Day 133 of 400: Bourg and Blaye – France

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Today is wine tasting day in both Bourg and Blaye.  We had gotten a taste for Saint Emilion wines and now wanted to see the differences between these areas of Bordeaux.  Unlike the town of Saint Emilion, the towns of Bourg and Blaye were fairly quiet…not many people were out and most of the stores were closed.  We first stopped in at the large citadel of Blaye which was an old fortress built in the 17th century.  There were some parts that were just ruins but it was nice to walk through and take pictures of it right on the river.

After our walk we stopped for lunch at a restaurant for a basic pre-fix menu before going to our first wine tasting of the day.  This wine was made from a cooperative and the women working spoke no English but poured us several wines and pointed to various things on the bottle to try and communicate with us.  None of the wines were so great…or are we spoiled by Saint Emilion wines?  Or does this specific wine cooperative just suck?

We plugged our next wine chateau – Roland La Garde – into Bridgette (our gps navigator).  We pulled up into a tiny village…I mean does it even count as a village if there are only five buildings?  We pulled into the driveway of the chateau, there was only one other car parked.  The door to the tasting room was locked and we were starting to think they were closed when we saw a guy walking around the corner.  He spoke minimal English but walked us back to the front where there was a button to push.  He pushed it and said the “wife of the owner will be down”.  We waited about a minute and sure enough a women was walking down the driveway from another house greeting us.  She too spoke no English but we don’t speak French and we are in their country…so we can’t exactly complain!  She let us in the wine tasting room and opened various bottles for us as we flipped through a book that listed details about their wines.  After tasting, we chose a bottle of their 2005 vintage to purchase.  We are noticing the wines in this region are cheaper than Saint Emilion.

Before we arrived at our favorite vineyard of the day…we made one more quick wine tasting stop at Chateau Haut-Bourcier where the wine was cheap and pretty tasty.  We bought a magnum which will be fun to open with a group of people somewhere in our travels.  Our favorite stop of the day ended up being the last winery of the day…Chateau Cantinot (www.chateau-cantinot.com).  Yann Bouscasse (the owner) was sitting in a room at a large table chatting with two other people.  It wasn’t really set up like an official wine tasting room…there were no bottles out or pricing list or bin to spit the wine into.  We thought we were walking in on a meeting or interrupting their visit but Yann told us to come in and have a seat.  He said he would open and let us taste his 2009 vintage which was just bottled but not being sold yet.

He was drinking wine along with us and was very informative but also laid back.  After tasting the 2009, he pulled out a couple other vintages and the five of us sat around the table chatting.  The other couple left and Yann asked us if we wanted to see his wine equipment…we of course said yes.  He walked us to the warehouse area and showed us the old tanks, the new tanks, the oak barrels and the huge wooden vats (which are the extremely large barrels that not all chateaus use because of how expensive they are).  At one point we discussed the “rules and regulations” set by the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) on the various wine producing regions.  Although the majority of his wine is the traditional-AOC labeled-bordeaux blend…he also makes some wine the way he wants to make it which may not always be approved by the AOC…this is not so common to find in France.

Because the AOC regulates all the wine appellations in France…the acknowledgement on the label from the appellation helps the winemaker sell their wine for higher prices.  So as a consumer…you could buy wine from France without any kind of AOC stamp on it which means the winemaker didn’t follow the very strict rules on their vineyard which means you are gambling on whether or not the wine is any good.  Or…you could stick to the AOC labels, which means you will drink what you expect based on the tradition and consistency of the French appellation labeled wines. For example…AOC regulates that only certain grapes are allowed to be growing in certain appellations, only certain grapes are allowed to be blended together, the vines need to be planted a certain distance apart, the vines have to face a certain direction, etc., etc.  So if for example a wine maker like Yann has a year where his malbec grape had a great year and he therefore wants to use mostly that grape combined with a little merlot…he is not permitted to do that because in Bordeaux, merlot must be the majority grape in the bottle.  Some winemakers such as Yann…go right ahead and blend what they want regardless of the AOC.  Let me be clear…we are very happy Yann went ahead and made his Malbec.  This wine was delicious and one of our favorites of the trip.

We spent quite a while with Yann, learned alot and left with a couple bottles we purchased and a half bottle of his malbec he gave us at no charge to have with dinner.  We found our way home, went out on our balcony overlooking the vineyards and relaxed as the sun set.

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