The group arrived mostly on schedule with only a slightly late train and one missed connection holding up our first day. All of France is celebrating Euro 16 and Bordeaux is hosting some of the matches. In addition to the soccer mania, there is also the grand Fete de Vin de Bordeaux – a wine festival held every other year – taking up a good part of the city. In other words the traffic was terrible and it took us three times as long to get from the airport to St Emilion, but we finally arrived, ready to dig into wine world.
We quickly dropped our bags at our hotel and headed directly down the “take your life in your hands” cobblestone path that has been walked on for a thousand years. The stones are smoothed over from millions of feet passing their way and with the little bit of rain we were experiencing this downhill walkway became an interesting adventure. We braved the pathway and headed to a wine tasting at Marchand de Soif – the merchant of thirst – my friend Anthony’s shop in St Emilion. Anthony has a fabulous wine shop in the heart of the old city and many years ago Bill and I were lucky enough to be his first customers. We happened to wander in there one evening – his first day open for business – and he treated us like celebrities as we relaxed in leather chairs and he proudly brought us wines to taste. We bought some great wines that day and he has treated us like old friends ever since. Anthony’s key brand is Tetre Roteboeuf and it is the lead wine in a family of well made wines that are all excellent. Unfortunately for the club they are available in the States so we have never thought about importing them. I usually buy a little bit from Anthony on futures because the wine is fabulous and easily doubles or triples in price on release. Anthony’s is one of the fun places in Bordeaux where “everyone knows my name.” After a delightful time of tasting in the shop we strolled to the center square in St Emilion for dinner. On a cool and slightly rainy night we sat under large umbrellas enjoying foie gras and confit de canard, and a magnum of St Emilion, talking about our upcoming week. But on to the wine tasting…
Our first real wine exploration began the next day as we visited Chateau Reclos de la Couronne and Thomas Thieu gave us the tour and educated us on winemaking. Thomas is a wonderful winemaker and a great guy whom I am pleased to say has also become a friend. He makes a fabulous wine – Chateau Reclos de la Couronne – that we have had in the club for several vintages. He took us through his winery and explained the differences between concrete vats and stainless steel, the process of harvesting by plots and the art of blending. He allowed us to taste the same wine, from the same plot, aging in different oak barrels and experience for ourselves the difference the barrel can make. We saw clearly that the first part of winemaking is science and the second part – the blending – is art. It seems to me that the new world is full of scientist and the old world is full of artist. In the New World the science has greatly improved the wines that are available to the consumer, but in the Old World the artistry of blending from different plots, and different barrels creates a more unique and more interesting wine. Thomas didn’t make a wine in 2013 so we tasted his initial blend for the 2014 vintage and it is great. I look forward to tasting it again next year and having it in our blind tasting then.
After our morning at “school” Thomas was gracious enough to join us for lunch at a great little restaurant across the street from his home where we were also joined by Pierre-Emmanual of Chateau Pierham. Pierre-Emmanual brought along a couple of his wines including his 2012 Chateau Pierhem and it was fabulous. I was excited to put it in the blind tasting and to see how it did against the others but I was pretty confident it was going to be a winner. Not many people made a great wine in 2012 but this one seemed to stand out.
After a wonderful, relaxing two hour lunch we said our good-byes and thanked them profusely for their time and what they had shared with us. This – the time with my winemaker friends- is my favorite part of visiting Bordeaux every year. These are great men and women who are passionate about what they do and are just as passionate about sharing it with the rest of the world; even me!
From Montagne we headed to Lalande de Pomerol and Chateau Bourseau. Again we were graciously met by the mother and one of the sons who own the winery and given a quick tour of the small but efficient winemaking operation. Both Bourseau and La Couronne are relatively small concerns so the tour doesn’t take very long, but it is interesting to see the differences in philosophy and winemaking. We tasted their 2015 from the barrels and the recent blend of 2014 and enjoyed this small family property. While Thomas and Pierre-Emmanual are pretty fluent in English it was a little tough at Boruseau and I had to lean on my French skills which are sketchy at best. The wines however were great and again, 2012 was tough but they made two great wines – Chateau Bourseau and Chateau Croix de Bourseau. They gave us several vintages for our blind tasting and now, including the wines from Cotes de Blaye, we are beginning to get a good collection to choose from.
I like all these people and want to include all their wines in the club which is why blind tasting is so important. I have to make sure the wines are good and that I’m not just choosing a wine because I like the winemaker. It was difficult to not take Pierre-Emmanual’s 2011 Chateau Pierhem last year but I just didn’t like the wine in the blind tasting and there was no way I could include it. We’ll see how his 2012 does. I can’t imagine the day I have to tell Thomas that I didn’t choose his wine – and I hope that day never comes – but if it does, then I will do it because without great wine we don’t have a great club.
It was a wonderful day of tasting and learning and we returned for dinner in St Emilion and then Cognac back at the hotel as we processed what we had learned that day. We were off to a great start, but our tasting was going to be put on hold for a day because the following day was Sunday and noting happens in France on Sunday, not even wine tasting.