Saturday, June 2, 2012

Bordeaux and the Wine Tour

I am on the train writing this blog offline and will post it once I get to my apartment in Paris. It is a rather wordy one, so you might want to just skip the last section on the wine tour and just view the pictures if you are not interested in the details relating to Bordeaux wineries and wine production.

I had a great Friday night wandering around Bordeaux being amazed at the crowds of people who where out in the streets. Around midnight I headed back to my hotel, which was on the right bank of La Garonne, the large river which forms a large estuary as it pours into the Atlantic a distance from Bordeaux. The most touristy part of Bordeaux is on the left Bank of the river where forms the shape of the moon in a large curve. Yesterday's post featured some of those night shots which included the Port Du Pierre, an 18th century bridge. I will add add some labels and explanation to yesterday's photos when I get a minute.

Here are a few pictures I took of varous monuments and churches.


The bricks on the left side of this church have been cleaned, as part of the effort to bring the city back to what it was - "a golden city". You can really see in the photo how dirty the buildings have become. In the part if the city I was in, the more touristy area, I'd say half of the major buildings have had their bricks cleaned.

I have been pleased to see in the major European urban centres I have seen on this trip and how much attention has been given by the planners to provide for pedestrian traffic, cycling and public transit everywhere. This bridge and avenues in the surrounding area of Bordeaux is a great example of this. There are two dedicated walkng, cycling , tram (public transit) lanes and just one auto lane in each direction across this bridge. It makes for more pleasant walking when cars do not dominate the roadways.

Bordeaux's public transit seemed fast and efficient with dedicated lanes for the major routes which are serviced by frequent running, modern Tram cars and buses running on the lesser traveled routes. The ticketing system is very efficient with paper time limited tickets being purchased from machines and validated by the passenger as they board the car. I looked at the fares and with a single trip for 1.5 hours and a monthly pass at only 32 € is very cheap. Barcelona's system was similar in that cars did not rule thenroads, even though they also had a very comprehensive subway route. Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford please take note!

I had booked a full day wine tour for my Saturday in Bordeaux via internet just 2 days earlier. The confirmation received back from the booking company said that I needed to confirm the tour by phone prior to arrival. I was very annoyed that my call to the number went unanswered and I just did not have the patience to try further. My main challenge was that I didn't know where I was to go to meet the tour group and the tour was scheduled to leave at 9:30 the morning after my arrival. So I had a bit of chasing to do to deal with all this, made doubly difficult since the tour office didn't open until 9:30!

I found my way to the tour group and joined the tour in progress at the Bordeaux Wine Museum. I got there just at the end of the museum tour and at the beginning of the wine tasting, which I guess was not too bad. We learned how to taste the wine and evaluate colour, aroma and palate and then we tasted two Bordeaux wines - a dry white and a red.

The next part was a walking tour from the museum to a restaurant for lunch, through what once was the wine district. This area housed the trades involved in the wine business in Bordeaux through the centuries that Bordeaux has been the wine making capital of the world (per the tour Guide LOL). Barrel coopers, label makers and wine merchants were centred in this one area around Rue Notre Dame to the north of the city centre near the river.

We ended up at the "Restaurant of Wine and Cheeses" for a 3 course lunch of typical Bordeaux fare. I particularly liked the baked cabecou cheese dish which was the starter. Of course, the main, Duck Confit, was pretty good too. The meal was finished with (of course) a selection of cheeses and a dessert of a pot of lemon cream and coffee. All accompanied with some great Bordeaux wine.

We got to tour the restaurant's "cheese cave" - a cellar room which was chilled and filled with hundreds of cheeses.

We were in a jolly mood when we hopped on the larger bus with those who had only taken the half day tour, which was a visit to two wine Chateaux in the Madoc region of Bordeaux.

Wine has been produced in Bordeaux since Roman times, however it probably was the church which started wine production in any major way as they needed wine for communion and also to give to pilgrims who would stay at the churches after their daily trek. Eventually, the estates were owned by families who over generations turned these small vineyards into the large "companies" or Chateaux they are today. In Bordeaux, a Chateau is an identified wine producing property and is not a type of home. At the present time, a good number of the Chateaux are owned by major companies and very wealthy indivuidals who have purchased them as an investment rather than as a family run business.

Wine production is very controlled inBordeaux and the better Chateaux are distinguished by a rating, to indicate the quality of the wine to expect from the Chateau.

Chateau Priueri-Lichine

We first visited Chateau Priueri-Lichine in the Margeaux appelation and then we visited Chateau Paloumey of the Haut-Medoc appellation. The two wine Estates are operated quite differently from one another and I developed an appreciation of the one of the aspects of terroir as a consequence. But let me backtrack and tell you about "the notion of terroir".

From wiki: In Bordeaux the concept of terroir plays a pivotal role in wine production with the top estates aiming to make terroir driven wines that reflect the place they are from. See:

There are several factors which affect the grapes and the wine which is produced. Terroir formalizes the three major things which affect the wine which an estate produces - the land upon which the grapes are grown, the climate during the growing season and the people who produce the wine.

The Bordeaux wine growing region is divided into different wine growing areas which reflects the first aspect of terroir - the area of land in which the grapes are grown. There are several areas which provide the different conditions for the types of grapes grown here, to make the the generic dry red Bordeaux you might recognize, (blend of up to 6 types of grapes including merlot and cabernet sauvignon and Cabernet Franc), or the dry white or the sweeter Sauternes, for instance. This area designation can be used by an estate to provide a general name for a wine produced within that area and if it doesn't meet the criteria for the more specific village appellation designation. An example is a Madoc wine.

These areas of land are further divided into named appellations to identify wines made within smaller villages or cluster of villages. Because Bordeaux is like a puzzle, made up of areas with distinct and subtle different soils and microclimates within a relatively close distance, there are 60 appellations within this wine growing region of France. The area of land, with a slightly different type of soil, sandy or gravelly or rocky or less so and a particular microclimate with warm humid breezes and certain amount of sun, affect the qualities of the grape used in the local wine and make each wine appellation unique.

Of course it is not just about the area of land being used to produce the wine and there are other aspects of terroir. One other one is the weather during the growing season. This struck home as we stood out in the fields at Chateau Paloumey and looked at the vines and were advised that they would be flowering next week. The Chateaux hope for no rain while the vines are blooming so that the pollen will have time on the flowers to ensure lots of grapes of good quality. If it rains the pollen will be washed off before it can do its job and the harvest will be poor. I noticed that they are forecasting rain for much of next week and hoped that the forecast was wrong. The specific weather in a year affects the grapes available to make the wine and the resulting quality of the vintage of a particular year. It also creates challenges for the wine makers to overcome and explains general terms used to describe the vintage year, "classic vintage" (ordinary weather), "technical vintage" (when the weather is bad and the all the skill of the wine maker is needed to improve upon what nature provides, and the "superior vintage", which is used in years where the grapes were exceptional. 2006, the year we were tasting, was defined as a classic vintage.

As I learned about viniculture and wine production, I was struck by how labour intensive the job is, even with modern technology and this is the last aspect of Terroir, the people (and the choices they make about production). For instance, at Chateau Priueri-Lichine they hand pick the grapes and use a machine with a sophisticated sensor to sort the individual grapes prior to fermenting whole grapes (uncrushed) in cement vats while at Chateau Paloumey they use machines to harvest but hand sort the grapes which are crushed prior to fermentation in steel vats. Individual differences in growing practices and production is what distinguishes not only one Chateau ( and the skill of their wine makers) from another Chateau but also one vintage (year) from another as no two year's blends are the same even for the same Chateau. In fact, we learned that Bordeaux Chateaux do not strive for consistency in flavor one vintage to the next, but rather they attempt to produce the best taste given the specific characteristics of the grapes which were harvested in that year. This is what making "terroir driven wines" is all about.

Looking inside the cement vats at the Chateau Priueri-Lichine.

Our tour guide, Bruno and the tour guides associated with the individual Chateau we visited were each very personable and informative. I am so much better informed about the French process of making wines in Bordeaux and the system of classification for these wines. I had no idea that the designations are so rigid and rules for production are so strict. For instance, to use a specific area designation such as Hault-Madoc the grapes must be grown by the chateau (not purchased from another grower) and they must be grown within the small area defined by the appelation and the wine must be produced and bottled by that same Chateaux. There are also rules governing the growing of the grapes, such as they may not irrigate the vines. I learned a lot on the wine tours but mostly I learned that there is a lot to know.

Learning about and tasting wines might be something I could get into when I get back to Canada.

As the tour ended it was evening and I wandered back to the hotel, I was tired, no doubt because of the full day which included lots of wine! We had sampled 6 different wines and had several glasses over lunch! I was not at all hungry so after walking for a bit I headed back to the hotel to get organized for my trip to Paris in the morning.

I am so excited that I will be joined there for a full week by 3 of my adult children. Additionally, it will be the first time in over 50 days that I have stayed in the same place for more than 2 nights and not a hotel so it will be nice to relax in a home like atmosphere for a while. That said, we have lots planned for Paris, so stay tuned!

I found a familiar icon at one of the monuments in Bordeaux. The Turonensis route of the Camino passes through Bordeaux.



  1. What a blog! Now I know everything about Bordeaux wine! Lucky for you, there are many more 'cepage' to discover in France and Italy!

  2. I am glad you enjoyed the blog and the information about wine production in Bordeaux. I am looking forward to doing a similar tour in Tuscany to contrast with Italian wine production. Stay tuned!