A visit to Bordeaux invariably implies venturing deep inside vineyard territory, getting a close view of the vines, and of course the opportunity to taste umpteen wines. But amid all the vineyard fervour one tends to overlook the latent beauty of the ancient Bordeaux Ville that beautifully dovetails the old world charm with modern day conveniences.
The sixth largest city in France, Bordeaux town gives an impression of a story book world where the daily affairs go on with poetic fluidity and where you could look forward to meeting your sweetheart on a bicycle with a basket full of fresh flowers! From the impeccably maintained tram that takes you in a jiffy to the Centre Ville bustling with activity without being overcrowded, to a promenade down the expanse of Place de la Bourse with its famous Le Miroir d’Eau, (The Mirror of Water) Bordeaux City has more than a handful of options to engage the exuberant visitor. But what would be that one thing for a wine fan, without which his trip may well fall short of accomplishment? In my opinion it would be a visit to Bar à Vin – a destination well known for its enviable collection of Bordeaux wines at prices that won’t make you recalculate your finances!
Bar à Vin is situated in the Maison du Vin which is an 18th Century building housing the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux (Bordeaux Wine Council) and its associated establishments. The bar is at the ground level of the building with spacious setting and contemporary seating around wine bottles symmetrically organised into high walls that also act as giant partitions. As I went there alone, my preference was to occupy a place at the bar counter in order to get the advantage of the bartender’s company- a pretty mademoiselle who could communicate in English. Soon enough, my hostess presented the menus for wine and food whereby the geek in me got cracking straightaway. The wine menu had a selection of around 30 wines and I was told that this list was updated frequently to keep the varieties flowing. Major considerations for me while ordering the wines were:
- Must try the famous Bordeaux Clairet- a wine that is difficult to find elsewhere.
- Explore a type that I had not sampled in the estates during the previous four days.
- A Sauternes towards the end.
I thus, narrowed down on the following:
- 2011 AOC Bordeaux Clairet- Château Penin.
- 2006 AOC Bordeaux Supérieur- Château de Reignac Grand Vin.
- 2009 AOC Sauternes- Château Haut Bergeron.
To pair up the above wines, I ordered an Assiette des Fromages Bleu (Blue Cheese Platter) for a price of 6 € that had three cheeses- Fourme d’Ambert, Bleu de Bresse and Bleu de Pyrénées . The tasting experience went as under:
2011 AOC Bordeaux Clairet- Château Penin
Price per glass (150 ml): 2 €
Clairet is the genre of wine placed in between the Red and Rosé due to its level of tannin and colour extraction being between the two. It is a casually drunk wine, the majority of which is consumed in Bordeaux itself (since it is supposed to be drunk young) and has been exported to neighbouring England since 18th century. Château Penin is situated in the Graves region on the left bank of Dordogne river and produces mainly Merlot dominated wines.
A bright and translucent ruby colour with aromas of red fruits- prominent being raspberry and red cherry. On the palate it was juicy and savoury with a light-medium body and balancing acidity. It best accompanied the creamy and buttery Bleu de Bressewhich is a blue cheese made from cow’s milk and produced in Bresse, Burgundy.
2006 AOC Bordeaux Supérieur- Château de Reignac Grand Vin
Grapes: 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon
Price per glass (150 ml): 2.5 €
Bordeaux Supérieur is a notch higher in quality than generic Bordeaux wines- in that the grapes come from better notified areas. Château de Reignac is an estate on the western side of Entre Deux Mers (meaning Between Two Rivers) region otherwise famous for its crispy white wines. The ‘Grand Vin’ indicated on the label indicates it as one of the top offerings from the estate but it is not of relevance as regards formal classification system of French wines.
Deep ruby red colour with aromas of red fruits and oak. On the palate it was fruity with plums, cherries and black currant. The body was full with a light oaky finish. Went extremely well with all the cheeses but more particularly with Fourme d’Ambert that has a mildly sharp and nutty flavour.
2009 AOC Sauternes- Château Haut Bergeron
Price per glass (150 ml): 6 €
The Sauternes region towards south of Bordeaux is famous for its micro climate that promotes formation of ‘noble rot’ – a favourable fungus that causes concentration of grape sugars) on susceptible grape varieties and Semillon happens to be one of those. The other grape varietals that can be used in Sauternes wines are Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
A deep golden colour with an intense honeyed nose. Full bodied with medium acidity and flavours of tropical and dried fruits. The wine complemented the Bleu de Pyrénées made from sheep’s milk that had strong flavours. Good acidity level of the wine also managed the creaminess of Bleu de Bresse well.
To summarise the total experience, it was a wine trance of sorts where I just let my senses take-over time and again for a surrealistic feel- only to get intermittently awakened for taking down notes and clicking photos for posterity. For a total price of 16.5 € (plus a 5 € tip to the gracious hostess who provided me with knowledgeable company) it was a rare ‘value for money’ experience that spoils you for choice.
My trip to Bordeaux could finally be called accomplished!