The first day waking up in Bordeaux was a slight bit disorienting for this ‘Buff. First off, I wasn’t tired despite all of my travel overnight the day before and immediately launching into almost a full day and night of awesome Bordelaise activities. Indeed, I felt so fit that I decided to go for my first run of the trip, along the riverfront that we walked the day before. Fearless Mutineer, Alan Kropf (Twitter) took up the challenge to join me in my jogging quest.
[The documentary short of the footage taken during our trip, “Meet Le Wine Buffs“, has now launched! You can find it, as well as all of our 100 Days of Today’s Bordeaux on the Bordeaux Wine Vimeo channel.]
Our pre-foie gras fitness activities accomplished, Alan and headed back to the Normandie for a shower and some breakie. As we approached the hotel, I realized that I needed to get my espresso on and I peeled off to the commuter café that was across the tracks. Here was I was determined to order on my own, with no interpreters. Whether I really was successful in communicating my coffee request or they were just really kind baristas, I got my double espresso with no communication issues to report.
Following a shower and a very fast breakfast, we all piled into our shuttle for the first excursion of the trip, heading into Entre-Deux-Mers and the alluring St.-Émilion, which was one of my favorite spots on the whole trip. It was quite a feeling to look out across the rain-swept land that was outside our foggy windows…it was one of the tens of times on this trip that I found myself almost shell-socked by the beauty of Bordeaux and the fortuitousness that allowed me to appreciate it in person. With more than a little tingling of anticipation, we pulled into the driveway of the very first Chateau of the trip, Château Sainte-Marie, named for the Virgin Mary.
Our host that day was none other than the 5th generation vigneron, Stéphane Dupuch, himself. He is a burly man, but with a youthful, happy face and is as quick to tell a joke as he is to give an opinion on French wine. The winery proper was originally built in the 14th century and owned by monks. The vineyards are situated on chalky-clay soils, perfect for their production of 50:50 red and white wines. Stéphane believes that their land and climate is best suited for Merlot-based blends, but definitely not for Cabernet Franc, which is commonly paired with Merlot in such blends. He compares the three white varietals in their Entre-Deux-Mers whites to the best parts of a woman: “Sauvignon [Blanc] is body, Sémillon is the dress and Muscadelle is the makeup.” His whites were crisp and filled with citrus and minerality. His Clairet was also a big hit, featuring racy acidity, a light to medium body and quite the juicy cherry and raspberry berry flavors, with virtually no tannins. Clairet (not the traditional “claret”) can be compared to a fuller and bigger Rosé, or “Rosé on steroids”, as Rob aptly describes them.
After a visit with a boarder’s deer and the estate parrot and pooch, we headed off for to a Chateau for which I hold great excitement. Château Bonnet, while the largest single estate in Bordeaux, has always been a favorite house of mine for wines that feature exceptional affordable value for their quality. It is just above the small commune of Grézillac and features some 300 hectares of vineyards. We were greeted by one of the luminaries of Bordeaux, André Lurton. Among many incredible accomplishments during his fascinating life, Lurton helped form the Entre-Deux-Mers and Pessac-Léognan AOCs, is the 40-year mayor of Grézillac and acted as director of the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB) for two separate terms. Lurton looks and is surprisingly young for someone that has lived in the same room in which he was born for some 86 years!
Following a brief tour around the winery by Lurton, we were treated to an estate tasting within the very cool enclosed winter garden of the Château. The wines were very vibrant, featuring medium bodies and great, food-centric acidity in the entire line, covering white, rosé, clairet and red. Lunch was held in the main dining hall of the Château, featuring a fascinating collection of artwork collected over the decades and plenty of well constructed, balanced wines from Bonnet. Besides the delish fare, the real treat of the lunch was a secretive Lurton bringing out a decanted 1982 Bonnet Bordeaux AOC that featured dried fruit and herbs of black cherry, portabella mushrooms, tobacco and anise and completely altered my understanding of this entry-level AOC: these wines can age.
Our last chateau of the day had an air of Great Expectations to it, with the chateau proper completely empty inside, yet looking somewhat well-kept on the outside. The winery however, was all modern, with beautiful stonework. Château des Laurets is very unusual in that it’s very large 150 hectare estate (90 under vine) actually spans two different appellations and is still the largest within the prestigious Saint-Émilion, Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion and Montagne-Saint-Émilion. The estate is very old (built 1860), but has recently been purchased by the by Benjamin & Ariane Rothschild in 2003 with the intent to gradually restore the estate back to an elite status. We were greeted by winemaker Fabrice Bandiera and given a tour of the newly constructed and restored winery. He was interesting in that he was one of the most progressive winemakers that we were to meet on our trip, even endorsing the use of such new technologies as staves and wood chips, if needed, in moderation. The wines here were pretty impressive, particularly the flagship 2004 Les Laurets, that featured a luscious nose and palate of menthol, graphite, wet earth, and very dark chocolate with deep black fruit. It had phenomenal balance and it’s bit unusual for France, made up of 100& Merlot.
Our final stop of this brilliant first full day in Bordeaux was in what I now consider to be the most beautiful hamlet that I’ve ever had the fortune to visit. Saint-Émilion proper was almost devastatingly beautiful, with it’s ancient cobblestone streets, all stone buildings and the weather that alternated between sunlight, short heavy showers and floating clouds and rainbows…yes, and that was only in the first 2 hours there! We only had a short time to tour the town, unfortunately, plus enjoy our Crémant de Bordeaux apéritif. Indeed, during a delightful dinner at L’Envers du Décor with Stéphane Derenoncourt collaborator Frédéric Massie, I heard so much about its monolithic church, carved from a single block of limestone cliff-face that I excused myself and sprinted down the hill to check it out mid-meal.
Happily exhausted by the end of our long meal, we piled back into the shuttle for a very late trip back to our Normandie homestead and some welcome relaxation. Our first full day was complete with full stomachs and full minds of many memories.
All of the wines from this trip will/are tagged with “LWB2010BDX” and my photos and HD videos can be found by day (Day 1, Day 2 for instance) and are also all tagged with “LWB2010BDX” on my Flickr. My post can be found here for Day 1. Enjoy Bordeaux also has a bunch of fantastic photos at their own Flickr and a great Day 2 recap. Additionally, fellow ‘Buff Rob Moshein has his own slammin’ recap of both Day 1 and Day 2. All of our tweets used the hashtag #LeWineBuff. Lastly, you can find the documentary short of the footage taken during our trip, “Meet Le Wine Buffs“, has now launched! You can find it, as well as all of our 100 Days of Today’s Bordeaux on the Bordeaux Wine Vimeo channel.
I will continue to upload the wines as I write these recaps and then compile all of the links in one final post for this series about Le Wine Buff in Bordeaux. Santé!