Category: The Region of Bordeaux


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By Caro,

The Bordeaux Wine Region

In this post I dive into Bordeaux to understand more about its production and famous appellations. Bordeaux is the largest appellation area in the world with around 110 000 hectares, around 6 000 wine producers, of which most are still family owned and run, and 65 appellations. An appellation, more specifically AOP or ‘appellation d’origine protegee‘, protected designation of origin (PDO) in EU English, is a designated and protected named region and an associated traditional product. In Bordeaux wine, they range from the overarching regional Bordeaux appellations for red, white dry and sweet, rosé and clairette, and Crémant white and rosé – to sub-region appellations and commune appellations. There is something for everyone in this massive region which is a key part of the tours we offer here at French Wine Adventures.

Adapting varietals for Climate Crisis

Each appellation has a different set of production rules including the varietals that can be used so if you know the appellation you can usually guess the most likely varietals in the wine even if they are not on the label. Fixed varietals are a thorn in the side of winegrowers as we navigate the climate crisis as one of the ways to adapt to changing conditions is by changing the varietals planted. Late 2020, the INAO approved new grape varieties for AOC Bordeaux/Bordeaux Superieur. Bordeaux in small amounts, less than 10% of the blend. These varieties are four red grapes—Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan, and Touriga Nacional—and two white grapes—Alvarinho and Liliorila. This is approval to plant so these grapes won’t show up in the wine for a few years.

Red Wines

Bordeaux reds are primarily a blend of Merlot and Cabernet sauvignon and will remain so despite the new additions. The red grape plantings are 66% Merlot, 22% Cabernet sauvignon, 9% Cabernet franc, 3% other.

Understanding the reds from Bordeaux starts with understanding the soil. The Left Bank, left of the Gironde estuary and the Garonne river, key regions Medoc and Graves, has a layer of gravels that came down from the Pyrenees on a glacial melt millions of years ago, over a base of limestone and clay. The Right Bank, right of the Gironde estuary and the Garonne river, and north of the Dordogne river, is largely limestone and clay, hence cooler than the gravels. Cabernet sauvignon prefers warm conditions, therefore it tends to be the primary red grape on the left bank and Merlot prefers the slightly cooler limestone, so it tends to be the primary red grape on the right bank. There is nothing to beat getting into the vineyards and seeing the terroir up to appreciate these differences.

If we delve a little deeper, we can discover appellation nuances like:

· Saint Émilion, the most recognised commune appellation in the world, home to some of the most expensive wines and typically majority Merlot based offering smooth, generous, and accessible wines. We’ll dive deeper into St Emilion in the next edition.

· Pauillac, a commune in the district of Haut Médoc, home of three of the five red wines classified ‘grand cru’ in 1855. Here the blend is generally biased towards Cabernet sauvignon offering tannic wines with longevity and classic blackcurrant aromas.

A hallowed premier grand cru classé from Pauillac – Chateau Latour

 

White Wines

Bordeaux is most famous for red wines, but the region also produces great dry and sweet white wines with a white grape planting split of 46% Semillon, 46% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Muscadelle and 3% other.

Dry whites include Pessac Léognan, often a richer style with barrel aging; and Entre-deux-mers, usually a fresher style with more Sauvignon blanc. Entre-deux-mers is the large region between the Garonne and the Dordogne Rivers, hence the name ‘Between-two-seas’. Sweet white wines are primarily from Sémillon, of which Sauternes AOP, south of Bordeaux city, is the most famous.

Conclusion

Bordeaux offers a diverse world of wine including a growing selection of organic wine. Explore the region with us this season. We would love to see you here.

Santé! Here’s to fine wine and good health! Discover Bordeaux on one of our Multi day Wine Tours, Vineyard Walking tours or a Wine Day tour !

Learn more about wine by reading Caro Feelys books – memoirs about life on a wine farm and organic vineyard in France.

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By Caro,

History of wine

In this article Caro Feely considers wine’s deep history internationally and closer to home in South West France.

Ancient history of wine

Wine has been part of human development since the mists of time. The first proof of wine made from grapes dates to about 8,000 BCE (BC) in Iran. Ancient Greek writers and poets praised wine and used it as a metaphor like Homer’s ‘wine dark sea’ that has been cause for much discussion about the colour of the Mediterranean at that time – around 8th century BCE – and / or the colour of wine. Some have even postulated that the wine they drank was blue, but I think Homer was referring to the sea at dusk with the red setting sun on dark water.

Modern day Georgia and Armenia also have deep wine heritage. The oldest remains of a fully equipped winery were discovered in Armenia a few years ago and date to around 4000 BCE. A botanist’s analysis of the wine traces in that ancient cellar revealed the wine was made from Vitis Vinifera grapes, the same grape family we use for most grape winemaking today. A lead archaeologist on the site said the wine would be comparable to a modern unfiltered red wine and may have had a similar taste to merlot (perhaps not unlike a local natural wine like the  unfiltered organic biodynamic natural 100% merlot Feely Resonance (shameless self promotion alert)).

The region in France where French Wine Adventures is based, South West France, with its famous regions like Bordeaux and Bergerac also has an illustrious history. Well before the Romans conquered the region of Nouvelle Aquitaine in 56BCE, the Pétrucores planted the first vines and made wine in the Dordogne Valley. We don’t know exactly how far back. The history in our region, goes back to the mists of time, with places like Lascaux cave prehistoric art but alas, there is no proof of wine going back that far +-17000BCE – yet.

The Romans and the history of St Emilion

In St Emilion, Ausonius, the famous Roman poet, planted vines in the 4th century CE (AD). It’s estimated there was about 50 hectares in total planted in St Emilion at that time, today the appellation is 5400 hectares.

The Romans contributed much to wine through research on grape varietals, weather, growing conditions and winemaking. Detailed information on Roman farming can be found in the texts like Columella’s ‘On Agriculture’ ‘De Re Rustica’, the most comprehensive and detailed of Roman agricultural works written the first century CE.

Visiting Gallo-Roman museums like the extensive Vesunna Domus in Perigueux and the Gallo-Roman villa in Montcaret, situated on the edge of Montcaret village, just off the D936 between Libourne and Ste Foy la Grande, both remind us of how important wine and its culture was to the Gallo-Romans.

The Monastic Period

After the fall of the Roman empire the knowledge and tradition of winemaking was kept alive by monasteries. Four of the 5 main monastic orders in France established a base in St Emilion (see French Wine Adventures St Emilion grand cru day tour here), leaving beautiful churches and cloisters, that have, along with their excellent wines, made the village world famous. A cloister also backs onto the new Maison des Vins Quai Cyrano in Bergerac, le Cloître des Recollets.

English Rule in South West France’s influence on wine

The period of English rule – 1152 to 1453 – was important to South West France’s wines as it offered export markets via England and England’s trading partners. The route via the river from Bergerac to Bordeaux and then out via the sea offered an energy efficient method of transport for heavy goods like wine and wood.

Conclusion

No other beverage has created the emotions and excitement that wine has over its vast history. Our region offers many ways to explore this history so why not dive in this holiday and visit for a wine course , multi day wine and food tour or vineyard walking gourmet wine tour.

If you are planning a trip to the region and are interested in wine history visit the Cite du Vin museum in Bordeaux. I recommend giving yourself a good half day for the visit.

Cheers!

If you have a question or a wine theme you would like to read about, please get in touch via the comments or the contact form.

Château Feely (www.chateaufeely.com), where the wine courses and some of our tours take place, is a biodynamic and organic wine estate with accommodation, wine tours, vineyard walks and an accredited Wine Spirit Education Trust wine school. Subscribe to our newsletter via the link below , visit us at www.facebook.com/chateaufeely  and www.Instagram.com/chateaufeely .

You can also read the story of the adventures of setting up in France written by the founder of French Wine Adventures, Caro Feely, in Caro’s book series; ‘Grape Expectations’, ‘Saving our Skins’ and the latest ‘Glass Half Full‘.

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By Caro,

City of wine museum Bordeaux

Visiting Bordeaux and the ‘Cité du Vin’

Bordeaux is a magical city. Lanes in the old town have been closed to cars. It’s picturesque and great for walking. Many of the sights are within an easy self guided walking route you can follow with a map provided by the Tourist Office. Given the size of the city itself (about 800,000 people in greater Bordeaux) and its traffic staying in Bordeaux city centre so you can walk everywhere is ideal. This post focuses on wine related places to visit on a one or two day stopover – ideal to tag onto a wine or walking tour with us in the region. Or if you are already in the area consider a one day wine tour or walking tour with us – an easy train ride from Bordeaux city.

Architecture and must sees

Must sees include the magnificent 18th century architecture around the place de la Bourse and the 21st century water mirror in front of it and le grand Theatre at the top end of Rue Ste Catherine. Other breathtaking historic places include la Grosse Cloche, la Porte Cailhau, many churches and cathedral St André. For shoppers Rue Ste Catherine is the longest pedestrianised shopping street in Europe and the golden triangle offers luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Maxmara, Hermes and many more.

A winelover’s destination

The city hosts many cavistes (wine shops) including Max Bordeaux where you can buy tasting samples of top Bordeaux wines, les Tonneaux de St Jean for organic wine and an active Maison des Vins (opposite the main Bordeaux tourist office).

For winelovers les Chartrons and its wine museum (Musée du Vin et du Négoce) are worth a visit as is the magnificent new Cité du Vin Wine Museum (details below) where you can lose yourself for many hours.

All are walking distance for keen walkers or an easy hop on a tram. If you are interested in ecological developments viti the Darwin Eco-System Centre where many new urban eco projects are taking root and you can find the largest organic restaurant in France .

The Cité du Vin: the wine museum in Bordeaux

La Cité du Vin opened its doors in 2016 and already feels like a key part of Bordeaux city’s wine and tourism scene. You can buy your ticket online .

The cité du vin is a full on visual and sound experience with high tech and interactive displays.

The experience starts with an engaging 10 minute film ‘The World Wine Tour’ – a feast for the eyes flying over vineyard and winery landscapes across the globe. Then a section of wine regions of the world followed by ‘Table des Terroirs’ – winegrowers from 10 regions giving their perspective on what makes their area special. Given wine growing is about farming I found the interviews were with big names and there was little appreciation for the real winegrowers on the ground. A few infographics about the world of wine not related to selecting a display would have helped this section too.

The ‘Galerie of Civilisations’ is a superb interactive display that gives a great sense of wine history and is followed by ‘The Trend Wall’, a total contrast to the history section, offering information on latest trends in the modern world of wine.

The buffet of 5 senses is mostly about aromas and visuals beautifully presented like the photo above (lemon) and below (pencil shavings). The art of living shows wine service and pairing through the ages. Wine portraits shows how different wine styles are produced and their history. There was a tucked away section that I found very interesting covering the negative effects of wine and a section in the centre about wine and love including eroticism in films, art, music, poetry and literature. I wanted to note all the films referenced in this section but by this point I was pretty exhausted having been there for 2h30 (despite skipping a fair bit). I suggest taking a break part way through for a cup of tea and a snack and then going back. Check the internet for when it is less busy too as I was there early and it wasnt too crowded but I hear it can be unpleasantly busy.

The museum experience ends with an 8 minute film ‘The Epic Tale of Bordeaux’ and you are invited to go upstairs to a tasting area to taste 1 wine from the selection available that day. There was one organic available in the large range of international and local wines. I tasted that, an estate I knew already but hadn’t tasted in years.

For me three aspects could be improved:

1. More about about organic and biodynamic viticulture and a section of real vines.

2. A fuller tasting experience.

3. Some human interaction.

I highly recommend the visit – be sure to give yourself enough time to appreciate it – at least half a day.

Conclusion

Bordeaux is a fabulous city break. Walk it to discover it well. Give yourself enough time to really appreciate the Cité du Vin. Extend your city break with a couple of days in the magnificant vineyard villages of St Emilion and Saussignac by booking onto French Wine Adventures two day wine tour or our five day wine tour or a vineyard walking tour for a full experience of the region’s natural beauty, food and wine and vineyards have to offer.