Just a few hours southwest of Paris is the lovely wine region of Bordeaux and probably my favorite destination on this trip. I enjoy drinking wine but would never say I have a refined palette or know a ton about wine. But one tour through Margaux and I felt like a master sommelier.
It seems that Reid and I are unable to get any sleep on this trip as this time we had a 6:15am train to catch which meant a 5am-ish alarm. Luckily it was the “slower” train and we had 3.5 hours to nap. We arrived in Bordeaux and had a few hours to kill before checking into our Air Bnb so we did what any normal people would do; wine, cheese and charcuterie! We spent the day wandering around town and having an overall pretty relaxing day. All the education started the next day!
Just like champagne we booked a day tour to learn all about wine! We chose a tour that focused on the region of Margaux but there are many options out there. Our tour included stops at 3 chateaus and lunch with a wine pairing. I was pleasantly surprised with the entire day!
Stop number 1…Chateau Prieure-Lichine. This stop was to learn about the history of Bordeaux and of course end with a tasting. This winery dates back to the 15th century and was founded by Benedictine monks (thank you monks for most of our alcohol). Most of the monastery was destroyed and has been rebuilt but some remnants still stand.
Back to Bordeaux wines. The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 was implemented, well in 1855, and the classifications have never changed. Basically there were so many wines being produced from the region, there were not any standards or ways to determine which wines were the best. So, rank the chateaus and give 3 general classifications and it made it easier for people to determine which wine was good.
Just like champagne, there are strict guidelines in classifying the wines. If you want the best, you want a bottle that says Grand Cru Classification en 1855 and that is the easiest way to look for a good bottle. But here are a few tips:
- If a wine is a Bordeaux, it means it is from the Bordeaux region but not a specific appellation
- Chateau is always the first bottle produced from a chateau. Then they will produce a second and third tier wine under their label.
- Bordeaux is just a red wine blend always with a mix of Cabernet and Merlot
- Only Malbec, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot can be added to the blend after Cabernet and Merlot
- Sugar or wood can NEVER be added to change the blend
- The clay in the river gives Bordeaux wines the flavor and the roots dig down to get water from the soil
- There is no irrigation for the grapes
- Grapes are cut in June to control the amount on the vine to produce high quality clusters
- Bordeaux wine is DELICIOUS!
Even if you don’t know a thing about Bordeaux wines, you may have seen this symbol on a bottle as this is one of the most famous Chateau’s in the word and has a Premier cru status (1 of 4 wines to achieve this). A bottle of this wine will run you about $640! Obviously, this was just a stop to see and not taste.
Stop number 2…lunch at Restaurant Le Savoie. Usually when a lunch is included with a tour, I don’t expect much. I was absolutely blown away by the next 3 courses and the wine pairing that came with it. All the wines were provided by Chateau Croizet-Bages and we were hosted by the granddaughter of the founder of the Chateau and she even sat at our table. It was truly a VIP experience.
The first wine was a 2012 L’orme de Rauzan-Gassies from Haut-Medoc and is a blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cab. I never thought of pairing red wine with raw fish, but it was an absolute delight. The chateau was given as a wedding present in 1936 and has been in the Quie family since then. What a great present!
The next wine was a 2011 Chateau Croizet-Bages from Pauillac and a blend of 71% Cab and 29% Merlot which I found I enjoyed much more. The wine received special recognition in 1878 and 1889. The Quie family recognized this and kept the name when they took over the chateau.
While the previous two wines were good, the last wine was absolutely delicious! We had a 2004 Chateau Rauzan-Gassies Second Cru Class en 1885. This was from Margaux and a blend of 62% Cab, 30% Merlot, 6% Cab Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. I might say this was the best wine I have ever had, and I have tried a lot of wine in my life! Oh yeah, the food was really good too!
Stop number 3…Chateau La Tour de Bessan and where we learned about the wine making process. If you have ever been to a winery during harvest, you may have seen the process occur. But of course I am here to give you the down and dirty quick facts.
- The preferable way to pick the grapes is by hand. The smaller chateaus can do this but the larger ones will bring in machines to assist.
- Once the grapes are separated from the stem, they are put into large cement vats
- Gravity naturally crushes the grapes
- A system like coffee percolation is used to get the pressed juice to the top
- A system like a french press is used to push the skins down and mix with the juice
- Each variety of grape is pressed separately
- The juice is blended and set in french oak to age
- 2018 red will be bottled in June 2020
- 2018 white will be bottled in June 2019
- Chateau wines age well and should be drank in 15-20 years while the second and third wines should be drank within 2-5 years
For this tasting we tasted 100% cab and 100% merlot. Then we tasted a random blend and had to guess the % of the mix and then we tasted what the winemaker actually chose. After tasting the difference, I was beginning to be able to tell which wines were cab heavy and which ones were merlot heavy.
Stop number 4…Chateau Kirwan. This last stop was to teach us the history of Bordeaux which I could totally bore you with but won’t. Instead just click on the link and read all about it. The history spans 2000 years all the way back to the Roman times. Fun fact, Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of Bordeaux wines!
This tasting was a test for our final skills. There are lots of copy cats of wine on the market so we had a blind taste test to see if we could distinguish the fake from the real and then with the real, identify the blend and the vintage. I am proud to say that I was able to figure out the fake and then pinpoint the vintage of 2011 and guess the blend was cab heavy. I was very proud of myself for my achievements from the day.
Finally we did not have an early morning and could sleep in just a little. We had to check out of our Air Bnb around 2pm so we had plenty of time to head over to La Cite du Vin. The museum was full of interactive exhibitions and more history about wine than I think I ever wanted to know. Think of it as a giant wine filled museum for adults!
One of the best parts of the museum is the rooftop restaurant. We didn’t have a ton of time so we stopped for our free tasting and a light bite. They had a pairing of salmon and a delicious white and a club sandwich with a riesling. Who would have ever thought that wine paired with a club sandwich?!
With a little more time to kill before taking the train back to Paris, we sat across from the train station and had some rosé and a last bit of foie gras. There is no way I can be in France without eating foie gras!
Bordeaux truly is a beautiful and wonderful city. Easy to get around and very safe and full of delicious wine at every corner! There are many more regions to explore around Bordeaux and I will absolutely be going back to taste the wine from them all!
Remember with wine there is more love and the best kind of wine is the kind where you finish the bottle.
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