As part of our holiday in Bordeaux I had pre-booked a wine tasting tour to Saint-Émilion. If you haven’t heard of the place before, next time you’re in the supermarket check out the wine in the French section – I guarantee there will be wine from Saint-Émilion there.
We were picked up outside the tourist office at 1.30pm and our tour guide was Juliette, a tall, leggy French woman. Also on our trip were 2 Germans, 2 Spanish, 1 French, 1 Argentinian and of course, 2 Scots. So we pretty much had a good area and grape mix Reisling, Rioja, Bordeaux, Malbec and, of course, erm…. whisky on the coach trip.
We travelled out of Bordeaux through boring, flat countryside (no hills just lots of sky) until we reached Château Soutard. There we were guided through the wine making process. Apparently there are almost 7000 Châteaux in Bordeaux. Being able to use the term Château means they have to make their wine in the same place they grow the grapes. It’s not just because they have a fancy castle in the vicinity – yes I thought that before too. If you don’t make your wine in the same area you can’t call it château anything instead it would be Domaine, Vin de pays etc.
At Château Soutard we saw enormous oak barrels used to process and help add flavour to the first harvest of grapes but only for a determined amount of time before being moved into the smaller French oak barrels. Stainless steel or concrete vats are also used during the fermentation process. We also learned that blending grape varieties is important to get the right taste. You need the Merlot grape to give you the rich, fruity flavours and then some Cabernet Savingnon, which is more acidic, to give balance. Yes – before I thought 100% one grape was better – not any more. The barrel makers and the amount of times they are used are also important as the wood of the barrel makes a real difference to each year’s wine. Incidentally you will never get 2 years of wine tasting the same due to ‘terroir’, a French word that means everything that has an impact on the wine – soil, weather, grape, skin marks, age, barrel, time of year etc.
We were then taught how to taste wine by first of all checking the colour and seeing how clear it was. Red and clear equals young whereas brown with deposits means it will be older and have more depth. We then had to swirl it and inhale over the glass before then sticking our noses right in. We weren’t to sniff but to breathe it in. Fruity, peppery, tobaccoay (maybe not a real word but you know what I mean), leathery, woody? We had to search our memory banks for the smells.
We tried a 2014 and a 2003. The differences were obvious. Incidentally, for no apparent reason, every 5 years they have a good year in Bordeaux so next time you’re choosing a bottle of French red try to get a year ending in a 0 or a 5.
We then headed to Saint-Émilion and wandered around the cobbled streets of the quaint village hearing all about the Robin Hoodesque Saint who settled there that could change bread to wood. (He was caught stealing bread but when confronted showed he had only wood under his coat). It was great to visit a place I had only ever seen in sketches on bottles before 😉
We then drove to Château Siaurac where we were taken out into the vineyard and told about the strict rules that were in place to ensure the vines were a certain height, there were only so many of them and each vine only had as much as 12 bunches of grapes on it. The way in which they were then hand picked to ensure that each grape was perfect and had no sign of any fungal infection was illuminating to say the least. Honestly, I didn’t realise the rigorous and stringent processes in place which the wine producers in France have to adhere to just to produce one bottle of wine with their Château’s name on it.
After a second tasting and 2 more different wines – of course we were all professionals by now and could tell the difference between the young one and the peppery one – we headed back to Bordeaux. The bus was a lot quieter on the way back – can’t think why. Of course being the Scots on board the culture bus we had to buy a carry out…..
Château Siaurac 2010, which was very nice indeed.