It is said that what makes one’s favourite wine is whether, “it tastes good”.
With a week spare before starting my new job, I took up the opportunity to visit Bordeaux, which is perhaps the best red wine region in the world. So, after seeing a spot of good weather to be had, flights were booked, a Chateau to stay at was locked in and a plan of Chateaus to visit was drafted up.
With anticipation, I boarded my Tuesday morning EasyJet flight to Bordeaux. The flight was great, and I gazed upon the still waters of the English Channel for as far as the eye could see. Landing into 19c and sunshine was indeed shorts/shirts weather by English standards.
I then picked up my hire car, and with an intermittently dodgy working GPS, by 2pm had weaved my way to my accommodation in the Medoc. My home for the week was Chateaux Meyre, a 300 year old vineyard just to the West of Margaux, which I had been told was ‘the place’ to drink red wine in Bordeaux. Upon check-in, the very helpful staff deciphered my scrawl of notes to work out what Chateaux they could arrange for me to visit at very short notice. (Note for next time: most need minimum 2 days and up to 1 month notice before visiting!) Whilst they worked away, I enjoyed a glass (or two) of their 2013 Cru Bourgeois with a tasting plate. By that evening an itinerary had been drawn up by the helpful Meyre staff.
After a good night’s sleep and a delicious continental breakfast for one (no other guests were staying the first night), I started off to my first Chateau, Cos Labory in St. Estephe for a 1030 appointment. At Cos Labory (just next door to Cos D’Estournel) , a 5th tier 1855 Grand Cru Class Appellation Chateau, I was met by one of the three Audoy brothers for a one to one tour of their vats and cellar. Their vats were rather new and the architecture quite amazing. Here I learnt how they move grapes from being pressed to fermentation, then to ageing before blending, barrelling and bottling, which is usually a 2 year process for them. After a tasting of their 2011 2nd wine, 2011 1st wine and 2010 1st wine, I picked up a bottle of their 2011 1st before making my way south to my next Chateau, Lynch Bages.
Lynch Bages Winery
Lynch Bages, of the Paulliac region sets the standard for public friendly Chateau in the Medoc with a rejuvenated village centre complete with a restaurant, butcher, cellar door and small goods shop. I was joined on the tour by some Americans, one of which was living out his 20 year dream to come to see the Chateau and how his favourite wine was made.
During modernisations, the Chateau kept their historic vat room intact, so that visitors could see the effort early wine makers went to, to make the wine. During fermentation, temperature control (under 27c wine doesn’t ferment, over 31c you have vinegar) was done by either fire under the wooden vat or by hosing the vat down. A job that mean 24 hour attendance in the day. Modern vats now have water coils built inside to regulate the temperature. Following the tour, my budget for the trip didn’t quite stretch far enough for their $200 – $600 price range, so it was off to a Paulliac riverside restaurant for a pizza before heading to Chateau Desmerial, just south of Margaux.
At Desmirail (a 3rd Tier Grand Cru Class Chateau) their normal guide was off sick, so I was met by one of the Lurton Family Brothers. With a quick apology his English wasn’t too good, (and my apology my French was non-existent) we made our way to their vats. A different feature of this Chateau is that they have stainless steel, wooden and concrete vats, of which they are quite proud of. Moving to their barrel cellar, I learnt each of their custom made barrels are made of 7 varieties of French oak. The ends of the barrels are lined with chestnut wood so that in case termites come around, they eat the chestnut first and they can save the barrel. After some more tasting of their 2006 1st wine, 2011 2nd wine and a unique 2015 Rosé, I made a few purchases, then made my way back to Chateau Meyre to enjoy a 2006 Desmirail ½ bottle by the pool.
The round up
The next day, I flew back to England, only to being caught in the’ non EU’ immigration line amidst a hoard of Canadians coming in on an ‘Air Transat flight’ (Air Transat, an experience best forgotten), spending more time going through immigration that actually in the air!
The trip was a great experience to learn more about how wine is made, and there is no better an experience than to learn from some of the best vineyards in the world. I look forward to possibly seeing France’s other wine regions (Burgundy, Champagne, Beaujolais) time and budget permitting.
And remember, what makes a great wine? It tastes good!!!!
On a final note, if you are in Europe, why just stick to one region? For a different, yet delicious experience, read A Pair of Passports review of Viator’s Tuscan Wine tour or their post Around the World in 18 wines if you’re feeling really adventurous!. Or for a sweet one right Lady L’s alley, Karen from WanderlustingK shares tales of resiling from Germany’s Rhine Valley.