JIM BSeven wine-filled exhibition halls, all free for the sipping, and we discover the four-star Domaine la Croix Chaptal 2003 Cuvée Charles.

Our vinous stay in Cannes was over and our coach ride to Montpellier, where the Vinisud wine fair would begin the next day, was uneventful save for the incessant, deep booming voice of a self-absorbed Russian gentleman. The salads we had acquired at the Carlton Hotel were delicious. As we reminisced about how we got into the wine business, traveled to Cannes for three days of all-expense paid wine tasting, met Eva Schubert and Graham Nutter and received the unexpected gift of a couple of Carlton Hotel forks, we noticed that the weather was deteriorating as we neared Montpellier. By the time we reached the fair town in late afternoon, it was dark, gloomy and pouring.

As our fellow imbibers lined up at the check-in desk at the hotel that had been arranged for them by our Cannes organizers, we cast about for a taxi or other form of conveyance that could take us through the storm to the quaint country inn we had reserved. You see, we had promised to meet Cousin Robert there and have him join us at Vinisud during the ensuing two days. But there were no cabs to be found and we couldn’t get near the front desk personnel to implore their assistance. Were we doomed to spend the night in the hotel lobby?

All of a sudden our savior emerged from out of the gloom. He was a tour guide, named Réné, who was dropping off several of his guests after a pleasant if somewhat damp day in the Montpellier surrounds. We pounced upon him when he had finished his goodbyes and asked if he could help us get a cab? “Where are you going?” he inquired. We explained that our destination was a good distance away. “No problem. Come with me,” he offered. So we clambered into his nine-passenger van and headed off to our inn and rendezvous with Cousin Robert.

Hélène and Cousin Robert

Hélène and Cousin Robert

Hélène and Réné chatted amiably about just about everything imaginable during the half hour drive through the pouring rain. When we finally reached our destination I asked him how much we owed him for the ride. “Nothing, monsieur, it has been my pleasure.” How about that? A total stranger driving two stranded tipplers in a raging storm when he should have been at home eating supper. He wouldn’t hear of any offered cash, but did acquiesce to accepting the two bottles of champagne that Eva Schubert had given us in Cannes. “Oh, my bride will love these,” he chirped as he disappeared into the night.

Cousin Robert was anxiously waiting at the inn’s front door. I should explain that Cousin Robert is a world-class fretter. If there were such a thing as a professional worrywart, he would be immensely wealthy. He had imagined that all sorts of vile things had happened to us. Then, in order to assuage his frazzled nerves, he helped himself to some port he found in the inn’s drawing room — a tumbler-full of it!

The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we set out for our first day of sheer hedonism. The traffic was quite heavy as we approached the exhibition grounds and, to our chagrin, there wasn’t a parking place to be seen in the vast asphalt expanse. Obviously we would have to skip the leisurely breakfast bit the following day. We finally wedged Robert’s battered old Renault Cinq into an improbable slot as far as was possible from the Vinisud venue. As we dodged the puddles from the previous afternoon and evening’s monsoon and neared the exhibition buildings, it became apparent how massive was this event. Before us were seven exhibition halls chocked full of wine producers from around the Mediterranean. I thought Robert was going to faint as he contemplated the unfettered slurping that lay ahead.

Christian Esparza, our wine angel

Christian Esparza, our wine angel

We checked in, received our passes and headed out among the throngs of joyous topers in search of Charles-Walter Pacaud and his vaunted Domaine la Croix Chaptal wines. Our mentor in all things vinous, Christian Esparza, had counselled us that no matter what else we did at Vinisud, we had to meet and sign up Charles-Walter. It wasn’t easy, but we found him holding court in a small booth tucked away in the bowels of building number three. We joined the queue of his many admirers and finally received our audience with the artisan vigneron. He turned out to be a very serious, but amiable fellow and as we happily tasted his wines from the heart of the huge Languedoc wine region, we couldn’t help ourselves but to exclaim: “Wow!”

My favourite Domaine la Croix Chaptal wine was a very tasty red, the 2003 Cuvée Charles. Here’s how I described it when we introduced it to our wine club a few months later: ‘This one has the maestro’s name on it, so it had better be good! And it is, with more than 20 glowing citations from the wine press including four stars from Guide Dussert-Gerbert. It was crafted from 38 per cent Syrah, 37 per cent Carignan and 25 per cent Grenache, was unfiltered and rested in oak barrels for a full year. The yield was a stingy 32 hectolitres per hectare. This is a beautiful, complex full-bodied wine. “Wow,” comes to mind when I just think about it. A brooding dark ruby colour, it serves up glorious aromas of raspberries, black currants, wild brush, toffee, chocolate, toasted coffee and kirsch. It has beautiful, silky tannins and a lovely, lingering aftertaste. This fine Coteaux du Languedoc is drinking well now and will age brilliantly for many years. Serve with red meat, game or cassoulet.’

Charles-Walter Pacaud

Charles-Walter Pacaud

We hit it off famously with Charles (we all agreed to drop the Walter) and he signed on to become one of our suppliers. One of our primary goals had been achieved. For the next couple of hours we navigated the crowds and sampled many more delicious wines. Suddenly, Robert announced that all this wine had made him most peckish and, seeing as how it was almost noon, he would set out in search of something more nourishing than the scraps of bread he had nibbled during our tastings. He trotted off with a purpose, leaving us to conclude our discussions with a promising vintner from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Hélène and I were also becoming quite hungry so we set out in search of Robert and lunch. The huge food court was absolutely jammed with happy bacchanalians. Locating our ravenous cousin was no easy task. Finally we founded him perched on a stool at a high table, grinning from ear to ear, with a massive plate of raw oysters and a very large glass of white wine before him. “Bon appetite,” he called out cheerfully.

This happy scene seems like a good place to leave you for the time being. I’ll conclude our adventures at Vinisud and Montpellier including our encounters with Lucky Luke, Franck Léonor and his uncles (and foie gras), the roasting lamb and our first big order in my next exciting Gentleman’s Portion post. I do hope you can stand suspense. Cheers!

PS: Click here to find out about our current wine club offerings: I assure you a sensory treat awaits!


Featured image: Seven wine-filled exhibition halls await

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