This morning on The Broadcast I walked through a few of my favorite spots in Bordeaux.
I’ve just recently returned from a week in Bordeaux, traveling as a guest of the Union of Saint-Emilion – Pomerol – Fronsac, sipping wines from the Right Bank and celebrating the official start of the harvest season with the historic Jurade de Saint-Émilion, a brotherhood dedicated to the vines and wines of St Emilion formed in 1199 by King John, son of the infamous Eleanor of Aquitaine, the English queen from the region of Bordeaux, who loved these Right Bank vines as if they were her own children.
The Jurats, the officers of the Jurade dressed in their red robes and white ascots, controlled all the civic, legal and administrative affairs of the City, including the quality of the wine, marking approved casks with its Great Seal and shipping the wine back to England, or having them destroyed if the wine in them did not meet their high standards, remaining in effect until the French Revolution in 1789. As a history lover and a wine lover, the week was as inspiring as it was fascinating, especially experiencing the celebration of the Jurade and induction of new members, and of course, tasting the Merlot based wines of St. Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac on the Right Bank.In the 1940’s the Jurade was resuscitated in the form of a wine loving brotherhood, creating a group of ambassadors to spread the good word about Saint-Émilion wines, while guaranteeing the authenticity and quality of Saint-Émilion wines. Today the group consists of both men and women, both vintners and winemakers, and those passionate about St. Emilion wines from athletes to media to celebrities to enthusiasts. The September festival celebrates the start of harvest in the area, basically the OK that you can begin harvesting your grapes after the celebration. Though a cool year this year in Bordeaux, most vintners didn’t think about starting until mid-October, but as a part of the tradition, no one could start harvest before the Ban des Vendanges (Vintage Festival.)
Though much of visiting Bordeaux is about the wine, but the food is just as important as pairing great wines with the classic sauces of the world, many created in France, is ideal. From upscale brasseries to casual bistros the rich, hearty and very traditional flavors of the country shine. We determined figs, lobster, duck, mushrooms, and the very end of the summers tomatoes were in season, as well as a never ending assortment of divine cheeses, as these flavors popped up throughout our stay, enhanced of course with lots of butter and cream.
Former realtor Francoise Lannoye got into the wine business out of a love for the great wines of the region and a determination that she could create both a special experience and great wine. Her wineries – Chateau Lanbersac Puisseguin St. Emilion and Chateau Ambe Tour Pourret St. Emilion Grand Cru show the elegance and character of the region. Additionally within Chateau Ambe Tour Pourret she has created a cooking school teaching guests some of the tricks of the great cuisine of France (a lot of cream and butter.) A few of the delicious recipes Chef Bertrand taught us are here.
After all that food you need a little exercise, and the French have mastered the art of Spa-ing. The French state actually had a practice in place for years where they would reimburse you for up to 3 weeks of spa and therapeutic treatments. In Lussac-St. Emilion, Spa Segur-Latour is actually a guest house along with a full scale spa so you can come, retreat for a few days of yoga, swimming, thermage, facials and massage, even a table that you lay on and it floats like waves in the ocean to help increase circulation in relative privacy.
The region is filled with incredible places to stay as well, though not many traditional hotels. From boutique B&Bs dotted along the countryside to gorgeous, historic Chateau with guest rooms and suites, many which include breakfast, a wine tasting, and free wifi….you don’t really realize how key this is until you don’t have an international cell plan.
If you are traveling with friends you can rent an entire house at Chateau d’Arcole in St. Emilion. The sustainably run Grand Cru winery built this green, handicap accessible guest house which sleeps 8 last year. Rents for about 900-1500 Euro a week = $1300-$2000 for a week US.
For the adventurous, consider staying in the wine barrel hotel from Coup2Foudres. Created by Frédéric Charles Chassagne in St. Emilion the two barrels equivalent to 75,000 liters have been fully outfitted with everything you need for an easy stay right off the road between St. Emilion and Pomerol. Upon first look it is surprisingly larger inside than you would think, complete with a full size bed, small sitting area, kitchen area and bathroom with a cozy stand up shower. A light French breakfast is included, as well as wifi, all for right around 110 Euro = $140ish a night.
For luxurious accommodations that will make you think you are living beside Marie Antoinette stay at the lavish and utterly gorgeous Chateau La Riviere in Fronsac. Each room overlooks their expansive vineyards with swimming, tennis, hiking and drinking their elegant Fronsac wines available to each guest. The beautiful Chateau has an underground cellar where ammunition was stored for the French Allies during WWII, gorgeous gardens and relaxing views of the countryside. A continental breakfast and wifi is included in the stay. Rates are 150-200 Euro for double occupancy ($200-$260).
And, where to go for all the beautiful wine. Most of the Chateau welcome visitors by appointment only. Since so many chateau are still small, family owned and operated establishments, many with less than 20 acres of land each, they operate with small staffs (often father and son or daughter, or brothers and sisters working together). In Pomerol one of my favorites was Chateau Petit-Village, within eye site of Petrus and not far from Cheval Blanc the intense, mineral and earth filled Cabernet Franc and Merlot based wines leap from the glass with elegance and depth.
Chateau Gaby, also in Fronsac just down the road from Chateau La Riviere, delivers on both expressive, robust and intense Merlot based wines with black cherry and black plum notes intermingling with wet stone, toasted oak and spice, as well as a surprisingly light and refreshing, slightly off-dry Rose of Merlot. Pink Gaby is made in very limited production, really more for fun than for big sales, but it is an ideal starting aperitif or end to an elaborate evening.
One of the most well known owners in the region is Hubert de Boüard, owner of the luxurious Angelus and rustic Chateau Bellevue in St. Emilion, and Château La Fleur de Boüard in Leland de Pomerol. Each special in their own way, each luxurious, showing the expressiveness and quality of the vineyards in the area. La Fleur is grown in deep, gravel filled, well draining soils of Leland de Pomerol then managed through the fermentation process in a completely gravity flow facility, ensuring that the fruit is kept as pristine as possible, extracting the ideal amount of tannin and flavor without overpowering the lush wine.
If you want to become a winemaker for a day a company called B-Winemaker, started in 2010 by 2 twenty-somethings, Pierre and Rodolphe, allows you to go through the entire process of learning about viticulture, to tasting select varieties post fermenting, to blending, to bottling, to creating your own label, and corking your bottle of wine from quality vineyards located throughout St. Emilion. The cost starts at 62 Euro (around $90) to 99 Euro (about $130).