A weekend of wine tasting on bikes that represent the more refined side of life. We explore France's Loire Valley from the comfort of three ultimate touring machines
Ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant leaves you open for a barrage of potential disasters and social embarrassment. Get it right and you can bask in the collective appreciation and admiration of your fellow diners. Fail and you may as well book your next dinner date at McDonald's.
Which is a problem, because my own status as a wine connoisseur is roughly similar to that of the local tramp swigging a bottle of screw top on a park bench. Beyond the basics I am, frankly, lost. Drinking wine, it seems, has more protocols attached to it than meeting the Queen. In fact I know this for certain - I've met the Queen. All I had to do was remember to bow, wait until she asked the questions and not call her Liz.
So with Christmas approaching it was time to get educated, not to mention get a few bottles of the good stuff in to impress the relatives, and what better place to learn than the home of fine wine - France's Loire Valley.
That was the plan. A voyage of discovery, with the option of getting pissed on quality vino. The choice of bikes? Simple, the three with the most luggage capacity (for wine carrying), combined with serious grunt to haul the extra weight around. So mega tourers it was - Honda GoldWing, Harley-Davidson Electra Glide and BMW's revamped K1200LT.
But just 200 miles into France it so nearly all went wrong. Flashing on the GoldWing's LCD display was a warning that strikes fear into any hardened tourer. Three words that spell potential disaster: 'CD Multichange Error'. A wave of panic spread over me as I was faced with the very real possibility of spending the next three days forced to listen to the horror that is French radio. With increasing desperation I fiddled with the various knobs and buttons controlling the Wing's onboard entertainment system (20 at a rough count) and after a few seconds peace was restored again as Elvis returned to the speakers. You can't even begin to understand my relief.
During the whole 400-plus mile journey from the Eurotunnel to Angers at the start of the Loire Valley this was the only moment of anxiety. The three bikes simply ate the miles as the mundane nature of the journey dissolved away in a blissful, 80mph cruise-controlled blur while the scenery flowed past to a selection of soundtracks. When it comes to straight-line motoring these bikes can't be beaten.
"They are simply fantastic," enthused VFR-owning photographer Mykel when, after 140 miles, the Harley's fuel warning light indicated that a stop was needed. "There's no effort. Just stick on the cruise control and listen to your CDs. Can I have Elvis? REM is making me feel suicidal."
All of these bikes have seats with more padding than your average sofa and in-built speakers that mean music can be heard even at 80mph with a full-face lid on. That said, the Harley's speakers are noticeably the best, followed by the BMW, then the Wing's. Still slightly concerned about the CD multichange on the Wing, I took the opportunity to swap bikes.
Changing from the Wing to the BMW is quite a culture shock. The first thing you spot is the lack of clutter, from the Honda's myriad buttons to the BMW's space saving German efficiency. If it isn't needed, BMW doesn't put it there.
Although the riding position initially feels alien compared to the Wing - more sit 'on' rather than 'in', and the pegs feel higher and further back - it's still comfortable, but not quite as good as the Honda. After a stint on the BMW, 6ft 6in Shippey found the BMW gave his calf muscles cramp. Mykel, who is under six foot, found it perfect.
Arriving at Angers just past 9pm we checked into the delights of a Comfort Inn followed by much-needed food at the Buffalo Grill. Not glamorous, but money saved here could be better spent on fine wines, a sacrifice worth making. In order to give our taste buds a starting point we ordered the table wine, which although okay was nothing special Things could only get better.
And they did. The first vineyard on the list was Chateau Bellerive, recommended as one of the best white wines in the area. Despite owner Monsieur Dufour not speaking much English, and us not knowing much French, we muddled through.
Having never toured a vineyard before I was surprised at how basic it is. All the grapes are hand picked, shoved in plastic buckets and stuck on the back of a comical mini-tractor before being poured into a mechanical crusher. Disappointingly yet reassuringly there didn't seem to be any bare-foot grape stamping going on, which should reduce the chances of catching athlete's tongue from the wine - although Shippey did point out the grape juice falling onto the floor, along a channel and into a collecting area that looked suspiciously like a foot wash at the local swimming baths. From there the wine is sucked up via some ditch pump-like thing into a metal fermentation drum where it stays for a week, before being transferred into wood caskets for 12 months, which gives it a woody flavour, apparently.
Continued Acquired Taste - 2/2
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