?

                Monday morning.

                DOMAINE GACHOT-MONOT, Corgoloin.  My appointment is for nine o'clock.  It is a frosty morning, and on the way I pass an accident where a car and van have skidded on the ice and collided, almost blocking the road.

                I arrive late at Corgoloin, where Damien and Lise Gachot now live.  The house is empty.  No sign of life.  A big barn which used to be outside the house has disappeared, with just the end of the mains electricity cable sprouting up out of the ground.

                I go off to a telephone box to ring the family home at Gerland.  Damien is there.  He's already rung Monmouth to try to get hold of me.

                He says, "J'arrive.  J'arrive."

                And he does.  We go tasting.  First the 2000s in barrel.  These will be lovely - masses of really beautiful sweet fruit, and fine-textured tannins.

                Then the 99s.  I hear the church clock outside strike ten.  Tasting Damien Gachot's wines is a treat.  They always appear so easy and unaggressive, with bright, perfumed, vivid fruit, and yet behind all that fruit there is very good acidity, and unobtrusive tannins that give his wines longevity.  Both his 92 (his first solo vintage) and 93 Côte de Nuits Villages are still in peak condition, lovely for drinking now.

                We continue to taste and talk.  I hear the church clock strike eleven.  What about M. Mary?

                For two consecutive years now Damien's Côte de Nuits Villages has been awarded a "Coup de Coeur" by the Guide Hachette - a very considerable achievement - most other growers can only dream of being awarded one "Coup de Coeur".  I say jokingly that he'd got his "Coup de Coeur" as usual, and he raises his arms wide to acknowledge the imagined applause.

                There is a new wine to taste, from a parcel near Vosne-Romanée that Damien has just bought, a village Nuits Saint Georges.  It is very impressive, and will arrive in the shop later this year when it has been bottled.  Very exciting.

                Even more exciting, though, is the new vintage of his Premier Cru Nuits Saint Georges ("Les Poulettes").  From 1999 Damien has acquired more vines, and so can now make several barrels rather than just a single one.  For the first time he has commercial quantities of this wine.  And what a vintage to kick off with!  It took a month for the alcoholic fermentation to finish - a fortnight longer than usual.  The wine has density, and an incredible array of flavours:  a Japanese taster who visited said it displayed aromas of exotic Eastern fruits.  Damien says it is the best wine he has ever made.

                I mention that the barn outside has disappeared.  Great works are about to take place, with a brand new winery being built on the site.  Work is about to start, to be ready for this year's harvest.  Damien shows me the plans.  This domaine is definitely going places.

                I hear the church clock strike twelve.

                Would I like to stay to lunch?  I say yes please, but could I possibly telephone M. Mary to re-arrange my appointment?

                M. Mary is very accommodating, and I fix a rendezvous for half-past four that afternoon.

                Lise, who has a full-time job working for Tollot-Beaut, a fine and famous domaine in Chorey-les-Beaune, comes back for lunch.

                We talk and eat, and drink various vintages.  Lise asks me a question which I misunderstand.  I can't remember now what I thought she asked me, but I replied, "Non."

                In fact, she asked me, "Did you like the 99s?"

                I could see Damien out of the corner of my eye begin to fall off his chair, and Lise looked across anxiously at him.

                I realised my mistake.  My French really isn't that good.

                DOMAINE CHRISTOPHE MARY, Corcelles-les-Arts.  Finally I get to meet M.Mary.  He is young, sort of pint-sized, wearing big working boots.

                He takes me through a barn containing farm machinery and tractors, down into his cellar that is about as big as a cupboard.

                Garagiste.  Those Bordeaux types (Le Pin, etc.) should visit this domaine.  He has about 2 ha, and he talks about his holdings of vines in terms of square metres.  I saw somewhere that he made 450 bottles of one of his wines.

                We start tasting.  M. Mary is impish, and when he gets excited, his eyes light up as if there were little batteries behind them.

                The wines are brilliant.  His straight Bourgogne Chardonnay is better than most people's Meursault, with weight and utterly amazing acidity that seems to gather up the flavour and carry it along to a finish of quite astonishing length.  These are wines of Coche-Dury standard.

                He makes some reds, too.  This is a talented wine maker.

                At the end of a tasting in which he shows me all his wines, in two vintages, he says he's sold all his wine and can't sell me anything.  He was just showing me what he does.

                I say rather hopelessly, "What, not even 18 bottles?"

                And he says, "Yes, you can have 18 bottles."

                So I buy 18 bottles, and he gives me two extra as a present.

                I am hopeful for the next vintage.

*   *   *

                That evening, after the tasting with M. Mary, I had to drive for a couple of hours to my hotel, near Vézelay, where I was going to collect wine from Mme. Villiers, before making more collections around Chablis.

                It had been a long day.  I undressed to go to bed.  My ankle had swollen up like a football, the whole of the top of my foot, including half way down my toes, had gone black, and the bruising colours - red, purple, blue, had spread to the other side of the foot and up my leg.  My toes were so swollen they were stuck together.  My foot felt numb.

                I went to bed, thinking a good night's sleep would make my ankle much better by morning.  I didn't get to sleep, for thinking about my foot.  I blame it on "Angela's Ashes" (the book I was reading), with its unrelenting illness and disease and death and dying.  I had all those appointments the next day.  What if I was unable to keep them?  And if your foot goes black isn't that gangrene, and doesn't that lead to blood poisoning which can kill you overnight?

                I switched on the light again, and got dressed, went down to the lobby of the hotel to ask if there was a hospital nearby.  They said no, but they could call a doctor.

                The doctor turned up and looked the ankle.  He said it was a "moyen grave" sprained ankle, told me to bathe it alternately in hot and cold salted water, and left.

                Driving back towards Calais two days later, I saw a pair of magpies - and decided I must be in for some good luck.  In a Panglossian sort of way I thought that in this best of all possible worlds, if I hadn't sprained my ankle, what would I have had to write about?

 *   *   *

                Some final words on the 1999 and 2000 reds.

                Tasting in barrel last year, the 99s seemed soft, round, healthy, with immediacy of fruit.  A nice, easy vintage.  You will see reports from wine merchants saying all this.

                However, in the intervening 12 months, the wines have undergone a change, and noticeable tannins have appeared, firming up the wines considerably.  Their development seems to be going in a positive direction.  They now look as though they will have sufficient structure to support longer ageing.

                The most remarkable feature of this vintage is the colour, which is not only deep and impressive, but of a significantly darker hue than you would normally expect of red burgundy.

                All in all, the 1999 vintage looks like an exciting prospect.

                The 2000s appear much patchier.  Good growers will have made good wines.  There was rain at harvest time.  It seems to have been quite a tricky vintage.  The feature that I particularly noted at this stage among the less exciting wines is a dryness - in fact many wines seem too dry.  I think this may turn out to be a problem.  But it is early days yet, and I tasted plenty of really good wines - if I were to pick out any, Gavignet, Voegeli and Gachot-Monot stood out.

Tom Innes
Irma Fingal-Rock,
64 Monnow Street,