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Saturday, 05 July 2008

Pilgrimage to Bordeaux's Finest Vines and Wines

Written by Lies Ouwerkerk
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Pilgrimage to Bordeaux's Finest Vines and Wines, wine tours Bordeaux, Vines and Wines, travel Bordeaux, Fine Wine, wine tasting france, travel france, L'Ecole du Vin de BordeauxIf you are a novice in the world of wine and wish to further your knowledge by immersing yourself in an acclaimed wine region and learn about viticulture the experiential way, the fabulous Bordeaux region in southwestern France may be the perfect destination. A variety of affordable and enriching courses and excursions to prestigious wine estates in the area are readily available, and the charming and picturesque city of Bordeaux, perfectly located in the heart of this wine region, offers countless additional attractions: 18th century architecture, numerous monuments listed as World Heritage sites by UNESCO, an impressive waterfront and quays along the Garonne river, Pilgrimage to Bordeaux's Finest Vines and Wines, wine tours Bordeaux, Vines and Wines, travel Bordeaux, Fine Wine, wine tasting france, travel france, L'Ecole du Vin de Bordeauxsuperb cuisine including fresh fish and seafood from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, a lively cultural agenda, and an ultramodern transport system (the first tram network to introduce ground level power supply).

Start your journey with the highly animated two hour-long introductory wine tasting course at L'Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux conducted in English or French. It proves to be the perfect preparation for the vineyard explorations to follow. With the help of maps, we learn about the different grape varieties, their respective regions, the importance of their terroir (a combination of climate and soil), the process of wine making, and the unique wines that are produced after carefully blending the different varieties such as the red Médoc and Graves wines in which the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties dominate; the famous Saint-Emilion and Côtes wines with Merlot and Cabernet Franc as main varieties; the dry white Sauvignon Blanc wine from the Entre-deux-Mers area east of Bordeaux, and the sweet white wines from the south, like the famous Sauternes, for which mainly Sémillon and Muscatel grapes are used.

Pilgrimage to Bordeaux's Finest Vines and Wines, wine tours Bordeaux, Vines and Wines, travel Bordeaux, Fine Wine, wine tasting france, travel france, L'Ecole du Vin de BordeauxThe highlight of the course is, without any doubt, the wine tasting itself. As real connoisseurs, we hold the glass by the stem, examine the color, and sniff for a first impression. Then we take a sip and swish the wine around the mouth before swallowing in order to saturate the taste buds. Finally, after swirling the wine carefully around and to the sides of the glass in order to draw in some air, we take a fuller drink for a total impression and a longer sensation on the palate. By the time we have savored a dry white wine, two red wines, and a sweet dessert wine, we feel ready to embark on our next day's exploration of some of the 9,000 vineyard estates in the Bordeaux region, the second largest wine-growing area in the world with 284,320 acres under vine.

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First we explore the Médoc region, particularly the left bank of the Gironde estuary, where the terroir is said to be outstanding. The well-drained soil is composed of gravel, sandy stone, and pebbles, and the moderate climate with its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean ensures warm summers and sunny autumns.

Driving through a gently undulating landscape and along the estuary with its distinct fishermen's huts, the cabanes, we pass the charming wine towns of Margaux, Listrac, Moulis, Pauillac, St. Estèphe, and St. Julien. There, in the heart of the Médoc, we visit two wine châteaux: Le domaine de Lanassan, a major wine producer since 1793 with 260 hectares - 50 of which have vines in production - and Château Maucaillou, built in 1875, with 2,175 acres of vineyards.


In the wine processing areas of the estates, we learn about the basics of winemaking: destemming, crushing, maceration, alcoholic fermentation, devatting, and racking. Then we are led to the temperature-controlled vats of stainless steel as well as the oak barrels, all new and made in France (Limoges). It’s in these vats that the wine will age for about 16 months. At this point the wine is ready for sale. However, the bottles still have to lie down for another couple of years because most Médoc wines are usually only drinkable after they have aged considerably.

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In each estate we taste two different red wines, all consisting of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties, with some Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc added as well. The full-bodied wines from Lanessan are Crus Bourgois Supérieurs of 1998 and 1999, whereas the deep-colored reds at Maucaillou are a lit bit younger and fruitier.

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The following day we tour the famous Saint-Emilion area, 40 km northeast of Bordeaux, and visit Château Haute-Sarpe and Château Beau-Séjour. Here, on the right bank of the river Dordogne, the soil is composed of limestone, sand, and little gravel, and the major grape is Merlot, most often blended with Cabernet Franc, which ripens about ten days later than the Merlot, helped by the heat of the stones under the vines. After an abundant lunch at Haute-Sarpe, accompanied by two rich grands crus classés from the Château, it is time to explore the romantic town of Saint-Emilion with its curvy, cobble-stoned alleys, steeped in history.

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As the story goes, the hermit Saint Emilion settled here in the 8th century to live a reclusive life in a cave on a limestone hill, now the site of a monolithic church. Over time, the site grew into a focal point of religious life and pilgrimage, eventually leading to the expansion of the town in the Middle Ages. But it was not until the mid-1800's that Saint-Emilion's wine trade, and subsequently its reputation, really started to grow. Since 1999, Saint-Emilion and its surrounding vineyards have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the first time in history that a wine growing area has received such recognition.

 

 


As is the case with Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion is not only about wine. There are architectural treasures such as Romanesque churches, underground tunnels and catacombs. Hikers and bikers can enjoy a series of enchanting trails meandering through the vineyards and connecting the various wine towns in the region. And those with a sweet tooth can stock up on the unsurpassed, mouth-watering macaroons of Madame Blanchez, whose recipe has remained the same since the nuns launched it in 1620.

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COURSES:

- L'Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux, 1 cours du XXX juillet, 33075 Bordeaux, Tel. (33) (0)5 56 00 22 85, www.ecole.vins-bordeaux.fr. From a 2 hr. introductory course at 22 euros, to 3-day weekend courses between 450 and 900 euros, hotel and meals included.

- L'Ecole du Bordeaux, 7 rue du Chateau Trompette, 33000 Bordeaux, Tel. (33) (0)5 56 90 91 92, www.bordeauxsaveurs.com. Luxury wine tasting in 17th century château in Médoc plus culinary classes at Chapon Fin Restaurant, Bordeaux, 5 days 1185 euros, meals and hotel included.

Pilgrimage to Bordeaux's Finest Vines and Wines, wine tours Bordeaux, Vines and Wines, travel Bordeaux, Fine Wine, wine tasting france, travel france, L'Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux

- The Bordeaux Wine Experience, 1 chemin de Meydieu, 33360 Lafresne, Bordeaux, Tel. (33) (0)5 56 20 64 12, www.bxwinex.com. A week-long course plus excursions, with stay in 17th century château (hosts are certified winemasters) from 4495$US, all inclusive.

- Vinothérapie (red wine baths and massage) is offered at Les Sources de Caudalie, chemin de Smith Haut-Lafitte, 33650 Bordeaux, Tel. (33) (0)5 57 83 83 83, www.sources-caudalie.com. From 315 euros for 2 days to 918 euros for 6 days; wine tasting and culinary courses also available.

- Daily wine tasting excursions are organized by l'Office de Tourisme de Bordeaux, 12 cours du XXX juillet, 33080 Bordeaux, Tel. (33) (0)5 56 00 66 00, www.bordeaux-tourisme.com. 1/2 Day tours: 29 euros, full day tours (lunch with wine at château included): 82 euros.

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WHERE TO STAY:

- Hotel de Normandie, 7 cours du XXX juillet, 33000 Bordeaux, Tel. (33) (0)5 56 52 16 80, www.hotel-de-normandie-bordeaux.com. From 80 - 230 euros.

- Hotel Majestic, 2 rue de Condé, 33000 Bordeaux, Tel. (33) (0)5 56 52 60 44, www.hotel-majestic.com. From 75 - 200 euros.

- Hotel Les 4 Soeurs, 6 cours du XXX juillet, 33000 Bordeaux, Tel. (33) (0)5 57 81 19 20, http://4soeurs.free.fr. From 75 euros.

- Citea Bordeaux, 1 bis rue Jean Renaud Dandicolle, 33000 Bordeaux, Tel. (33) (0)5 56 56 1800, www.citea.com. From 53 euros (kitchenette included).

WHERE TO EAT:

Pilgrimage to Bordeaux's Finest Vines and Wines, wine tours Bordeaux, Vines and Wines, travel Bordeaux, Fine Wine, wine tasting france, travel france, L'Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux

There are numerous excellent places for everyone's taste and budget, from brasseries and bistros like Café Rohan on place Pey-Berland and Terrasse Saint-Pierre at place Saint-Pierre, to classy restaurants such as Chez Dubern on allées de Tourny (particularly seafood) or the legendary Chapon Fin on rue de Montesquieu.

For best and affordable seafood: Chez Philippe, 1 place du Parlament, Tel. 05 56 81 83 15; La Boîte à Huîtres (oysters), 8 rue de la Vieille Tour, Tel. 05 56 81 64 97; and Le Banc d'Arguin, 14 rue des Bahutiers, Tel. 05-56-44-51-72.

TRANSPORTATION:

- From the airport: A navette (Jet Bus) leaves every 45 min. from Mérignac airport to downtown Bordeaux, and stops both at place Gambetta and Saint-Jean railway station.

- Downtown Bordeaux: Taxis charge 10 euros. The modern and comfortable tram will cost 1.30 euro per ride, transfers allowed (or one can purchase a more advantageous strip of 5 rides).

Pilgrimage to Bordeaux's Finest Vines and Wines, wine tours Bordeaux, Vines and Wines, travel Bordeaux, Fine Wine, wine tasting france, travel france, L'Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux

©Lies Ouwerkerk


Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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