It was hot in southern France this past weekend. I mean 100ºF hot (that’s 38ºC for those of you who use that scale). There’s no better way to beat the heat than a nice cold glass of wine.
That’s why we once again hit the road and took a two and a half hour jaunt up to Bordeaux after Matt was done with work on Friday.
Bordeaux is the sixth largest city in France and it is located on the Garonne River (which also runs through Toulouse) close to the Atlantic Ocean. The city has beautiful architecture reminiscent of Paris. Until fairly recently the outsides of many of the buildings were black from pollution, but the government stepped in and made sure the city cleaned itself up. We didn’t get a chance to see many of the most famous buildings, unfortunately, but it was quite beautiful just driving through town.
Bordeaux is also one of (if not the) wine capitals of the world. The thirst-quencher has been produced there since at least the eighth century and today it brings in more than 14 billion euros to the metro area (according to Wikipedia). We were more than happy to contribute to that economy, so kicked off our weekend with a couple glasses of Bordeaux blanc down by the river.
After our happy hour, we made our way back to the hotel because it was way too hot to walk around much. Along the way, we ran into this familiar face. Great timing considering the Fourth of July was the next day.
Saturday morning thankfully dawned on a bit cooler than the previous day. So we got up early and made our way to the meeting point for a full-day wine tour we booked through the Bordeaux Office of Tourism. Though Bordeaux has more than 10,000 wine-producing châteaux, most aren’t set up for drop-in visits, so it’s important to make appointments or book a tour with a service that makes the arrangements for you.
The Bordeaux Office of Tourism does a great job helping you plan your trip and offers a variety of excursions. We booked a full-day tour that included a visit and tasting at the Bordeaux Wine and Trade Museum, lunch at Baud & Millet (a delightful local restaurant) and a bus trip (the nice, air-conditioned kind) to visit and do tastings at two wineries in the Médoc region. The best part (aside from the wine)? It was only 63€ per person!
As we made our way to the Tourism Office, we ran across this statue of St. Joan of Arc. I have recently been devouring the Cousins War series by Philippa Gregory. Set in the late Medieval/early Renaissance Periods, the historical fiction novels chronicle the lives of some of the most influential women of those times. The stories transverse French and English history and many of the sites and cities we are visiting now play a role in some of the books. Joan of Arc appears in one of the books early in the series, so I was excited to see a statue dedicated to her in Bordeaux. But I digress.
The museum is located in a renovated 18th century building used for the wine trade. The cellars have been transformed into exhibits explaining the history of wine in Bordeaux and the decisions and influences that led to the success of this trade in this region today.
Following the museum tour and tasting, we strolled through the city and stopped at various sites as we made our way to lunch.
Along the way we passed the church of Saint-Louis des Chartrons which was built between 1874-1879 in a typical neo-Gothic style. We attended mass here on Sunday morning and joked we should start emailing the priests at the churches we attend to ask for the homily ahead of time so we can translate it. Even with the language barrier, it’s quite a beautiful experience to attend mass in France.
This is just a random street we passed along our stroll. Matt and I liked the lights hanging over the street.
At long last we made it to Baud & Millet. Like many French restaurants, it was tiny inside and had room for about a dozen tables. We took up the entire rear of the restaurant with our tour group (and our group wasn’t that big!). Open bottles of Bordeaux red awaited us at the tables and we soon learned there was a cheese cave below the restaurant. Obviously we had to go take a look.
The pungent aroma of maturing cheese hits you in the face as you descend steep stairs to the cellar and the sound of mooing (um, I guess their aged dairy is really fresh?) greets you as you open the door to the cheese room. But the cheeses. Oh, the glorious cheeses! They tempt you. They tease you. They beg you to take a bite! Somehow I held off snagging anything from the cheese room (probably because of the promise of cheese with our lunch) and we made our way back to our table where we were presented with a steaming chicken and rice dish and crusty bread. I couldn’t finish my chicken, but don’t worry–I saved plenty of room for the wine, cheese and bread. And dessert.
So here’s the part where I took a nap until we got to our first winery: Château Prieuré-Lichine. It was about a 45-minute drive from the heart of Bordeaux up to the Médoc region. Not familiar with the Bordeaux wine regions? Don’t worry, here’s a map for you to study while I finish my nap.
Château Prieuré-Lichine dates back to the 15th century when it was founded by Benedictine Monks. It was then privatized during the French Revolution and changed hands numerous times before it was purchased by Alexis Lichine (the man often considered the “pope of wine”) in 1951.
Lichine is the author of the Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits. He was able to expand the estate with extra plots (growing it to 188 acres) and rebuilt the dwelling. The winery remained in the Lichine family until 1999 when it became property of the Ballande family (who still own it today).
The vines at the winery are 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. The grapes are all hand-picked and the winery employs a delicate process to remove the juice from the grapes allowing multiple “presses”.
Our tour guide was fabulous and he shared with us his terrific French wisdom that I pass on to you now:
- In Bordeaux, we have long considered that water is for fish.
- Do you know about Rooster Syndrome and why the rooster is one of the national emblems of France? The rooster is the only animal in the world who knows how to sing proudly with its feet in the shit.
- Good wine is like a good lover. It should leave you exhausted the next day–but happy.
After walking through the bottle cellars (where you may leave your purchased bottle for up to three years), we went on to taste two of the wines: the Château Prieuré-Lichine 4th Grand Cru Classé and the Confidences de Prieuré-Lichine from the Margaux appellation. Both were lovely wines with deep, strong color and smooth, balanced taste.
After Château Prieuré-Lichine we got back on the bus and headed to Château Paloumey, a slightly smaller winery in the Haut-Médoc region. The family-owned estate was purchased by Martine Cazeneuve in 1990 and she was challenged with rebuilding the vineyards that had been turned into tennis courts. She did a great job and today the estates produce 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc and 40% Merlot across approximately 84 acres.
The name “Paloumey” has a beautiful story behind it. It originates from the Gascon dialect and means “the place where the woodpigeons pass”. Every year, these birds fly over the Bordeaux region on their way to warmer southern climates and they have become the mascot for the winery.
We were able to taste two of the wines offered by Paloumey. Unfortunately I forgot to record which bottles we tried, but we liked them enough to purchase a few bottles to take home. Thankfully, after a long hot day and multiple wine tastings, we were headed back to our hotel in Bordeaux shortly after the tasting at Paloumey.
Writing this post has made me quite thirsty. Please excuse me while I grab a glass of wine. Read this article about the benefits of wine and I’m sure you’ll be joining me soon.