Sunset at Château Cheval Blanc on the flower-filled roof of its new gravity-led winery designed by Christian de Portzamparc. Drinking in the view of St Emilion and Pomerol from the roof, the slowly dipping sun bathing the vines in golden light, was unforgettable.
The sun dips further at Cheval Blanc, turning the trees into inky silhouettes. Walking around, I noticed a tiny private chapel and orangery. Fellow wine writer Margaret Rand snuck off into the gardens to forage for giant pine cones to bedeck a pair of headless sculptures in her London home.
Lagging behind, I got to capture the pilgrimage up to the roof of Cheval Blanc's new state-of-the-art winery. Costing €13m, its breathable walls are made from a material called mashrabiya that facilitates natural ventilation. Rioja's reputation as the wine world's architectural capital could be under threat.
Once inside, managing director Pierre Lurton treated us to five of the LVMH-owned company's wines, including Cheval Blanc 2011 and Château d'Yquem 2011 – my favourite wine of en primeur week. The sweet, honeyed, golden elixir was so unctuous and generous on the palate, with uplifting tropical notes of pineapple, orange blossom and mandarin, and yet at the same time so deliciously fresh.
On my first visit to Cheval Blanc two years ago, I stumbled upon a drawing room where this little mutt was given pride of place. Not knowing the circumstances, a painted dog in a frame seemed strange. Enquiring about him on my recent visit, I was told the dog was something of a hero at Cheval, famous for biting all-powerful American wine critic Robert Parker when he came to taste at the property.
Continuing the dog theme, I made friends with this adorable pooch – Willy – during lunch at Château Troplong Mondot. The lunch was an event in itself: huge slabs of foie gras and comte cheese washed down with vintage Sauternes. The highlight though, was the unisex loo and the confusion it caused. I could have bottled the look on the Chinese guy's face when he opened the door and found me washing my hands.
The infamous statue of St Peter, the first Pope, with the key to the city of Rome in his hand, at Château Pétrus in Pomerol. Both Peter and Petrus mean stone in Latin, and the Château gets its name from a clay hill near the estate in Pomerol called Petrus because it goes as hard as stone in the sun. I was lucky enough to try the 2011 vintage on my visit and was impressed by its approachability and freshness.
The wisteria-filled façade and manicured lawns of first growth Château Lafite in Pauillac. I was treated to a tasting of both Lafite 2011 and second wine Carruades de Lafite. During the tasting, Domaines Barons de Rothschild managing director Christophe Salin revealed that Lafite would release early and low this year. They came out this week at €420 a bottle ex-negociant.
While tasting at Lafite, I chanced upon this pretty portrait of Betty de Rothschild painted by Ingres in 1848. Betty had recently married her banker uncle, James Mayer de Rothschild, making her one of the wealthiest women in northern Europe. Described as "perhaps one of the most sumptuous yet approachable images of mid-nineteenth century opulence," it is considered one of Ingres' best works.
Heading to Cos d'Estournel in St Estephe, I was greeted by this stone elephant – the estate's motif – in the courtyard. Inside Cos' exotic interior, which looks more like a five star hotel in Oman than a winery, manager Jean-Guillaume Prats told me the story behind the elephant connection. In the early 19th century, the maharaja of India gifted the then head of the property a pair of elephants, which were brought to Bordeaux and used in the region's first polo match between Cos and neighbouring Château Lafite.
One of many stretched limos gracing the gravely drives of the top châteaux during en primeur week. But who were they for?
A fuchsia pink clad Margaret Rand stops to take a whiff of wisteria before entering Ausone.
Ausone was positively pregnant with heavenly lilac wisteria. Only in bloom fleetingly, I couldn't resist capturing the moment.
One of Château Pontet Canet's troop of horses busy at work ploughing the vineyard.
Can you guess where I spotted this quirky light fixture?
Having enjoyed a hairy golf buggy ride to Château Mouton Rothschild, I was greeted by this fine pair of rams in the art-filled entrance. I also picked up a Lucian Freud 2006 label postcard for €2.50. If only the 2011 vintage were as good value...
The final stop on my whistle-stop tour took me to fairytale castle Pichon Baron. Inside, I was treated to the sweet golden elixir Château Suduiraut, poured by Chrisitan Seely himself.
We were invited by wild-haired wine rock star Hurbert de Bouard to party in Château Angelus' fermentation room, filled with space age stainless steel tanks hovering from the ceiling like daleks.
Travel buddies Richard Bampfield MW and Chris Kissack were a barrel of laughs. After his third glass of Angelus, Richard developed an irrational fondness for Hubert de Bouard's egg-shaped barrel.