Biking the Dordogne Valley: Saint Émilion (Part Two)

When I left you Friday, I was strolling around the quaint but soggy town of Saint Émilion, wandering in and out of wine shops, and at one such shop, I bought a bottle of this, which I opened to have a glass (or two) before dinner.

NV Château de Bonhoste Crémant de Bordeaux, France: Retail 10€. 70% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot. It was a crummy day getting to Saint Emilion. First, the train from Bordeaux to Libourne was replaced by a bus. Meh. And when I got to Libourne, it was raining cats and dogs so instead of riding, I took the train from Libourne to Saint Emilion. Raining there, too (it’s only about 10k away), and I had to walk up hill, in the rain for about 2k with all my gear to get to my hotel. As my son would say: Bruh. Once settled in the hotel, though, I took a stroll around town, meandering in and out of some of the *many* wine shops in town. In one, I was handed a glass of wine (and then another) without even saying a word. So I bought a bottle of this rosé to take back to the room before dinner. I don’t have a ton of experience with Bordeaux Crémant, but that might need to change. Crisp, fruity, tart, all the requisite parts are there, with a good sparkle and an admirable finish. Well done. Very Good. 89 Points.

The prospect of dining alone does not frighten me, in fact, I actually enjoy dining by myself since I can observe, take notes, and focus on the food, the wine, and the general vibe of the restaurant. 


For some reason, and maybe it only happens to me, the French tend to put me smack-dab in the middle of the dining room when I am alone. There I am, for all to see (whether they want to or not), tapping away on my iPhone, taking notes, and trying (but failing) to blend in.

This was the case the first night in Saint Émilion, as I opted for the Amelia Canta, a casual place right on the main square in the center of town. The proprietor immediately took me for a tourist, with his brusque manner in responding to my request for a table for one. My stature (6’4”) usually eliminates any chance to be taken for a native, particularly in France (where the average male tops out around 5’2″ it seems). Add in my penchant for wearing shorts (even in cool fall weather–it was 18°C [~65°F) and there really is nothing about my appearance that would indicate anything other than “tourist.” When I dropped in a bit more French (which is not horrible) he warmed up a bit.

Pretty much a dead ringer (without the beard).

He certainly had a Captain Haddock vibe going on (for all of you Tintin fans out there) both in resemblance and demeanor.  For those of you unfamiliar, he’s a fireplug of a guy with a barrel chest, tree trunks for arms, and a neck that is just as wide as his skull. He stalks about as if pursuing a toreador, with Baryshnikov’s height and Butkus’ demeanor. 

I opted for the full-duck dinner with foie gras to start and then a magret de canard (duck breast filet). Delicious. And the wine was pretty fantastic as well:

2016 Château Hautes Graves d’Arthus, Saint Émilion Grand Cru, France: Retail 18€. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. My first night in Saint Emilion and I went to the popular restaurant on the main square. Although I tried to follow all the changes that have been occurring in the St. Émilion Grand Cru classifications, it is confusing to say the least and I have to admit that I am a bit lost at this point. I do know that tonight, at my restaurant on the main square in St. Émilion, this was 30€, the Grand Cru Classé wines were twice that (and then some). So I opted for this, which was not on the list, but my server served me up a solid. Fantastic. Dark, almost brooding fruit, with complex notes of forest floor, a bit of mocha, dark earth, and even bark. Still quite tight as well as laden with significant tannins, this wine could still benefit from another 5-10 years of aging. Close to a Whoa. Excellent. 92 Points.

The following day, the skies were still grey and cloudy, but they were dry as were the roads. The plan was a quick 30-mile ride through the vineyards to the south of Saint Émilion, getting back in time for dinner. [OK, full confession time: Even though I used to ride and race in all kinds of weather–you aren’t really a bike racer until you have your water bottle freeze during a race–since moving to Houston, I have become a full-blown weather wuss and I won’t even contemplate riding outside unless it is above what Houstonians consider “freezing” i.e., 60°F or about 15°C so I would ride in the afternoon.]

The ride was great; Through immaculate vineyards and quaint little towns, it was every bit as much of what everyone imagines “riding in France” would be like.


I started the ride at the top of Saint Émilion, where the vineyards start immediately.

Some grapes were still to be picked, but I only saw a few vineyards heavy with fruit still.

Even tiny towns like Branne have impressive churches.

The route…

The bugs.

Holy mother of god, it was biblical. I have ridden my bike all over the US and Europe for decades and I have never, ever experienced this. In hair, arms, legs, mouth, eyes, and ears. Awful. Swarms of thousands would hit me like enemy shrapnel, tiny little stings all over. And it persisted the whole ride. All 30 miles, I hit swarm after swarm, riding through well over a hundred floating masses of those tiny little bastards. 

It was so disgusting and had me worried about the rest of the week, because if they were to be around all week? I don’t know if I would be able to handle it.

It would have been so much worse with hairy legs. Ugh.

At dinner, even though the food was even better than the night before (I ate at Le Médiéval at the southern tip of the town for those keeping score) I had a miserable time. I was still feeling those tiny little suckers all over my body despite my 20-minute, 200-degree shower in hopes of killing all the remaining little sons of you-know-what.


While the food was better, the wine was not… 

Duck gizzard and lardons salad.

More duck breast, but with fries this time!

2016 Château Saint Martial, Saint Émilion Grand Cru, France: Retail 19€ (I paid 35€ at a restaurant in Saint Émilion). 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc. I do not drink a ton of wines from Saint Émilion, but since I am here for a couple of nights, I figure…. I had hoped for the 2015 vintage of this wine, but they were apparently out. This 2016 was just fine, though, with nice dark berry fruit (raspberry, cassis) on both the nose and the palate along with some forest floor and dark earth. Incredible balance on the palate with fantastic acidity that compliments the fruit very well. And the finish–long and lovely. Quite nice. Excellent. 91 Points.

More soon….



About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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