Bordeaux is a kind of wonderland for wine lovers, but there is also a lot for those who love to travel, eat and drink very well. I’m going to tell you about my journey, between useful and somewhat technical information, advice and reflections.
To better understand the world of wine, it is necessary to know the great wine regions that have been, and are still the reference points for world oenology. This was the thought that guided me in choosing to visit Bordeaux. Although short, the journey was formative and enriching. Of course, the beauty of the world of wine is never ending learning, surprising and changing one’s mind.
The weekend started in a rush, two hours of flight, quick rental of the car at the airport (yes, it is essential if you want to go beyond city boundaries), to immediately head to the Bordeaux Tasting that was taking place at one of the most important locations in the city. Thus, my short but intense trip to Bordeaux began.
From the vineyard inside the airport to the numerous Bar à Vin scattered on the streets of the historic center, from more than 50 AOCs (our DOC) to its prestigious and millenary history, wine is the fulcrum of this city and region. It would seem superfluous to highlight it, but in reality I don’t think it is totally banal: it was exciting to be in one of the wine territories that has made the history, it is important being aware of it, and feeling it in the air is wonderful.
Brief overview of Bordeaux wine region
Bordeaux is the largest wine-growing region in France, in terms of both volume and value. A region with unique climatic and environmental characteristics, which favor the production of high quality wines. The climate is temperate maritime, due to the presence of the two rivers Dordogne and Garonne which run through the region, to then meet and form the Gironde estuary and dive into the Atlantic Ocean. The warm ocean currents favor the extension of the growing season, but they also bring a lot of rain and humidity. The two rivers are two major players in this region, which in addition to regulating their weather, divide Bordeaux into three different wine-growing areas. The area west of the Garonne River, where Medoc, Sauternes and Graves are located, is identified as the Left Bank. Between the two rivers there is the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation. While with Right Bank, reference is made to the areas north – east of the Dordogne river, that is the renowned villages of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.
Grape variety and classification system
In Bordeaux it is difficult to find mono-varietal wines, the Bordeaux trademark is precisely the blends, that is, wines produced by assembling multiple varieties. Why?
Because the great variability of the weather and the level of rain during the growing season does not allow producers to rely on a single variety. A high level of rainfall can, in fact, slow down flowering and fruit set and therefore cause the production of mold and dilution of flavors in future grapes. Cultivating multiple varieties, with different characteristics and ripening periods, allows to counter any weather problems of the vintage, and to guarantee the high quality of the wine produced every year, with a different grape assembly.
In the more than 50 appellations – Appellations of origin contrôlée – present in the region, 13 grape varieties are in fact allowed. The main among the red grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. While among the white grape varieties the most cultivated are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
In addition to the aforementioned AOCs, which range from the most general and large (Bordeaux, Bordeaux Superieur) to the smaller ones linked to the villages, there is a further particularly complex classification system. The classification is not homogeneous: it concerns the areas of the Medoc, Sauternes, Graves and Saint Emilion but in a different way one from each other. For Medoc and Sauternes, reference is made to the renowned, and debated, classification of 1855, based on the producer, therefore on the chateau, and not on the single vineyard. For Medoc, 60 Chateaux fall into the classification in 5 different categories, identified as Cru Classé (From the most important Premier Cru, Duexième Cru, Troisième Cru, Quartième Cru and Cinquième Cru). For Sauternes there are less than 30 Chateaux present in the classification as Premier Cru Supérieur Classé, Premier Cru Classé and Deuxième Cru Classé. In the Graves area the classification is different, and only 16 Chateaux are identified with the term Cru Classé. As for Saint-Emilion, the classification is integrated into the AOC system. The AOC Saint-Emilion Grand Cru provides a classification of the best chateaux: Premier Grand Cru Classé (divided into A and B), followed by Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru. It is the only one of the classifications mentioned that is reviewed every 10 years.
It is clear that these classifications represent a guide to quality, not an absolute reference, given also the large number of chateaux that do not fall within this system.
Bordeaux Tasting 2019
As I was telling you, the first goal of the travel was Bordeaux Tasting. Great wines Festival, now in its eighth edition, organized very well by Terre de Vins Magazine, in the majestic Stock Exchange Palace, in the square with the same name (Place de la Bourse), a historical place which is located in the heart of the city, in the neighborhood of Saint-Pierre. Two days (14th and 15th December for 2019) dedicated to the tasting of more than 100 wines coming from Bordeaux, from Champagne and other wine regions of France and the world.
I arrived a little out of breath, but eager to taste the wines of the main Bordeaux AOCs and the great chateaux. It was a nice, although short, full immersion. I concentrated mainly on the wines of the Left Bank.
Chateau Rauzan-Seglà – Second Grand Cru Classè en 1855
I tasted the second wine from the Chateau, the Sègla from the 2014 vintage (57% Cab. Sauv., 43% Merlot) ripe black fruit and anise on the nose. Buttery wine, full-bodied with soft tannins. Pleasant freshness, very long finish, spicy and slightly bitter.
Chateau Prieurè Lichine – Fourth Grand Cru Classè en 1855
Confidences de Prieurè Lichine - their second wine, in the 2015 vintage is a blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose has notes of mushrooms, currants and eucalyptus. On the palate it is soft, balanced with fairly velvety tannins. Medium length finish, slightly pungent. Chateau Prieurè Lichine - first wine - the 2015 vintage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 66%, Merlot 29% and Petit Verdot 5%. Very elegant and velvety. I didn't fully appreciate it because it was a bit closed.
Chateau Pichon Baron – Second Grand Cru Classè en 1855
Again I was able to taste their second wine, the "Les Griffons de Pichon Baron" 2016 (52% Cab. Sauv., 48% Merlot). Hints of vegetables, black cherries, blackberries and cloves. Nice and warm sip, medium(+) length finish.
Chateau Sociando Mallet
Although it does not fall within the classification of the Medoc, and is a more recent winery, I have found its wines particularly intriguing. La Demoiselle de Sociando Mallet 2015 - blend where Merlot predominates (65%), alongside Cab. Sauv. 30% and Cab. Franc. for the remaining 5%. Notes of strawberry, flowers, vanilla and herbs. Velvety, pleasant and easy to drink. Of their most important wine, the Chateau Sociando Mallet I tasted two vintages. 2015 has a fresher profile, is made up of 55% Merlot and Cab. Sauv. for 45%. Deep notes of black fruit, flowers and undergrowth. Excellent taste-olfactory correspondence, soft and pleasant with a long finish. The wine for the 2012 vintage is more intense, here 55% Cabernet Sauvignon predominates, 40% Merlot plus 5% Cabernet Franc. Wide aromas of ripe black fruit and truffle notes characterize it, even on the palate. Complex and with nice personality.
The food! Tradition and creativity in the kitchens of Bordeaux
Each breakfast, lunch and dinner was an opportunity to learn about the food and wine traditions of the region and French in general. I got the idea that Bordeaux, in addition to wine, is a perfect destination for gourmand travelers. The dishes I tried always met my taste and I have found them, in some cases, particularly creative in the combinations of flavors.
But what should you taste absolutely?
Do not miss the oysters from the nearby Arcachon basin. There are many specialized restaurants that offer seafood and fresh shellfish. I had my oyster feast at Le Cabanon Marin. It is a restaurant on the Garonne, reminiscent of a fisherman’s hut, with a comfortable and somewhat rustic atmosphere.
A very tasty dish, typical of the Medoc, is quail stuffed with gingerbread, hot foie gras and Armagnac reduction. My mouth water comes back just at the thought!
Another delicious and truly special dish that I tried was the cut of duck with dehydrated vegetables, mashed potatoes and green pepper ice cream.
And the sweets? I love French spoon desserts. Try and try again the tarte tatin, an upside down cake of caramelized apples and creme brulèe. A typical dessert from the city of Bordeaux are Cannelé, vanilla and rhum sweets with a crispy exterior contrasting with the soft inner heart.
La Cite du Vin - love at first visit
A must for a winelover (and not only) it can only be the Cité du Vin, and I understood that only after being there.
I wasn’t sure to do this visit until the last minute, and I can tell you that it was one of the most interesting moments of the trip. I really could not miss a visit to this very special museum.
You are certainly attracted to its uniqueness – you don’t meet a super technological museum on wine every day – but there is much more.
It will be for its iconic architecture. It will be for its immersive technology. It will be because it tells the culture and history of wine in an engaging and dreamlike way. Or perhaps because it gives its visitors an interactive and authentic sensory experience.
The Cité du Vin is not a simple museum, but a city within a city, and today represents a virtuous example of the enhancement and dissemination of wine and an inexhaustible source of inspiration for all professionals in the sector.
An activity that I particularly liked? The area they call The buffet of the five senses. When I taste a wine, my favorite part is the nose examination. It’s a challenge. And so in the Cité du Vin, there is a “table set” with many glass bells with aromas inside, from primary to tertiary. A fun way to experience your olfactory memory and learn, whether you are an expert or a simple curious.
Of course, the exploration of the history of wine and the civilizations around it was also unique. I’m referring to the gallery of civilizations. I could tell you more about the Cité du Vin, but better to continue with the other Bordeaux must-do.
Chateau mon amour!
How wonderful the wineries of Bordeaux are: castles with a thousand architectural styles reminiscent of fairytale ones.
The history you breathe is immense along the road of the famous Chateaux in the left bank.
An emotion to visit the Chateau du Tertre, Fifth Grand Cru Classè en 1855, in the heart of the Margaux appellation, in the municipality of Arsac. The Chateau is located in the most western part, and at the highest point of the appellation. In fact, its name gives us a clue about its location: the region is on the plain, but the area covered by vineyards, all around the Chateau, is slightly higher, precisely a small hill – tertre.
There is a long history behind Chateau du Tertre, which begins in the seventeenth century with Pierre Mitchell, the inventor of the Bordeaux bottle and Jeroboam. Since 1997 the owner is the Dutch entrepreneur Eric Albada Jelgersma, the same as Chateau Giscours (Third Grand Cru AOC Margaux) and the Tuscan winery Caiarossa.
One of the few Chateau which remained unchanged in size since the classification of 1855: it is the 55 hectares of vineyards, today as then.
Our guide during the visit was the oenologist Lorenzo Pasquini, who explains how the Chateau du Tertre is very representative of the AOC Mangaux, and at the same time differs from what is usually done by tradition. By telling us the story of the chateau and the many owners who have left a mark, he reminds us of how much we are just passing through this life in relation to the “land”, especially in a place like Bordeaux.
The vineyards surrounding the chateau are on alluvial soils composed of sand, clay and the typical gravel on the surface, here called graves. Du Tertre’s philosophy embraces biodynamics, a gradual conversion of the vineyards is currently underway, now reaching 65% of the total hectares of vineyards. Biodynamic practices concern only the vineyard, not winemaking. Therefore, there is no impact on the taste of wine, even according to the oenologist, the wines resulting from biodynamic processes in the vineyard seem more energetic when tasted. What is really important for the chateau, and which guided the decision to convert production, is the idea of maintaining, at least, the same quality, but of doing it in a more respectful way.
The main cultivated vines, and therefore more present in the blend of wines, are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But particular attention is paid to Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, also present in the blend of the first wine of the chateau.
Let's go to the tastings!
Les Hauts du Tertre 2018
Second wine, made up of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc. A medium intensity bouquet of flowers, cocoa and red fruit that also occurs on the palate. Lively sip with fairly soft tannins. Excellent drinkability, medium length finish slightly bitter.
Chateau du Tertre 2018
In the first wine for the 2018 vintage, the blend is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc and 14% Petit Verdot. Complex bouquet of black and red berries, dried flowers and cigar box. Velvety, refreshing and harmonious sip. Long and fleshy finish.
I also tasted the wines of Chateau Giscours
Sirene de Giscours 2018
Second wine, composed of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc and 13% Merlot. Red fruit, geranium and balsamic notes followed by a full and refreshing sip. Full-bodied with high and thick tannins, medium length finish.
Chateau Giscours 2018
This is their first wine:55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot. Deep nose with notes of plum, black currant, cigars and vanilla. Enveloping and concentrated sip, silky tannins and long finish. Very elegant.
The quintessence of the trip to Bordeaux
One of the most significant moments of the trip, proof of the excitement that is around the wine, was the visit to the Quintessence Tonnellerie.
I am always struck and intrigued by the great work behind a bottle of wine. Think about it, there are so many people and processes that allow wine to reach the consumers, whether they are directly or indirectly involved. So, it was really exciting to delve into one of those fundamental pieces of the puzzle of the wine cosmos.
And then if you are in France, and even in Bordeaux, the country with the oldest manufacturing tradition in the production of oak barrels for the ageing of wine in the world, you cannot miss the opportunity!
For this reason, you will soon read a deepening about this topic. I will tell you everything, or almost about the barriques and tonneaux, how they are produced, and what has changed over time.
On the tastings made during the trip – that are never enough – it is natural to make a comparison with what you know well, or at least better. And in my case, I am referring to Sicilian wines. Ever since in Sicily, around the 1960s, the pursuit of quality began, the great territories, Bordeaux first of all, have become a muse or perhaps more than that, true masters of wine.
We all know the story, tout court the point is that for a long time our great reds were, and in some cases continue to be, Bordeaux blends. Wines inspired by the great Bordeaux in all respects: from production methods to those of aging, from the cultivation of French grapes to an increasingly international taste. Another reason why it is exciting to be in Bordeaux is to taste the wines that inspired the renaissance of Sicilian wine.
Returning to the tastings, I am not interested in talking about superiority or not, but my general impression is that Bordeaux red wines are always characterized by greater elegance and freshness, compared to our Sicilian Bordeaux blends.
That said, go to the Ryanair website, or another company that is more likeable for you, and buy your flight to Bordeaux. In every season it will present itself to you with a different dress, but I’m sure it will always be charming, like its wines.