Bordeaux - drinking it in.
So the trip to Bordeaux was a lot of fun. We packed in a lot and it was a brilliant opportunity to see, smell and taste things I’ve been reading about for years. The city itself is a lot bigger than I was expecting: a sprawling history alongside the Garonne river. Every corner celebrated the wine industry which put the city on the map. Everywhere you looked were wine shops, restaurants, bars and museums dedicated to everything vinous.
We went to the very well run Chateau Pape Clement in Pessac to start our trip. We had a tour of the grounds, vineyard and winemaking area before trying a trio of their well regarded wines. It was a slick operation. Twenty-five or so of us were ushered around the main buildings by a knowledgeable trainee sommelier – who answered the questions he understood while various American groups posed for Instagram pictures. It was good to hear about the differing soils on the same site and why the various grapes were grown in specific areas. It was even better to taste some good quality wines and kick off our trip.
Our next stop was another spot aimed at the international visitors to the city. Bar a Vin is located inside an old bank – with vast high ceilings seemingly supported by massive wine racks. The bar offered lots of wines by the glass, which allowed us to taste another half dozen or so whites, reds, rosés and sparkling wines from the region, without travelling too far. The place was a bargain as well. I’m sure they got the bill wrong as we had almost 30 glasses of wine between us and a couple of boards of cheeses and sausages. It all came to 80 euros – so we left very happy.
We ended up having dinner at a fantastic steak restaurant I’d seen recommended. Moelleuses et Persillées is not a place for vegetarians, but does have a great wine list. We matched the beef with the wine and wandered back to our hotel will full bellies and smiles on our faces.
The next day we picked up a car and headed to the ‘right bank’ and our journey took in places like Pomerol and Saint Emilion. It was amazing to see how every available plot of land was planted with vines in these two world renowned production areas. Stopping to see places like Petrus and Cheval Blanc (whose wines I’m unlikely ever to try) was fascinating for the wine geek in me. Every corner on the little roads revealed a sign for a producer. Every dip in the gently rolling countryside showed a famous chateaux. Like our trip to Burgundy a year ago, it was like driving through the expensive end of a wine list. We stopped in the beautiful hilltop town of Saint Emilion, which is to wine what Salcombe is to sailing; exclusive, classy and expensive. My brother-in-law and I parted with a bit of money in one of the top end shops. It’s the kind of place where you can pick up bottles for thousands of euros and you instantly put on your list of places to come back to once you win the lottery.
We stayed the night in a large house/small chateau near the town of Castillon-la-Bataille, which produced its own wine. We had the place to ourselves with access to a rack of recent vintages. The wines were great; simple, fruity and full of life. My dad bought a case, which I know will bring him a lot of pleasure when he’s drinking it at home.
Dinner options were limited where we were but we had an amazing night in a new brewery, a short sunset walk away from our digs. The couple that owned it were rightly very proud of their operation. We drank their beers, including a wonderful caramelly barrel-aged one, some local wine and ate another board of cold cuts and cheese. If you’re every in the area – check them out – https://tinyurl.com/lebercail
Our last full day involved a drive to the Atlantic coast to clear our heads and work up a thirst and appetite. We visited the seaside resort of Arcachon and had a picnic by the water. We didn’t get a chance to try the oysters as we had a date with the Medoc and the ‘left bank’. We drove back towards Bordeaux and cut across country to find ourselves in Pauilllac.
We stopped and took pictures of some of the most famous Chateaux in the world and I got some geeky vine and soil photos. We also visited Margaux for similar geekiness before getting to St Julien, where we spent our last night. Again, we tried local wines, and then enjoyed an amazing dinner which included a fantastic 2010 Chateau Talbot.
During our four nights in the region we soaked up more than the dozens of wines we tasted. Listening to people in the wineries, shops, restaurants and bars talk so passionately about the drink that has put Bordeaux on the map was enlightening. Seeing the proximity to the sea, the stony soils and the way vineyards were packed into well-manicured pockets was incredible too.
Later this month I’m hosting a Bordeaux and Burgundy night so I’ll have plenty of holiday snaps to share. I’ve spent the last couple of days going through the wine lists in preparation and smiling at the now familiar names on the pages.