Saturday, May 17, 2008

Day Three - Let the Tasting Begin

April 25. After the hotel breakfast of croissants, yogurt, fruit, juice and coffee, we all met in the hotel lobby around 8:30 a.m. and were on the tour bus by 9 a.m. (you always have to wait for someone!). Since we did not rent a car while in Bordeaux, the bus allowed us the opportunity to see the suburbs and countryside outside of the city. Our tour guide was Wendy who was extremely knowledgeable of the wines and the area. Besides Wendy, we were greeted at each chateau by another guide who spoke English. We traveled for about 45 minutes until we reached our first stop shown above, Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste which is located in the Pauillac region. In my opinion, the first chateau was the best, but the others all had their charm. This chateau has been producing wine for over 160 years. It was also one of two chateaus we visited that had an official classification. The current owners purchased this property and business in 1978 and it showed that they had put a lot of time and money into this venture. Our guide was Simone who spoke perfect English and was very friendly and helpful. We toured the property grounds first, then entered the area where the grapes first are sent after the harvest where they are hand-picked. Once the grapes have been picked and selected, they are placed in large stainless steel tanks for a few months. This is where the fermenting takes place and when the winemaker is pleased with the results, the fermenting is stopped. From there, the grapes are transfered to French oak barrels and are kept in the barrels for eighteen to twenty months. Air can enter through the oak and too much air is not good. This process is closely monitored to make sure that the barrels are kept full at all times, so they are topped off with wine from the same vintage on a rotating basis. After about 9 months, the wine is filtered and transferred to new barrels and the aging process continues for at least another nine months to a year. Two and an half to three years after the harvest, the wine is finally bottled and stored for another three years before it is released to the public. At Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste Simone explained that the wine still was not quite ready for consumption, but would be in another couple years. It was recommended that Bordeaux wine needs to age at least eight to ten years and the longer the better. The chateau is located on approximately 90 acres and produces 300,000 bottles each year. After our tour of the chateau, the best part took place--the tasting. We were only given one wine to taste (they only made three types which were various grades of the same wine). At least we were served a sizable amount for the tasting. This is where Ken and I learned how to identify a young wine from a wine that is truly ready for drinking. The wine we had was 2003 which was a very unusual vintage and matured slightly sooner than usual. It was absolutely delicious. We spent about a half hour tasting and admiring the tasting room and the view outside.

Back on the bus, and off to Chateau Maucaillou in the Medoc region. The drive only took about 20 minutes to reach the next chateau. We were greeted by our guide, Nadine, whose English was not quite as good as Simone's, but we did understand her. This chateau also is on approximately 90 acres and produces 300,000 bottles each year but had a larger selection of wines. What we found out was the the French government controls how many bottles each chateau may produce. This chateau was quite old, but the buildings we were shown were much newer. Nadine showed us the facility and explained the wine making process which was similar to Grand-Puy-Lacoste, but as we found each chateau did something a little different than the others, be it the fermenting process, aging process, barrels, etc. This chateau also hand-picked their grapes. After our tour, we where treated to three different types of wines along with hors-d'oeuvres of French bread and pate. From there we were lead to a dining room where we had a wonderful five course lunch with a different wine for each course. We started with soup, then a poached salmon, the main course was a white fish, the cheese course with a selection of five different ones to choose from, then the dessert of creme brulee, coffee, and after we couldn't eat another bite, the chef brought out homemade chocolates--just perfect!

After our lovely lunch, we were off to the last stop of the day, Chateau Rauzan-Gassies, which was in the Margaux region. This chateau dates back to the 1700's and has 50 acres. The owner is now the daughter of the family that have held this since 1945 and we were fortunate to have her as our guide. This chateau had a higher classification than the first one we visited, but I found the wine a little better at the first. This chateau chose to machine pick their grapes, but there were later sorted by hand. The reason for the machine picking was that the grapes could be picked in an afternoon once it was determined that they were perfect for picking. Machine picking also eliminated the need to round up 40 people to do the picking and the threat of weather ruining the crop. The building was a combination of old and new and done very tastefully. The cellars and fermenting tanks were located in original buildings, but the tasting/boutique room was a new building. At the tasting we tried three different wines which included a Margaux. In the background of the picture is a chalkboard with wines and prices. At the top of the list was a 1966 wine being offered for 160 Euros. One woman from our group bought a bottle of that wine! Ken and I bought a bottle but it was closer to 25 Euros for a 2001 vintage. The bottle we bought was put in a box and tied with a ribbon with the chateau's name woven into it. We got the same packaging as the more expensive bottle! By now it was after 4 p.m and back to the bus for our ride back to the city. After all the tasting Ken and I, we didn't feel like we had been drinking a better part of the day. Good wines treat you well. We were back around 5:30, brought our purchases (2 bottles) back to the hotel, then went out for a long walk. We were still full from our lunch so Ken and I only had salads for dinner.

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