Bordeaux Part 2: A Life I Could Get Used To

Following on from yesterday’s post about our first fun-filled day in Bordeaux, our second day was just as memorable, and just as calorific (but the general consensus was you only live once, so sod it.)

Chateau Leoville/Langoa Barton

We started the day at the wondrous Chateau Leoville Barton / Langoa Barton – Barton is a real Daddy of Bordeaux who seems to own about half the vineyards of the entire region. Well, okay, maybe that’s stretching it, but it was certainly a name that cropped up pretty often on the signs as we drove around, and the place has an aura of superiority that it seems to fully deserve.

I think this was the most beautiful Chateau we visited – and we soon found out why. A fierce-looking elderly lady (we imagined it to be Madame Barton, but we weren’t even sure one exists, and we were too scared to ask…ahem, anyway) was out pointing out all the weeds the gardeners hadn’t yet attended to, and despite her years was still very savvy. It wasn’t just the grounds that were beautiful:

There was real grandeur here, and yet this urge to impress visitors contrasted with a laissez-faire attitude that made you feel very welcome.

We tasted the 2009 and 2010 of both Leoville and Langoa. Here it became clear how much impressing visitors matters to the Bartons, because we discussed Robert Parker’s reviews of these vintages and it seemed as though our tourguide felt genuine hurt at his rather lower than expected mark of 90-92, when their closest rivals seemed to fare rather better.

In my opinion, these were some of the most complex wines we tasted. Sure, they’re nowhere near ready for drinking and probably won’t be for another 10-15 years (if I remember what our guide said correctly), but they had amazing structure to them like nothing I have tried before or since.

In between visits, we had just enough time to find what is probably the fanciest Chateau I’ve ever seen. I have no idea who owns this, but us girls decided one day we would club together and buy one of these:

As you can see, for the first time on the tour – even with my hat – I was a bit under-dressed.

Chateau Belgrave

Then it was time to visit Chateau Belgrave: probably our most memorable visit of the tour. This was almost entirely down to Marie Helene Inquimbert: one of the most vivacious and eccentric people I’ve ever had the honour of sharing lunch with. Her passion for wine was completely unpretentious, and when we met chief winemaker Antoine Gonzalez she theatrically introduced him as “C’est Dieu! It’s God!” Surprisingly, though, he wasn’t the least bit arrogant…! He introduced the wines we tasted with a calm respect for them, and was utterly fascinating to boot: not only is he one of the greatest winemakers around, he also speaks three languages fluently.

No 2009s or 2010s here: we instead focussed on a somewhat overshadowed vintage in the form of 2004. When I give wine advice, all too often we base our decision on a wine’s vintage, as though it is some divine marker of quality. I’m ashamed to say I’ve become a bit snobby about it, turning up my nose at suggestions because they aren’t from a classic year. With 2000, 2001, 2005 and now 2009 to consider in Bordeaux’s recent past, I’d rarely even look at 2004, but Marie Helene was very enthusiastic about the quality there, and I was surprised by the finesse and charm I found.

Then lunch, and this time we had:

  • Wild asparagus
  • Roasted guinea-fowl
  • Sheep’s milk cheese
  • Chocolate fondant – I have seriously never had anything as delicious as this. It was a real effort not to lick my plate clean.

The best bit about lunch was Marie Helene and her many stories about her time in Bordeaux, and her comical eagerness to look up various words in the French-English dictionary one of our party had brought along in case something got lost in translation.

Chateau Lynch Bages

The afternoon was the most bizarre visit we made: to Chateau Lynch Bages (situated in the village of Bages – no shit, sherlock – but I thought I’d link to their site because despite fancy marketing shots it really does look that beautiful, all of the time), and what was more like a museum visit than a vineyard tour as we were shown around “Hameau de Bages”: a quaint tour of the history of wine-making. It was an interesting reminder than vinification hasn’t always been about fancy bottling machines – our ancestors had to find clever ways to get the effects we take for granted these days.

As we reached the newer end of the tour, where the wine is made today, it was quite ironic to see the staff frantically bottling and labelling the wine by hand as their machinery had broken for the afternoon.

Dinner was at the restaurant by our hotel at Pey La Tour, and we were again joined by Marie Helene. We essentially all just drank a huge amount of gorgeous Bordeaux wines while eating some of the nicest food of my life, but there were three firsts:

1. The first time I’ve eaten foie gras. It’s not something I’d choose in a restaurant, but when it is served to you I thought it would be rude not to try it. And it was so good I’m now desperately trying to think of reasons to hate geese so I can eat it again.

2. The first time I’ve eaten proper liver. Our main was rare beef and liver on skewers, and it was the tastiest thing ever.

3. The first time we’ve been given beer on tap. Post-dinner games of pool and fusball (in the awesome games room we had… where the beer was located) have never been so fun. From what we can remember…

Chateau Doisy-Daene

The next morning, we arrived at Chateau Doisy-Daene at the ridiculous time of 8.30am for a tour and tasting of some of the finest sweet wines I’ve encountered. The weather was decidedly greyer, but that was made up for by the sweet-natured Fabrice Dubourdieu,who had the most infectious laugh ever.

The Dubourdieu family aren’t all about the sweet whites (although the ones we tasted – included our Exhibition Sauternes – were out of this world in their balance of being sweet without being cloying, and oh so easy to drink) – their dry whites from Chateau Reynon and Clos Floridene are equally exquisite: from crisp Sauvignon Blanc to ripe and peachy Semillon-Sauvignon blends, these are real foodie wines. I can imagine them being the perfect match for fine dining, which isn’t surprisning – in their surroundings, and based on our short experience, it isn’t hard to see why the Dubourdieu family make wines to this style and standard: Bordeaux knows how to appreciate the finer things in life.

My cheese toastie on the flight home was rather depressing in comparison…

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