Bordeaux the right and left bank explored

Bordeaux is one of if not the most famous wine regions of France, and the largest producer of wine in the country with a total vineyard area of 120,000 hectares. Average vintages produce over 700 million bottles of Bordeaux wine, ranging from large quantities of everyday table wine, to some of the most expensive and prestigious wines in the world. 89% of wine produced in Bordeaux is red, with sweet white wines (most notably Sauternes), dry whites, and also some rosé and sparkling wines (Crémant de Bordeaux) collectively making up the remainder. Bordeaux wine is made by more than 8,500 producers or châteaux. There are 54 appellations of Bordeaux wine.

The wine regions of Bordeaux are situated among three important rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne which meet to form the Gironde. Think of it as an upside down Y with the Garonne on the left with the Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Margaux, and Graves all on the left bank. And the Dordogne on the right where Pomerol, St Emilion, and Fronsac reside on the right bank.  In the middle of the Y is the Entire Deux Mers (between two seas), kind of the land of everyday Bordeaux.

imageRed Bordeaux is generally made from a blend of grapes, with permitted grapes being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  As a very broad generalization, Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux’s second-most planted grape variety) dominates the blend in red wines produced in the Médoc and the rest of the left bank of the Gironde estuary. Typical top-quality Châteaux blends are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc & 15% Merlot. This is typically referred to as the “Bordeaux Blend.” Merlot tends to predominate in Saint-Émilion, Pomerol and the other right bank appellations. These Right Bank blends from top-quality Châteaux are typically 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc & 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.

We set up several tasting appointments to get a little understanding of the area, and the various wine regions.  When traveling to a new wine area we have found it beneficial to visit both a large vineyard/wine producer and then the smaller family vineyards to get different perspectives and information. While we prefer the small operations and meeting with the wine maker themselves the large operations always have their highlights.  In the case of Bordeaux of your going to do a large operation it should be one of the first growth Chateaux on the left bank, we booked at Mouton-Rothchild. We got a great tour, the history of the Chateau, and were able to taste some wine that honestly we could never afford to buy a bottle. But the coolest thing we learned was about the labels, and how each vintage has a piece of original art work from some of the most famous artists in the world. (Picasso, Dali, Andy Warhol, and Prince Charles to name only a few)

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Mouton Rothschild is located on the left bank north of the city of Bordeaux in the famous Medoc region, and the wines are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. All the wines we tasted were of recent vintage and really far to early to drink, we will only have to imagine what a properly cellared bottle would be like.

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The next day of wine appointments took us to the right bank and the regions of Pomerol and St Emilion and some smaller wine makers.  Like I said before our favorite thing is to meet and taste with the wine maker themselves.   We had an exceptional visit with Claire Laval of Gombaude Gulliot in Pomerol.  We enjoyed a really nice walk through the vines learning about the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that she has been organically growing for many years and is one of the few doing so in the area.  It is very easy to see and identify an organic vineyard and a non organic vineyard, usually simply by the fact their is other vegetation growing happily among the vine rows.

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We had the benefit of tasting her 2006 and 2000 vintages, wines that are ready to be enjoyed, but can also keep being aged.  The wines were very smooth with great complexity and balance, really enjoyable.

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We also visited and tasted at Haut-Segottes in St Emilion and Chateau Belles-Graves in Lalande de Pomerol where we stayed. Really beautiful vineyards and great producers of quality right bank Bordeaux.

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The St Emilion, Pomerol, Fronsac right bank area is an extremely visually stimulating wine region.  It is rolling hills of vines, small villages with old church steeples, and wine Chateaux virtually everywhere and the town of St Emilion is not to be missed if you are making a trip to the area.

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The Loire Valley France 2014

The Loire Valley is the heart of France, famous for its natural beauty, magnificent châteaux and great wine. It is also one of France’s most diverse wine regions, producing exemplary wines in every style. Popularity of Loire Valley wines with sommeliers and wine writers has been growing steadily for the last ten years because for all their variety, Loire Valley wines share important characteristics that make them perfect for contemporary taste.

The Loire Valley contains several distinct wine regions, each with its own characteristic grapes, appellations and styles Pays Nantais, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine and Centre-Loire. We set up tasting appointments in three famous Loire wine villages Cheverny, Vouvray, and Chinon to experience just a bit of the diversity the region has to offer.

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Cheverny and Cour Cheverny AOC grape summary –

  • Cheverny Blanc – Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay with most wines being heavy Sav Blanc.
  • Cheverny Rouge – Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Malbec (Cot)
  • Cour-Cheverny – Romorantin 100% (a white grape)

In Cheverny we visited with Domaine de Montcy a vineyard and producer of several varietals of the Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny AOC.  I love when we start a tasting and are told we will taste a set number of wines, in this case 4, only to then taste a larger number, in this case….eight or nine maybe. We tasted through the complete selection and I was really impressed. The Cheverny Blanc and Cour Cheverny were wonderful, what I did not expect we’re just how good the red wines were. We tried both the Louis de la Saussaye and Plentitude (Fullness), which are blends of Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Malbec in some proportion.  I did not think the first two bottle sof wine I would buy were reds, but I did purchase two of the Louis de la Saussaye, with one hopefully returning home to cellar for a few years.

Vouvray AOC grape summary –

  • Almost exclusively Chenin Blanc, with dry (sec), demi sec (semi sweet) and sparkling wines being produced.

In Vouvray we visited Domaine Champalou, a high quality producer meeting with Catherine Champalou.  While all the wines are the Chenin Blanc grape they have all been made very different.  The three highlights are the Vouvray sec, the demi sec and Le Portail which is a oaked Chenin made from a small plot of grapes literally in the front yard of the domain.

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Chinon AOC grape summary –

  • Cabernet Franc with up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

We had very little exposure to Chinon wines before this trip, and everyone I had tasted had a very similar flavor profile I would describe as very rustic, mineral, and pretty funky (which isn’t a bad thing) but not always the easiest drinking wines.  We visited two excellent Chinon producers Domaine Charles Joguet and Bernard Baudry and got a great education on the terroir and the wines.  In Chinon it is all about the soil type and composition and that is extremely varied over a fairly small area.  Both of these producers many wines are single vineyard wines lending the differences to the soil in each vineyard.

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Here is an overview of the various wines Domaine Joguet offers,  all are Cab Franc, but note the vine age and most importantly soil type which gave each wine its unique character. (Image above shows actual soil composition for B. Baudry wines)

  • Clos de la Dioterie – Planted in 1930 to 1940 White Limestone, Clay
  • Clos du Chêne Vert – N/A Sliceous chalk & clay
  • Les Charmes – 35 – 40 years Limestone, Clay
  • Les Varennes du Grand Clos – Planted in 1962 to 1976 Siliceous chalk & clay
  • “Cuvée de la Cure” – 35 years average Gravel, Clay
  • “Cuvée Terroir” – 30 years average Siliceous alluvial sand
  • “Les Petites Roches” –  35 years average Sliceous alluvial sand, Limestone
  • Chinon Rosé – 30 years average Siliceous alluvial sand

Both producers had wines that were very well-balanced different from my earlier tastes of Chinon red wines. I would describe most of the wines as easy to drink with good balance between the fruit, earth, minerality and tannic structure.

If you enjoy rose I would highly suggest trying a Chinon rose at some point.  Along with Provence these would be some real favorites.

We barely scratched the surface of the Loire, there is a lot to do, learn and taste.  I look forward to a return to this fabulous French wine region.

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Wine Tasting at Terra Máe, June 4, 2014

Enjoy tasting 2 reds, 2 whites and a rose wine presented by Tom Doron with Treasure Hunter Wines and hosted by Terra Mae Appalachian Bistro in downtown Chattanooga. Chef Shelley will offer food pairings based on her experiences traveling the world sampling and preparing different cuisine. She’ll use fresh ingredients from the TerraMae Farm and other regional sources.  The appetizers will be passed by servers at this event.

Click here for more information or to purchase tickets.

Also visit the Terra Máe Website and Facebook Page