I have no idea how many Bordeaux vineyards there are. A quick search on Google told me it wasn’t worth trying to find out. So when we decided on a three night stop in the region, giving us two days for wine tasting, we didn’t know where to begin. Having booked a pleasant Chambre d’Hôte not far from St Emilion, we asked the advice of the owner, Michel, and he came up trumps. We’d explained that we wanted to buy some wine – some good wine – but were not expecting to spend our life’s savings on it (you can!) He understood. He suggested a small selection in advance of our visit, indicated the price range of the wines and what tastings they could provide. We selected two in the St Emilion area (on the right bank of the Dordogne) and two in Medoc (on the left bank). They say the best vines are grown within sight of the river; the most expensive are.
Our first St Emilion vineyard was Château Mangot. They are all Châteaux even if there is no building worthy of the name. Mangot is smallish and smart, totally modernised, state of the art stainless steel vats, new oak barrels. They had lost our booking but it didn’t matter. We had a personal guide who spoke exceedingly fast French. When it came to the technicalities of wine production, he saw our puzzled faces and changed to much slower and somewhat halting English which suited us fine. Lovely wine. Tony regretted he was driving and sighed as he savoured a mouthful or two and tipped the rest away. We bought a few bottles, of course.
The town of St Emilion is pretty, hilly and full of people. It also has an underground world of interesting monuments. We enjoyed lunch in the town and bought some good value wine in one of the many shops offering tastings before setting off for the Château de Pressac for the afternoon dégustation. This was a far bigger place, looking like an old château, with timed tours and more commercialisation. State of the art, again. We bought our wine-loving son-in-law his birthday present. As we drove back to our B & B, in a temperature of 36˚C, we hoped we weren’t cooking it.
We learned that the wine has to be more than 50% Merlot to be classified as St Emilion. Conversely, Médoc wines have to contain more than 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. We learned an awful lot more, too, but it passes in and out again, interesting and pleasurable at the time but transient, much like the wine. In St Emilion, the Grand Cru classifications are assessed every ten years or so, based on quality. However, the classification of Médoc wines dates from 1855, established by Napoleon III. All well and good but it hasn’t changed since then and new vineyards, however good their wines, cannot be called Grand Cru or Grand Cru Classé. We felt that there was a touch of the Emperor’s New Clothes in the naming and pricing of the wines here – it has to be good because of its ancient appellation! A more recent Médoc classification, the Cru Bourgeois, must be applied for and earned annually. How sensible!
Our Médoc visits next, Château de Paloumey and Château Mayne Lalande, the temptation to buy always present. We gave in, of course. Mayne Lalande had Cru Bourgeois wines, the vineyard being too new to qualify for the Grand Cru appellation. Everywhere had the latest equipment. Bordeaux has to compete with the new world wines; they cannot just rely on reputation. Nevertheless, we felt we had to go and at least look at the vineyards of one of the great names. It was closed for August but I did manage to taste a very young wine. Most people would call it a grape. Yes, I stole a ripe grape! In order to protect the guilty, I won’t say which vineyard it was! But think somewhere in the Margaux area….
We ate in Bordeaux that evening, overlooking the river. Michel and Annie at the B &B made the booking for us. We must revisit this beautiful city when we have more time. We set off for the Loire the following day – another wine area. But not before, Michel, who had an extensive cellar of his own, sold us a few bottles of wine…