For future French escapes, add Bordeaux to your itinerary. The city has blossomed in many ways. Beyond the wines, the Bordeaux region has seen a rapid growth in the number of fine restaurants, shopping areas and hotels, from VRBO quality to exotic adventures in B&Bs in the vineyards, dotting the countryside. It is second only to Paris as a destination in France. It provides a contrast to Champagne, Burgundy, Chablis, Rhone and other areas.
We recommend a minimum of four days to properly tour Bordeaux, the different wine regions and the smaller towns. Rather than venture out randomly, we retained the services of Frederic Borliachon, of Rendez-vous Au Chateau, wine guide, ex winemaker in the Bordeaux right bank for 20 years.
Start with a visit to La Cite du Vin, which has programs, exhibits, lectures and tours to match its striking architecture. Its educational display on the five senses and how to apply to appreciating wine is a fine starting point for venturing into the field for more laboratory work, with a better understanding of the components of wine and how to communicate nuances.
Check the Vins du Bordeaux website for comprehensive maps and guides to the terroir and the different appellations. The red wine grapes of Bordeaux: Merlot (66% of acreage). Cabernet Sauvignon (22.5%), Cabernet Franc (9.5%) and Petit Verdot and Malbec (2% combined).
Wineries create their own Bordeaux blends, based on the style the winery wants to achieve. The wines can range in quality and price from First Growth wines such as Lafite Rothschild and Mouton ($250 and up per bottle), to Bordeaux Superieur wines made from grapes grown all over the region and blended for easy drinking and low prices (under $10 a bottle locally).
Frederic arranged private tastings, including at smaller Chateau that don’t export to the U.S., made luncheon reservations at favorite local bistros and provided a quick and in-depth answers to detailed questions from members of our band of wine adventurers.
Briefly, the Left Bank of the rivers Gironde, Dardogne and Garonne is the Medoc, where wines tend to have higher percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon then those from the Right Bank. The appellations, from North to South: Medoc, Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Listrac-Medoc, Moulis, Margaux and Haut-Medoc, just north of the city. Graves and Sauternes are south of the city: Pessac-Leognan (where vineyards border Bordeaux residential areas and commercial centers), Graves, Graves Superieures, Cerons, Barsac and Sauternes.
Libournais, on the right bank, from north to south, includes: Fronsac, Canon Fronsac, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Pomerol, Lussac Saint-Emilion, Montagne Saint-Emilion, Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion, Puisseguin Saint-Emilion, Saint-Emilion, Saint-Emilion grand cru, Francs Cotes de Bordeaux. Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux and Cotes de Bordeaux. Right Bank wines tend to favor higher percentages of Merlot, up to 100 percent for some wines in Pomerol, because of how well the grape does in those terroirs.
Wines labeled Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur can come from wines grown in any of these areas, plus Blaye and Bourg and Entre-Deux-Mers. For more details on the some 60 appellations, check the Wine Cellar Insider.
Here are notes from our tastings, with additional information on the wines.
Dinner Wines, Bistro – Les Sources Caudelie
Smith-Haut-Lafite 2005 Grand Cru Class de Graves (55% CS, 40% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc, 2% Petit Verdot). Dark; big berry nose herbaceous, bell pepper, ripe grapes (13.5 alc.); long chewy finish; needs time. (17, UC Davis 20-point scale; 93, other scales)
La Conseillante 2008 Pomerol (Merlot blend). Darkest purple; cocoa, mint, terroir; vanilla; mid-body; balanced; wonderful style; long rich deep and broad finish. (17.5-18; 95)
Le Cite du Vin (Museum, Bordeaux)
(Lunch wine € 34) Domaine Laleure-Piot 2014 Bourgogne Aligote. Pale straw gold; floral honeysuckle nose; good acids; mid body; fine fruit; long tasty finish. (16; 90)
(Lunch wine € 48) La Demoiselle, Sociando-Mallet 2012 (Jean Gautreau, Bordeaux blend). Mid-dark purple; herbaceous cocoa nose, light terroir; mid-body; fine flavor; good structure and style. (16.5; 92) (Note: second label to Sociando-Mallet, always a fine Crus Bourgeois)
Smith Haut Lafite Bistro Tasting
Les Hauts de Smith 2016 Pessac-Leognan (second wine of Chateau Smith Haut Lafite; 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Semillon). Sharp mid-gold; citric, light oak, passion fruit nose; light oak on the finish (10 months in barrels); mid-body; round, ripe; nice style, crisp finish, 16-16.5; 91 (16-16.5; 91)
Les Hauts de Smith 2015 Pessac-Leognan (55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon). Mid-dark garnet; cassis, cocoa, terroir nose; black berries, black currant; mid-body; semi-tannic; 12 months in oak; good fruit and finish. (16-16.5; 91)
Le Lievre 2014 Pessac-Leognan (80 percent Cabernet Franc). Mid-dark garnet; grapey, mint, peppery, 2×4 pine wood nose; shoe polish; mid-big tannins; tight; long chewy finish. (16; 90)
Smith Haut Lafite Winery Tour and Tasting
Smith Haut Lafite 2014 Pessac-Leognan (White blend (90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% each Semillon, Gris). Light mid-gold; honeysuckle, peach, honey; mid-body; round; soft acids; long fruity finish. (16-16.5; 91)
Le Petit Haut Lafite 2014 Pessac-Leognan (60% Cab, 40% Merlot). Mid-garnet; berries, red fruit, carbonic maceration; fruity nose; mid-body; balanced; good style; fruity Cabernet finish. (16-16.5; 91)
Smith Haut Lafite 2012 Pessac-Leognan (65% CS, 30% Merlot, 4% CF, 1% PV; 14 alc.). Mid-garnet; berry, jam, black fruit nose; mid-body; balanced; good integration of the different varietals; long fruity finish. (16.5-17; 93)
Chateau Laniote 2015 St. Emilion (80% Merlot; 15% CF, 5% CS). Mid-dark; cocoa, smoky, nutty nose; mid-big body; hard, long tannic finish; needs time. Hot. (15.5; 88)
Chateau La Chatelet
Chateau La Chatelet 2013 St. Emilion (Barrel fermented; they roll the barrels instead of stirring; 50% in concrete; 50 % barrels; cold stabilize for color, aromas, then ferment; then warm maceration 3 to 4 weeks). Mid-dark purple; berries, roasted nuts, wood, mineral nose; mid body; balanced; some style; short. (16; 90)
Chateau La Chatelet 2014 St. Emilion. Mid-dark garnet; light wood, Merlot, cocoa nose; mid-body; nice style; balanced; semi-elegant; long semi-tannic finish. (16.5-17; 93)
Chateau La Chatelet 2015 St. Emilion (80% Merlot, 20% Cab Franc). Dark; big berry, jam, mint, wet 2×4 wood; mid-big body; bigger fruit; long chewy finish; a touch hot (15.0 alc.). (17; 94)
Chateau La Chatelet 2014 St. Emilion BLACK LABEL. (Only barrel fermentation; 20 months in oak; all new). Mid-dark garnet; berry, jam, sweet oak nose; balanced; more elegant than the 2015; cocoa opens up with air; some sediment. (17-17.5; 94)
Chateau La Chatelet 2015 St. Emilion BLACK LABEL (3000 bottles). Dark. Bigger berry nose, jam, mint, cedar, smoke; mid-big body; balanced; good tannins; long lush chewy finish; needs time. (17.5; 95)
Chateau La Chatelet 2015 St. Emilion GOLD LABEL (100% Merlot; 600 bottles). Dark; ripe grape, big berry nose; mint, cedar, bell pepper; big body; chewy; bigger style; long chewy finish; needs time. (17-17.5; 94)
Malescot St. Exupery 2002 Margaux. Mid dark purple. Leather, berry, light oak; mid body fruity. Balanced decent tannins. Semi tight. (16.5;92)
Desmirail (Denise Lurton)
(Notes: Desmirail has both Margaux and Haut Medoc wines. Plantings are 60 percent Cabernet, 38 Percent Merlot, 2 Petit Verdot. Use 40 percent new barrels, 2 years aging for top wines.)
Desmirail 2015 Rose (50/50 Cabernet and Merlot) € 20. Light salmon color; peachy, lilies, floral nose; mid0body; good acids; long fruity finish. good spring and summer sipping wine. (16; 90)
Desmirail 2012 Initial de Desmirail Margaux € 20. (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot; 18 months in oak). Mid-dark garnet; berry, bell pepper, wood nose; light oak; mid-body; long tight finish; needs time. (16; 90)
Desmirail 2011 Margaux € 38. Mid-garnet; berry, toast, terroir, cocoa; mid-body; semi-tight, balanced finish; good fruit; some style for the money. (16-16.5; 91)
Malescasse, Haut Medoc
(Note: Grand Cru is Margaux; Haut Medoc is outside the appellation. Planting 60 cab 38 Merlot 2 Petit Verdot. 40 hectares. 250,000 bottles. Barrels: French, American and Hungarian oak. 40 percent new barrels and 2 years aging.)
Malescasse 2004 Cru Bourgeois (53% Merlot 37% Cabernet, 10% Petit Verdot; in the future the mix will be the opposite). Mid brick amber edges. Roller Smokey cedar mid body balanced decent fruit and flavor. Softening. (16; 90)
Malescasse 2014 Cru Bourgeois (54% Merlot 36 Cabernet, 10% Petit Verdot). dark purple mint tar cedar mid body balanced. Decent fruit hard finish. Hot. (16; 90)
Princesa (Malescasse) 2014 Quinta Maria Izabel Douro Tinto Vinhas Da Princesa, Portugal. Mid dark ruby. Funky nose older shoe polish dark berries. Jam chewy. (15.5; 88)
(Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac, vineyards are 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. 84 hectares for Mouton. Duhart Milon has 70. In 2012 opened new barrel and vat house. Blend first, then put into barrels. Raw wine. Define the blend each year. 70% minimum Cabernet, as high as 95%. 2017 is 90 percent Cabernet, 9 Merlot, 1 PV. produce 180,000 to 215,000 bottles as Mouton.)
(Changing color on the caps and sediment gives an indication of the quality of the wine. Do a blind tasting in Nov. And Dec., then to cellars. In barrels 18 to 20 months, 100 percent new oak. Rack every three months by candlelight. Recombine leftovers. See light sediment. Do it again. Into stainless steel to homogenize. Have 18 different coopers. The have a village wine, Pauillac, in tank 10 months. Sells for 17-18 Euros. Oldest wine in cellar is 1859. Seven bottles, recork every 30 years. Negociants and merchants used to bottle their wines. In 1924, took control, bottled all their wines. They fine with egg white.)
Mouton Rothschild 2017 Pauillac (barrel sample). 2017 had crop with small berries, but no frost. Darkest purple; big berry, jam, vanilla, earth nose; big body; nice structure; some mint; tannins don’t overpower; long, elegant tight finish, but not hard. (17-17.5; 94)
For questions: Tom Gable, email@example.com