It is September 2000, the first year of the new Millennium, so we no longer have to worrry about the Milennium Bug.
I am standing around with a bunch of shabbily dressed people I mostly don't know outside Chateau Beychevelle on this warm Sunday morning, blind tasting one of the property's second labels.
"There is great intensity," I say to myself after taking a sip, "and a richness of flavor with a chocolate, earthy finish." But is it the chateau's Les Brulieres or the Amiral, and what is the vintage -- 1998, 1997, 0r something older?
Can't tell, so I approximate a Gallic shrug, throw my plastic tasting cup into a trash receptacle, and clip my mini tape recorder back to my shorts. And reluctantly start running again, as we are only about six miles into our race with another 20 miles to go.
Each fall, the Marathon du Medoc -- the date of this year's edition is September 8 -- gives thousands of people the opportunity to taste 20 or so wines from the top chateaux in Pauillac, St.-Julien, and St.-Estephe, plus the opportunity to sample many typically Bordelaise foods. The catch is that you have to run for three-to-six hours through their vineyards to experience this gastro treat.
Moi, aujoud'hui, I am running what I intend to be my last marathon in the first vintage of the new century. Although I have completed six prior marathons in relatively decent times, I am now past my running prime and in only so-so shape.
But the lure of the venue and the encouragement of friends, one a foodie who is with me today, running his first marathon, kept me focused during the weeks of training and those four 20-milers in practice.
Our morning starts early along the Gironde River in the wine town of Pauillac, where there are more than 3,000 runners milling around with up-tempo music loudly blaring as it always does at races. Although there are serious marathoners participating, most people here are fun runners, many adorned in costumes. Large, bare faux buttocks seem to be the tout le rage. But remember, the French think Jerry Lewis is funny, too.
At 9:30, we are off. The first wine stop is within the city itself, a mere quarter of a mile into the race, and it is jammed. My running buddy, Glenn Bergman, and I pass it by. I note sadly that Lynch-Bages, which we see on our right as we leave town, isn't pouring today, so we push on toward St.-Julien and Beychevelle.
At that point,the course loops inland toward the northwest, the runners begin to spread out, and there is more running room. And this is good, as Nature begins calling, and runners both male and female start peeling off into the vine rows to drop their pants and do some organic enrichment of the terroir. Wine stops at Lagrange and Grand-Puy-Lacoste are properly noted into the recorder, and then we come into the courtyard at Pontet-Canet. Here, we are treated to real wine glasses, and the wine is drawn from barrels. "We would never taste in plastic glasses," a pourer sniffs. Even though this slows down the process, we are glad for the time to catch our breaths.
So far, the food has been bistro-simple -- fruit, cheese tarts, sweets -- but, after a wine stop at 14 miles on the beautiful grounds of Mouton-Rothschild, blood sausages are offered us in the streets of the village of Le Pouyalet. Against my warning, Glenn, ever the foodie, cannot resist. He asks if sweetbreads are also available.
As we cross over into St.-Estephe, the sun starts bearing down as we slog through the hilly countryside. Le Crock, Pomys, le Haye, Marquis de St.-Estephe, and Phelan-Segur now seem obstacles to overcome rather than delightful chateau wines to be sampled. With five miles to go, we are at one of my favorites, Haut- Marbuzet, but today I can barely enjoy the view.
The course heads back downhill to the river, but running downhill now seems more difficult than running uphill, so we walk for 100 yards or so. As we again reach the wide, tidal waters of the Gironde, there are raw oysters -- perhaps cooked oysters by now -- with white Bordeaux. Our plan from last night was to celebrate here with just two miles to go, but now it seems like a nauseating idea. I do grab a cup of wine with a kilometer to go, Mouton Cadet blanc, and it has never tasted more delicious and refreshing.
And ,then, there is the last flurry to the finish line back where we started, a sprint on cramping legs. I hold back, and Glenn jubilantly runs ahead. Our time is very slow as marathons go -- around 5 hours and 10 minutes -- although I do feel better when I realize there are hundreds of people still behind us. Some may be even planning to spend the night at their favorite chateaux.
Later that evening, Glenn and I, along with two other friends who ran part of the race and one who was injured during training, and our wives celebrate in the elegant Hautrive St. James in Bouillac. Glenn in euphoric, while I am merely exhausted. The waiter arrives, and we order a cold bottle of a very good Champagne.
Sorry, but we've had enough vin du Medoc for one day!
Note: I apologize for the tardiness of recent postings. My two partners and I are just finishing the manuscript, photos, and recipes for The Brandywine Book of Food, which will be published early next year by Cumberland House.
Until the next time...