Friday, August 27, 2021

What Not to Miss in Bordeaux City

                              Bordeaux's Cite du Vin architecture is a must-see for wine lovers

When I first visited Bordeaux nearly 40 years ago, this forlorn city had little to offer visitors.  Many sections of the town were derelict….in fact, most of its waterfront was ramshackle with dilapidated piers and crumbling wine warehouses.  There was only a handful of decent hotels.  The world’s most famous wine city was a wasteland for gourmet dining.  Buildings, while beautiful, couldn’t be appreciated as they had decades of grime and grit.  Thankfully, there have been sweeping changes and Bordeaux is now thriving.


Twenty years ago Bordeaux's leadership (with backing from wealthy wineries and the United Nations' World Heritage arm) instituted sweeping upgrades. The rundown and abandoned waterfront has now become home to upmarket apartments with breathtaking water-views.   A massive public transport effort was undertaken:  traffic-snarled streets in the decaying old town have been replaced with a sleek people-moving-tram through the heart of the glammed-up downtown.  The historic center has many city streets that are now pedestrianized.  The entire “feel” of the city has drastically changed.

                   Chateaux owners are now proudly using the city as backdrop for their wines

Bordeaux has become a spot finally worthy of being the gateway to one of the most famous wine districts of the world.  The city is now a food lover’s paradise with a plethora of Michelin star restaurants, food-trucks, a cooking school for professional gourmet chefs, organic food stores, wine bars, craft beer pubs, and a full complement of fusion foods.


Here are my suggestions for what not to miss:


Capuchin Market

This is the city’s biggest daily market.  You could spend hours strolling through the aisles of local just-plucked-from-the-sea oysters, the splendor of Southwest France’s gastronomic produce, or a plethora of duck products from the nearby Dordogne.  If you are here at lunch-time, there are several spots to snag a bite to eat.


                               Bordeaux's best wine shop has floors of liquid treasures

L’Intendant Grands Vins de Bordeaux:

This wine store located near the Opera House is nothing short of mind-blowing.  Looking for hard to find vintages or special bottles?  Look no further.


Cheese Shop Jean d’Alos

A few minutes’ walk from the above wine store is the premier fromagerie in Bordeaux.   Below the retail store is several floors of aging rooms.  This guy knows his cheese!


Walks along the River and/or Over the Bridge:

There’s nothing better to counteract jet lag than a walk along the Garonne River.  If you can possibly drum up the energy to cross the bridge Pont de Pierre, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous panoramas from the other side of looking back at the city.


Cite du Vin:

It’s a very long walk from the downtown along the waterfront, so I suggest you take a tram.  "The City of Wine” is the Guggenheim of wine.  Designed by Frank Gehry, it’s worth going if nothing more than viewing its dazzling architecture up close.  There are inside exhibitions, a cafeteria, and a wonderful view of Bordeaux from its top floor.  I found the wine tasting lame, but sometimes it's not about the wine.


                                    Don't leave Bordeaux without a taste of a Canel√©


This is Bordeaux’s hallmark sweet, a carmelized treat like no other you’ll ever find.  They come in small sizes (about the size of a wine cork) so that you can have a taste without feeling guilty.

Viva Bordeaux!


Friday, August 20, 2021

Merlot is Queen on Bordeaux’s Right Bank

                                                            Medieval St Emilon is surrounded by a sea of vines

Last week we reviewed Bordeaux’s Left Bank super-star, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Today, however, we move across the Gironde to the Right Bank.   Bordeaux’s "Right Bank" is home to the famous vineyards of St. Emilion and Pomerol.  The Right Bank is also reigned by the Merlot grape.   Yes, Cabernet Sauvignon is grown here, (as is Cabernet Franc), but her Royal Highness is definitely Merlot. 

The Right Bank wine growing region of St Emilion and Pomerol is only twenty-something miles as the bird flies from the Medoc’s Left Bank, but it might as well be two hundred miles.  The Right Bank’s terroir is completely different from the former swamp of the Left Bank’s Medoc.

Merlot thrives on the Right Bank because of its soil, climate and topography.  The soil is clay and limestone.  While clay retains moisture, limestone provides a great drainage system.  Merlot likes the moisture provided by clay, but has the best of both worlds with limestone’s ability to wick away too much moisture.   The Right Bank is topographically different from the flat Left Bank.   The Right Bank’s small hills also facilitate drainage.  The Right Bank is located further inland from the Atlantic than the Left Bank.  This means it’s less susceptible to Atlantic storms.   

     Right bank Merlot wines are softer and thus more feminine than tannin-driven Left Bank Cabernet

The St Emilion and Pomerol wine districts on the Right Bank produce softer wines because of their larger percentage of Merlot.  The Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines of the Left Bank are more masculine due to this grape’s higher tannin content.  Merlot wine is more feminine with softer tannins, thus, Right Bank wines tend to be more approachable earlier.

Right or Left Bank?    Do you like poodles or German shepherds?  Both wines can be divine.  A few pointers:  consider the vintage (e.g. if it’s a really young wine, choose the Merlot-based St Emilion).   If it’s a really old bottle, remember that tannins in a wine help it age more gracefully….so you may want to opt for the Cabernet Sauvignon-centric Left Bank wine.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Cabernet is King in Bordeaux’s Medoc Region

              Wine-Knows has leased the entire Beychevelle Chateau for its September harvest tour

Most serious Bordeaux-lovers know that the red wines of Bordeaux’s huge wine region are always blends (there are very few exceptions).    Cabernet Sauvignon is represented in all of these blends.   But, there is one wine district of Bordeaux where Cabernet is King.   Known as the “Medoc” (or Left Bank), this north region of Bordeaux has many famous chateaux that will ring a bell such as Mouton-Rothchild, Margaux and Latour. 

Formerly a swamp and marshland, the Left Bank of the Gironde estuary was drained in the 17th century by Dutch engineers who had honed their trade learning the building of dikes to protect the low-lying lands of the Netherlands.    Voila.   Once this swamp area had dried out, bankers in Paris (aka the Rothschild family) saw the potential for growing grapes in the Medoc.  The rest is history.

                        Rocks churned over centuries by rivers were deposited on the Left Bank

The Gironde estuary, however, had left something that would prove vital to winemaking.   Over centuries, rivers from the Pyrenees mountains had carried down huge rocks.  These rivers emptied into the Gironde estuary.  In fact, the Gironde, which had often overflowed its banks, had actually created the marshlands.  When the Medoc’s swamp was drained the surrounding land was filled with small rocks and gravel.  Centuries later, this gravel soil is known to be an instrumental part of the Left Bank’s terroir.

Cabernet thrives in gravel soil.  Gravel offers the perfect drainage and Cabernet hates to be in wet soil.  The rocks also retain heat, so they protect the vines from the intense cold winter nights in which vines can freeze.

Cabernet is definitely King on the Left Bank with most of the red wine having Cab as its majority.  While the largest planted grape in all of the Bordeaux regions is Merlot, Cabernet rocks in the Medoc (pun intended).   Next week on this blog we’ll move to the Right Bank of the Gironde where Merlot is Queen.


Friday, August 6, 2021

Bordeaux’s Unsung Hero: White Wine

                            A blend of Sauv Blanc & Semillon, this wine is a stunner

White wine in Bordeaux?  Surely that’s an oxymoron!   But, I’m here to tell you that it is not a contradiction.   Yes, many folks may know that Bordeaux produces white sweet wines (Sauternes), but that’s not what I’m talking about.  White dry Bordeaux is one of the most spectacular white wines I know.  Maybe I’m drawn to it because it’s unique?  That could be a possibility, but I think it’s a real star, period.

Let’s start with the grapes.  White dry Bordeaux is a combination of two grapes of which I’m particularly fond:  Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.   Most wine aficionados know  Sauv Blanc as this aromatic varietal is quite popular at the moment in many wine-centric countries of the world.   Depending on where it is grown, the varietal can offer different flavor profiles.   Cooler climate renditions, for example, serve up a palate of lemon and other citrus fruits along with green apples.  Warmer weather Sauv Blancs move to the tropical side of the scale with papaya, melon and even pineapple.

Semillon, on the other hand, is not a grape that many wine-lovers know….unless they are into sweet wine.   Once considered the most widely planted white wine grape in the world, Semillon has fallen out of style in many countries.  Still popular as a varietal in France and Australia, it is rarely seen in the US.   It’s such a pity as the Semillon grape makes a full-bodied wine with enticing flavors (think pears and papayas), however, it’s Semillon’s voluptuous texture that grabs me.  

Dry white Bordeaux is a blended wine with both Sauv Blanc and Semillon represented.   Very few wine shops carry it in the US, but don’t let that deter you as it is available online for in-the-know lovers of wine.   The good news is that because it is unknown, there is not much of a demand, hence, prices are extremely reasonable. 

Check out these great unsung heroes:

~ Chateau Haut–Mayne $15---a definite best buy

~ Chateau Haut Bertinerie $25

~ Chateau Chantegrive Oiseaux  $25

~ Chateau La Louviere:  $45

Very few Bordeaux chateaux produce white wine.   But, this wine is worth seeking-out!