Your Bordeaux Wine Itinerary

There’s no better way to get to explore Bordeaux wine than being there in person! Last spring during our long weekend trip, I was able to try 30 wines from 14 of the 60 AOCs/regions. Here are the MUST GO’s once you’re there.

* Your Wine Sign at La Winery

La Winery, “A New Approach to Wine,” is an ‘everything wine’ spot north of Bordeaux outside of Arsac. Philippe Raoux, a winegrower and trader in Bordeaux, opened it in 2007 … “What we want to do is experiment, never stop, not keep doing what we did yesterday.”

Their Le Signe Oenologique®, or Wine Sign, is what drew me to La Winery. In this 45 minute blind tasting of six wines, “you’ll discover the style of wine you prefer, the keys to your own taste and your Wine Sign.” Candice was our guide and led us through their tasting steps of look, smell and taste. We tasted two white wines and four red wines, all French, answering a question about our preference of each on little hand held devices. In between each tasting was a question about other preferences of food, tastes, etc… We learned a couple of cool tasting tips from Candice in the process. First, the ‘legs’ on the glass when you swirl the wine help you identify the body and alcohol percent. The thicker the legs, the higher the alcohol percent. Second, color helps you identify the age. As red wines age they turn more brown orange in color. Paler white wines are younger. Then Candice goes away, tallies the results and brings you out your Wine Sign booklet. There are eight wine signs…mine is “Refined with ascending Sensual.” I “look for purity, typical character and aromatic complexity in my wine, an unusual bouquet and even deep sometimes surprising tastes.” Right on! In three and a half years, they’ve done 13,000 signs.

After your tasting, put your Wine Sign to work exploring Winery’s Cave which features over 1,001 wines from France and around the world. Your Wine Sign booklet suggests wines you would like from their cellar and they even make a wine for each sign.

Still more exploring to do at the Wine Bar. Sommelier Vincent led me through a wine flight of Bordeaux wines. He pulled out the map to show me where each one was produced as he explained the wine and the terrior in which it is created!

La Winery also has a restaurant, vineyard tours and event space. When getting there, leave a little extra time as its slightly hard to find but definitely worth the visit!

* Bordeaux Wine Council Offerings

The Bordeaux Wine Council is a wealth of information. In all my wine exploration, I’ve never seen a wine region make wine so approachable and offer so many resources.

  • Bar ā Vin (3, cours du XXX Juillet) is their wine bar across from the Tourism Office (another great resource and must stop). It was named one of the best wine bars in Europe last spring by by Travel & Leisure. You can sampling lots of wine from throughout the region for only €3 per glass, enjoy nibbles to pair with your wine and a beautiful interior design with walls full of wine bottles and stain glass art of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine.
  • Bordeaux L’Ecole du Vin, the Bordeaux Wine School, offers classes throughout the year for beginners to connoisseurs.
  • Bordeaux Wine Trails: Last but not least, you can drive the roads of Bordeaux and stop at wineries along the way. The Bordeaux Wine Council guides you on five wine roads across the region. Check out their site or pick up a guide book at the Tourism Office.

Before you go, or if you can’t get there in person, check out my posts on Simplifying the Complex World of Bordeaux Wine. Either way let us know your favorite! 🙂

Buying Bordeaux Wine

Now that we’ve taken a simplified look at the complex world of Bordeaux wine and we know 2009 is the best vintage in 30 years, let’s buy a bottle!

First Step

Do you want a red or white? If red, do you want a bold, strong wine? Using what we’ve learned so far, you’d want to pick a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Left Bank (like Médoc, Graves, Margaux, Pauillac or Saint-Estèphe). If you’re looking for a softer red, you’d want to pick a Merlot from the Right Bank (Saint-Emilion, Pomerol or Fronsac). If white, do you want a round citrus or a golden sweet? If you’re looking for round citrus, you’d want to pick a Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux, Graves, Entre-Deux-Mers or Pessac-Léognan. Sweet white, go with a Barsac, Cadillac or Sauternes.

Finding It

Now that you know what kind of wine you want, how do you find it? Let’s take a look at reading Bordeaux labels.

The label tells you everything you need to know about the Region/AOC (where its from which will provide insight into what kind of grape it is and taste like we discussed above), name of the château/winery and the vintage/year (check out the ‘good year’ list here). This image from the Bordeaux Wine Council explains it simply.

Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course (a great resource for all wine) puts it simply also. In reading the labels, your basic Bordeaux name on the label will be your least expensive and basic quality. A Bordeaux label with region/AOC is next up the ladder in quality. Finally a Bordeaux label with region/AOC and château will be best quality (you know it comes from an individual vineyard although remember there are thousands of them so not all will be great).

Also keep in mind when picking a Bordeaux, when it will be ready to drink. A great chateau needs a minimum of 10 years to age. A cru bourgeois or a 2nd label needs a minimum of 5 years to age. A regional wine can be consumed within 2-3 years of the vintage year. And a basic Bordeaux AOC is ready to drink now.

Do you have to spend a fortune?

This question often comes up in buying Bordeaux wine. The reality is you can find good quality at many price points. Kevin Zraly has a great way of looking at it…the ‘reverse pyramid method.’

It all starts with knowing what you like. We all can’t afford the perfect Château Lafite-Rothschild every day. But we know its from the Pauillac AOC/region. So we could pick a Fifth-Growth/Cru from that region which is must less expensive, all the way down to a regional Pauillac. As Kevin says “When I go to my neighborhood retailer, I find a château I’ve never heard of. If it’s from Pauillac, from a good vintage/year, and it’s twenty to twenty-five dollars, I buy it. My chances are good.”

In the end, its about experimenting and finding what you like! Hopefully you find these tips helpful. I know the facts I’ve shared over the last few days have helped me feel more confident in picking out a Bordeaux.

Cheers to 2009 Bordeaux!

Simplifying the Complex World of Bordeaux Wine, Part 2

Yesterday gave you a summary of Bordeaux wine. If you know that much, its a great start! Today I’ve provided a little more detail the Grape Varieties and Regions of Bordeaux, but still tried to keep it simple.

* Bordeaux Grape Varieties

  • Red
    • Cabernet Sauvignon: The King of Bordeaux with rich tannins (what gives wine its structure and astringency) creates deep, complex and harmonious bouquet wines. It’s less intensely colored than Merlot. Aromas and taste of spice, cedar and black fruit.
    • Merlot: This grape creates a velvety red color in wine. It softens Cabernet Sauvignon’s richness and provides a red berry taste and aroma.
    • Cabernet Franc: Produces a powerful wine with subtle aromas. It adds roundness to Cabernet Sauvignon and fruity notes of raspberry.
    • Additional red grapes used although less widely grown are Malbec (good for Rosés), Petit Verdot (robust and spicy, similar to Syrah, found in grand Châteaux wines) and Carmenère (red fruits, spice, berries).
  • White
    • Sauvignon Blanc: The primary white grape of Bordeaux is flavorful, round and lively with an aromatic balance of citrus fruits and white flowers.
    • Sémillon: Blended with Sauvignon Blanc, it produces deep golden sweet white wines.
    • Muscadelle: Its roundness, musky orange and powerful floral aromas produce dry whites and sweet white wines.
    • Additional white grapes used although less widely grown Colombard, Merlot blanc, Ugni blanc.

* Regions of Bordeaux

I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of wineries and AOCs (Appellation of Controlled Origin, the official wine regions of France)… 25% of France’s AOCs are in Bordeaux. There are 60 total AOCs like Médoc, Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Sauternes and Barsac, Saint-Emilion, and Pomerol.

The Gironde River flows through Bordeaux creating a Left Bank and Right Bank.

  • Left Bank‘s 10 AOCs are in Médoc (north of the city of Bordeaux) and Graves (south of the city). Cabernet Sauvignon rules the Left Bank… a fuller bodied red wine with more tannins.
  • Right Bank AOCs are dominated by Merlot giving a more accessible, medium bodied, softer tannins wine that’s easier to drink when young.

Each AOC has a distinctive terrior… a combination of the soil (some clay, some gravel) and microclimate (close to the Ocean, close to the river, on a slope getting lots of sun). Each terrior in Bordeaux produces a distinctive grape and wine.  As French wines are labeled for their region not their grape, it helps to know a little about the regions/AOCs.

The Bordeaux Wine Council divides the 60 AOC into 6 AOC families grouped by similar wine styles.

  • Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur: Produced anywhere in Bordeaux. They represent over 50% of Bordeaux’s production and embody the Bordeaux style of ‘harmonious elegance and aromatic complexity.’
  • Côtes de Bordeaux: On the Right Bank with excellent exposure to sun, it produces wines that are aromatic and pleasant to drink with notes of ripe fruit and velvety tannins. Merlot dominates. More familiar AOCs in this area are Blaye and Côtes de Bourg. 14% of Bordeaux wines.
  • Médoc & Graves: Stretching 100 miles on the Left Bank and dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, the area produces remarkable powerful and complex red wine. Many of Bordeaux’s classified* wines are produced here. In addition to the Médoc and Graves AOC names, you may recognize Margaux, Pauillac (home to the world renowned Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton Rothschild, 3 out of the 5 famous 1855 classification*), Pessac-Léognan, Saint-Estèphe and Saint-Julien. 15% of Bordeaux’s wine production.

  • Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac: AOCs on the Right Bank close to the city of Libourne. Merlot is the primary grape used to produce aromatic, supple, elegant and velvety wine. Pomerol is often considered the best of Bordeaux. Saint-Emilion (“the hills with a thousand chateaux”) is a beautiful medieval village and UNESCO World Heritage Site. 10% of Bordeaux wine production.
  • Dry White Wines: 12 AOCs across Bordeaux produce fresh and aromatic whites primarily with Sauvignon Blanc. Primary AOCs are Bordeaux, Graves, Entre Deux Mers, Pessac-Léognan. 8% of Bordeaux wine production.
  • Sweet White Wines: They come from 12 AOC’s mainly in the south of Bordeaux like Barsac, Cadillac and Sauternes. The over ripening of the grapes produces golden wines extremely elegant, aromatic and smooth. 3% of Bordeaux wine production.

This interactive map on the Bordeaux Wine Council’s U.S. site is very helpful to visualize the AOC families and read more. It even gives you the pronunciation of each AOC!

*A few notes on Classified wines or Crus. There are 6 major categories of quality classification that have developed over the years. Not all wines are included for various reasons (wineries weren’t around when they were developed, etc.). The most famous is The 1855 Classification of the Medoc and Graves chateaux. When you see “Cru Classeé” it means “Classified Growth”, so it falls into one of the 6 classification systems. There are First Growths (Premiers Crus…the top) through Fifth Growths (Cinquièmes Crus). If a wine isn’t ‘classified’ or ‘cru,’ it doesn’t mean it’s a bad wine. You just know a “Cru’ is a good one.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at putting this together to buy a bottle.

Simplifying the Complex World of Bordeaux Wine, Part 1

Bordeaux is the largest fine wine region in the world and fifth largest wine district on earth. It has 60 appellations (AOCs / Appellation of Controlled Origin, the official wine regions of France) and 8,650 winemakers. No wonder it can be overwhelming! But with 2009 wines releasing and experts saying this may be the best vintage in over 30 years, its time to learn how to pick out a Bordeaux you like.

I spent several days in Bordeaux last year and since have done more exploring, tasting and reading. There is a lot to digest and make sense of! I think I finally have a grasp of it… so thought I’d share my summary and simplification with you in case it helps you explore the Bordeaux world.

Today we’ll start with a Summary. Tomorrow we’ll go a little deeper on Bordeaux Grape Varieties and AOCs. Then we’ll cover Buying Bordeaux Wine and Exploring Bordeaux in person.

* Summary – If you know this much, its a great start.

  • France labels their wines by region not grape, so you need to understand the grapes and regions of Bordeaux to pick a wine you like.
  • Bordeaux is in the southwest of France just in from the Atlantic Ocean. Click here for a map of France’s wine regions.
  • Bordeaux is THE world-wide example for blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes.
  • 85% of Bordeaux’s wine production is Red. Its nearly always a blended wine of up to 5 grapes. Merlot is the most widely planted grape but Cabernet Sauvignon is the King of Bordeaux.
  • Bordeaux has a Left Bank (where Cabernet Sauvignon dominates with fuller bodied and strong tannin wines, includes Médoc & Graves AOCs) and a Right Bank (where Merlot dominates with rounder medium bodied and softer tannin wines, includes Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac AOCs). Understanding which grape you like and which regions are on each bank can help you pick out wines.
  • Château is the name used for a wine estate / vineyard with wine making facilities attached.
  • The most basic wine is from the Bordeaux AOC and labeled as such. The most complex is a 1855 Classification Great Red Wine of Bordeaux, First Growth/Premiers Cru like Château Lafite-Rothschild.

More depth on above tomorrow in Part 2. And the Bordeaux Wine Council offers great tools to help you learn more (official site, U.S. site and they have a mobile app called Smart Bordeaux).


Les Sources de Caudalie: THE Dream Wine & Spa Destination, part 3

The Hotel

In ’99 to share this beautiful property and all its offerings with the world the family opened the hotel, Les Source de Caudalie. Run by the Cathiard’s other daughter Alice Tourbier, it has 40 rooms and 9 suites built around a picturesque lake.  The rooms and hotel are rustic charming with lots of wood and French country character.  Our room was homey and spacious with headboards made from wine crates, a huge bathroom with tub & shower (with Caudalie products) and a cute little balcony for enjoying wine in the sun.

The hotel has 2 great restaurants. The upscale La Grand’Vigne run by Chef Nicolas Masse, an ’07 Michelin Star, looks out over the lake and offers a ‘new adventure in cooking.’ Our Easter dinner was delicious from start to finish with the type of incredible service you dream of having every time you’re out.  Le Table du Lavoir is the country inn offering lighter fare and a splendid ambiance looking out on the Chateaux and vineyards.  They also have The Cave, their 16,000 bottle wine cellar, and Le French Paradox bar for drinks and snacks.  All staff were amazing beginning with Emmanuelle there to greet us on arrival.

If you aren’t heading to Bordeaux but are in Paris you can visit Alice and her husband Jerome’s new hotel Les Etangs de Corot, 15 from the city near Versailles. They also have plans for more.

Now you can see why… from Chateaux & Wine to Spa & Skincare to Hotel…Les Sources de Caudalie is worth the splurge!

See more photos in the gallery.

*source Les Sources de Caudalie Magazine