Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fall leaves and Leopard Heels

The changing season was evident in the vines of Saint-Emilion France.  I am convinced the fall vines are even prettier than summer or spring. I guess I have been away from orange and red fall leaves too long.

On our last full day in Bordeaux we spent the morning exploring the city and having coffee at comfortable outdoor cafes.

My oldest daughter, AJ requested we bring her some truffles. I don't think that will be a problem.  Sweets stores are on every corner.
it is very ironic that we just moved from a country that thought pork was sinful and now we are traveling in a part of the world that celebrates pork.  Hummmmmm. 

There were so many blue doors in Paris and they continued in Bordeaux.

We were crossing the street and I saw this pretty French woman.  I wondered if she could pedal her bike. When the light turned green she took right off.

OO la la.
Our last wine adventure was in the Saint-Emilion appellation and was scheduled for the afternoon.

Signs along the way hinted to a tasty experience.
Saint-Emilion is on the Right Bank and only a short drive from our hotel. First we stopped at the hillside vineyard of Chateau Tour Saint Christopher. Many of their vines grew on terraces.

This 100+-year-old olive tree was planted by the King of Spain to celebrate the construction of the terraces. It was a very lovely scene. The wine was good as well.

The same group as the Left Bank governs the wine classifications in Saint-Emilion on the Right Bank however the ranking of the wines is much different.

There have been vineyards around Saint-Émilion since Roman times, and today the Saint-Émilion wine appellation is one of the most prolific in the Bordeaux region, generating more than 250,000hl of wine each vintage.

However early on the Medoc area of the Left Bank was easier for shipping and became much more popular in the 1800’s.

The official classification of Saint-Emilion wines was first conducted in 1955. It was updated in 1996, 2006, and most recently in late 2012. The classification has two principal tiers: Grand Cru Classe and the higher level Premier Grand Cru Classe. The latter is further subdivided into tiers (A) and (B).

It should be noted that the Grand Cru Classes A and B (of which there are 85) mark a significant step up in quality from standard Saint-Emilion Grand Cru wines (of which there are many hundreds).

The fields of grape vines were stunning.
The historic town of Saint-Emilion is everything you would expect from a quaint French village. However after UNESCO designated it a historic site, most of the people moved away. To make changes or update your home became very difficult.

Now there are only 200 people who actually live in Saint-Emilion but there are 46 wine stores.  

Our wine tasting in Saint-Emilion included 5 wines. Four from Saint-Emilion and one from Pomerol. I had been looking forward to tasting something from Pomerol.

Pomerol has a totally different type of ranking. The soil and wines there are deemed to all be superior and all at the highest rank.  It is not a very large area.  There are only 200 Chateaus producing wine.  I suppose they are all good.  Who would have known?

Those dark spots on the top of the church are bullet holes from the French Revolution.  
I could not resist taking a picture of this door knocker.

It was a wonderful experience. I think we like French wines even more than we did before we traveled to Bordeaux.  I can only hope the rest of the trip will be as satisfying.

Tomorrow – on to Spain and San Sebastian then Bilbao and the Guggenheim Museum.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Don’t Whine About the Wine

Planning a long trip with numerous destinations like this one was difficult for me. I wanted to make sure we took advantage of each location but also wanted to be careful to not overbook us with too many things to do. After all the purpose is to de-stress.

Hubby D has always enjoyed this approach however I may have pushed his limit in Bordeaux. 

We enjoy wine and particularly French wines.  The purpose of going to Bordeaux was to explore some of our favorite wine regions (Appellations as the French call them) of Medoc including Margaux, Pauliac and St. Julien on the Left Bank of the river dividing the region and Pomerol and St. Emilion on the Right Bank.

We do not have an expanded wine storage in the new Florida home like we had in our Virginia home, but we still have capacity for over 100 bottles (we have it filled). Many of the bottles we have are from the Bordeaux regions.
Our new dining room cabinet has wine chillers on each end and we have another one in the kitchen as well.
We arrived in Bordeaux Sunday afternoon on the high-speed train from Paris, the TGV. It only took us 2 hours to travel 499 kilometers (310 miles).

The train runs all over Europe. We will pick up a car in Italy, but until then we will travel by train.
We arrived early enough at our hotel, the Intercontinental Grand Hotel to take advantage of an upgrade for our room.  This turned out to be a real stroke of luck. The room was a beautiful suite complete with 2 luxurious baths as well as a very comfortable living room.


The hotel is located in the center of the historic section of Bordeaux directly across the street from the Bordeaux Opera House.  It is the perfect location close to many restaurants and beautiful fountains. It is also close to the recently renovated waterfront area.

The bus and tram station is surrounded by a forest of trees.

However, Sunday they pretty much roll up the sidewalks in Bordeaux. Most of the stores and restaurants are closed. Many of the restaurants are also closed on Monday.  After walking around the city a bit, we did find a lovely place for dinner.  Of course, and wine!

Hubby D is checking the weather.  I think it is going to be cold.
On Monday I had arranged for a private guide to take us on a tour of the Left Bank. He turned out to be fantastic.

Before our tour we had a wonderful breakfast. Our table looked out over the square and we could watch all the people going to work. LOL

Breakfast in Bordeaux was a great experience.  We were fortunate and sat at a window table overlooking the square every morning. You could choose from a beautiful buffet or have eggs cooked to order.  It was lovely. And, the coffee was strong! They left a silver pot at your table and I enjoyed being able to have hot coffee for the entire meal.

Interesting fact, there are over 10,000 wine producers in the region. Another interesting fact, a wine producer can only put the name “Chateau” on their label if 100% of the grapes used for the wine are grown on land they own.

I learned so much about French wines and wine production that I could write a huge blog about just that one topic. But I would probably bore you to death.  So I will try to just cover what I thought was the most interesting. Here is a link to a more in depth description of the Wine Classifications of Medoc if you want to learn more.

I also found another good explanation on 

In 1787 Thomas Jefferson (a true wine lover) visited Bordeaux. It took him 2 weeks to travel from Paris to Bordeaux on horseback. (Remember, it took us only 2 hours.) Jefferson developed a list of the best wines and was the first to classify the wines in the Medoc as a whole, and not by Appellation. He came up with the idea of three levels of classification.

It was at this time that the level of "classified growths" took hold and what is considered today as First, Second and Third Growths.

Later in the 19th century (1855), Napoleon the Third decided to classify the wines of Bordeaux's Médoc region - at the time the most highly rated wine-producing region of France - to represent the best of the country's wine at the Paris Exhibition in 1855.

Interesting was that the top brokers (sales people) of Bordeaux were the ones asked to classify the region Médoc into FIVE Classes of Growth, depending on market prices for their wines at the time.

At that time, St. Émilion and Pomerol did not have the importance they do today, and were not included in the classification. In fact, the only wine on the 1855 list not to be from the Médoc was Château Haut-Brion, the most famous estate in the region of Graves.

Another good site to read more about this is

This is all-important as our tour on Monday included 3 Chateaus from the 1855 Classification, Chateau Prieure Lichine, Margaux; Chateau Beychevelle, St. Julien; and Mouton Rothschild, Paullac a First Growth Chateau.
The route to Medoc went through some very rural areas.
 Our first stop was at Chateau Prieure Lichine. This unique Chateau has a new wine processing building that was stunning. They process their grapes in concrete and then transfer the liquid to oak barrels.

Here they are turning over the wine.  These vats are made of concrete with water pipes inside to warm the grape juices as they ferment.
Oak barrels and how they use them is another topic that I could write about in depth. It was very interesting to me. There are about 14 barrel makers in the Madoc and St. Emilion regions. As we toured barrel rooms, we could see many of the same names on the barrels over and over.

I will just share one strange fact. The barrel makers buy the oak for the barrels at auction while the trees are still growing. After they purchase the trees, they wait 3 years to remove them from the forest.

They also must plant 3 trees for every one they cut down. The trees they are cutting down now were planted by the French Navy to grow oak to build ships.  Of course they no longer use oak for the ships so now they use them for wine barrels.

There are so many variables to the quality of the wine each season but the biggest factor in the Left and Right Banks is the soil. On the Left Bank they have very rocky soil with gravel and stones.  This makes the grape vine work hard to get roots in the ground. This is the best soil for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. 

Examples of the soil.
On the Right Bank you have an abundance of limestone which is best for Merlot which needs more moisture.

However the soil changes frequently and not all the land is appropriate for growing grapes for use in wine. There is a government department (AOP - Appellation d'Origine Protégée – but used to be AOC) in charge of making rules and enforcing their use in the production of wine. They can tell someone they cannot grow grapes on certain land if they deem it not appropriate for growing good grapes for wine. The production of wine is highly regulated. 

It is France after all. LOL

OK, I will shut up now and just show you some great photos of our time in Bordeaux. 

Along the way we saw several labels we have in our collection back home.

Our first wine tasting of the day at Chateau Prier Lichine. 
The vines were starting to change colors and it was great to see the fall colors!

The soil was full of rocks and pebbles.
Our second stop was at Chateau Beychevelle.  Every part of this recently renovated Chateau's wine production facility was architecturally stunning.

The vats were stunning.
The light was stunning.
The view was stunning.
Even the barrel room was stunning. It was an exceptional facility.

The original Chateau was beautiful as well. 
Our second wine tasting. 
Beautiful buildings and landscapes lined the road. 

Our third visit was to Mouton-Rothschild. It was a more traditional process/facility but the wine was over the top!

We were excited to visit the personal wine cellar for the Chateau. Here they housed 1,000 bottles of the best wines.

I think Hubby D is waiting to see if he can slip back into the cellar.... 

They were draining the casts and we watched for a bit. It was very interesting.  
The traditional way to filter the juices from the stems and skin is to add egg whites to the wine. This is a stack of egg cartons where they have been doing this process.  The egg yolks are then used to make a unique cake called canele.

This is a special Canele store at the Bordeaux train station.
After they have separated the eggs whites, the yolks are used to make the special cake, canele. I had seen these at breakfast but never tried one.  The next day, I decided to see what they tasted like. The outside was a bit crusty and the inside very moist. There was a strong vanilla flavor and they were very good.

On the next day we would be visiting St. Emilion and another great day of wine tasting. Our adventure to Bordeaux is going very well in deed.

We had so much fun with the wines! That night Hubby D said he would like a vodka tonic instead of wine with dinner. He was not complaining just a bit overwhelmed with wine. It was great!