Happy Sunday and DST in North America! Over here in France we’ve already changed our clocks last week, so I don’t get an extra hour this weekend to slack. It would really have been helpful if the time change were this week, since I’m severely behind on NaNoWriMo, plus weekly blogging. Lots of writing coming up!
November 1st was a public holiday in France due to All Saints’ Day, so I took advantage of the day off to go on a wine tour organized by the Bordeaux Office of Tourism. It’s one of those things that you HAVE to do when you’re in Bordeaux, especially if you’re a tourist.
I signed up a few days before the trip and got to the tourism office a bit earlier than the 13:30 departure time, expecting that perhaps the group would be only around 10 people or so. Wrong. Apparently these tours are extremely popular, and an entire coach-full of visitors was anticipated. In total, I’d say there were 50 or so people in the group, mostly tourists from America. Since the tour was specifically targeted towards tourists, there was a bilingual guide with commentaries throughout the entire trip, truly helpful if you wanted to learn about wine culture first-hand.
We visited two appellations d’origine contrôlées (AOC), the AOC of Blaye and the AOC of Bourg. An AOC is a defined area in France where wine is produced. Blaye and Bourg were located approximately 45 minutes away from the city center of Bordeaux by car, but they are still considered to be within the region of Bordeaux.
The commentaries during the trip to Blaye and Bourg were quite interesting. I love little trips like these because not only do you get a spectacular visual experience, with explanations from experts in the field, you’re able to add so many unknown facts and so much random trivia to your knowledge bank. I took some brief notes on the coach as our guide went through the various details of wine growing and general knowledge about Bordeaux and the surrounding areas. The following is in no particular order.
- There are some 8600 wine chateaux in the Bordeaux vineyards.
- We crossed the Pont d’Aquitaine (Aquitaine Bridge), which is a suspension bridge connecting the two banks of the Garonne. The cables of the bridge were coated with Teflon, which prevented the bridge from moving due to expansion and contraction.
- Blaye and Bourg is situated near the Gironde estuary that connects the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.
- The wine growing process in Blaye and Bourg was semi-organic, meaning they did not use herbicide in the vineyards. Apparently herbs help the roots of the vines grow deeper and sturdier into the ground. However, in the 2010 season, the process in Blaye has been switched to one that was completely organic.
- Harvest time is mid-September to mid-October every year, so harvest was already over when we visited.
- 87% of wine produced in Bordeaux is red wine, and 700 to 800 million bottles are produced each year.
- The quality of soil is an extremely important factor in producing good wine. On the left bank of the Garonne, the soil is moister whereas on the right bank, where Blaye and Bourg are located, the soil is dryer and poorer, which is more ideal for the grapes. Clay and rocky soil is generally found here, with no irrigation being applied in the process. Apparently, moist soil promotes growth of branches which isn’t desirable for the growth of grapes. With drier soil, the fruits can “fight to survive”. I actually didn’t completely understand this part.
Anyway, I’ll spare you from reading more words and go on to the pictures now.
Nice big coach and lots of tourists. I didn’t think so many people visited Bordeaux, especially in November. First up was the Chateau Segonzac in the Blaye region.
A short tour of the vineyards in Blaye, now that the harvest season was over. During this trip I learned that the correct pronunciation of “vineyard” is vin-yard. And I always thought it was pronounced vine-yard, the way it’s spelt.
The chateau owner, Thomas Herter, showed us around the cellar where the wine is stored. As soon as I entered the cellar, the wondrous smell of wine infiltrated my nose. NICE. I already started to feel mesmerized. Thomas was quite a jolly man and very entertaining. He explained why red wine is well, red. When you squeeze the juice from a grape, the colour of the juice is transparent. So why is the wine red? The reason is that the colour of the wine is derived from the colour of the skin of the grape used to make the wine. After the juice has been obtained from the grape, the skin forms a layer floating on top of the juice. Since the skin is dark red in colour, leaving it in contact with the juice during the fermentation process extracts the colour from the skin and mixes it with the juice until the colour is uniform.
This machine fixes the labels on the outside of a wine bottle.
Lots of beautiful wine bottles lined up like an army.
Of course, you didn’t think that wine tasting wasn’t included in such a trip, right? To my surprise, however, cheese and meat and bread was provided with the wine tasting, and that made me a very happy girl. Now, let’s go through the steps of the proper way of tasting wine. After your host pours the wine in your glass, you DON’T DRINK IT IMMEDIATELY. Instead, follow these steps:
(1) Hold the glass by the stem or the foot, NOT BY THE BOWL. You don’t want to warm up the wine and change its flavour.
(2) Hold the glass of wine by a light source and observe the colour. Comment with “ohh” and “ahh”.
(3) Smell the wine. Now, you don’t just hold the rim of the bowl close to your nose and call that “smelling”. You literally put your entire nose INTO the glass and sniff the wine. It really makes a big difference, trust me.
(4) Swirl the wine gently.
(5) Smell the wine again and observe the difference in smell after the swirling.
(6) Take gentle sips and enjoy the wine.
I thoroughly enjoyed the smelling part. There’s just something about the first sniff that is oh-so-amazing, especially when you put your nose into the glass and fully absorb the aroma. I am starting to sound like a drug addict.
We tasted two different wines at Segonzac, one was the “traditional” and the other was the “prestige” wine, or something like that. I really liked the traditional one. It was fragrant and delicate, not so strong in alcoholic content that it overpowered the aroma of the grapes. Compared with the noob wines that I usually buy, this was of superb quality. Of course, combined with the cheese and the meat that was offered, this was one heck of a tasting experience.
The next chateau we visited was the Chateau Rousselle in Bourg, about 10 minutes from Segonzac. I saw this sculpture outside the chateau and thought it was gorgeous.
The chateau owner prepared to serve us the first wine in the cellar.
I’ll go ahead and describe the wines first. Like Segonzac, Rousselle served us two types of wines that they produced. I’d have to say the second one caught my attention more than the first one. According to the owner, it had the highest alcoholic content, which explained why it immediately tasted more prominent than all the previous ones. I didn’t mind it though. There was a potent sophistication in this wine that made me feel all refreshed after taking some sips. This was my second favourite one, after the very first one in Segonzac.
The owner showed us the tanks used for the vinification process. On each tank was a picture of a dwarf from Snow White, labelled with their names in French: Joyeux, Prof, Atchoum, Grincheux, Dormeur, Timide, and Simplet for Happy, Doc, Sneezy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Bashful, and Dopey respectively. Here, the owner told us a story that I thought was very fascinating. In these gigantic tanks, approximately 2 to 3 percent of the content is lost due to evaporation. There is an advantage and a disadvantage to it. The advantage is that the evaporation of water causes the wine to become more concentrated, though sometimes alcohol is lost instead of water, which is not so great. The disadvantage is that the air that results from the evaporation can oxidate the wine, not at all a desirable side effect. Therefore, every 7 to 10 days, the tanks are filled up with wine to keep the air from doing damage. The content that is lost from evaporation is referred to as “Angel’s Share”, which is an allusion to the portion claimed by the angels from the wine makers. Sounded like some kind of tax. Hey, angels need to party from time to time too, eh?
A look at the Bourg vineyards. The weather was pretty gloomy that day, but it was a good thing that it didn’t rain, at least.
At the end, of course, we got the chance to purchase the wine of our liking. The wines at Segonzac cost 7 and 8 Euros, whereas the ones at Rousselle cost a bit more than 10 Euros. I was quite tempted to buy the first wine at Segonzac. There was just something about it that I liked very much.
Well, this concludes the recount of the Blaye and Bourg vineyard/chateaux visit and wine tasting trip. I’m sure there are things that I missed that I wanted to write about, but it was my own fault for leaving this blog till 6 days later when my memory is already fading. I’d definitely want to visit Medoc and St. Emilion sometime in the future. In fact I’m sure I will, because those are the two more well-known wine growing regions, and there’ll be plenty of other chances when the weather is better.
Okay, last but not least, cheese of the week. I thought I’d leave out the wine section this time around because what’d you know, this entire entry has been about wine. So, I will introduce this week’s cheese, Gouda!
To be honest, I’ve loved this cheese ever since I’ve had it during lunch at the school cafeteria. Gouda is a hard cheese from the Netherlands with a bright orange rind. If you’ve seen those huge orange cheese wheels at those cheese markets, that’d probably be Gouda. This cheese is distinctly different from Tomme noire, which I’ve described two weeks ago. Its texture is not as creamy as the Tomme noire, but it had a much more catchy smell. The edge of the cheese, near the rind, dries out a bit but I think that’s just because I wasn’t wrapping it up properly. Extremely yummy cheese! I think I was actually addicted to Gouda…
Next in line: Edam. Stay tuned!