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A tasting day in Bordeaux

Published September 2012  Battle Creek Enquirer

Testing room

Any serious wine aficionado (particularly among the AARP set) considers the Bordeaux region of France as the holy grail of wine. Those who know my husband affectionately call him the Wily Wino, so a stop in this region of France was a requirement this summer when we visited France.  Luckily for him, Bordeaux was only a two-hour drive from where we were staying and perfect for a day trip.

The French have been growing grapes in this region for 2000 years; today there are some 8500 wine producing châteaux. Picking a few to visit was difficult, especially since you have to make reservations ahead of time. To ease the pain, we decided to start our visit in the city of Bordeaux itself at the Maison du Vin, a one-stop shop for regional tastings. A flight of Bordeaux wines was a terrific introduction to the complex flavors of the area. While my husband would have tasted all afternoon, the French have a lovely habit of closing for lunch. We sought out a good meal before heading out to the vineyards.

Our choice for lunch was a unique restaurant called L’Entrecôte, a group of family-owned restaurants, which serve only one menu at one price, an economical 22 euros. Under the black and yellow sign, the line started forming at 11 a.m. A stern lady guarded the front door, where were we entered into a typical French brasserie with wood paneling and wall mirrors, closely spaced tables, and bench seating in red upholstery.

I had eaten at a sister restaurant on my first visit to France forty years ago, and the meal was just as I remembered it—the same lettuce-and-walnut salad as a starter; the same steak-frites (French fries), the same sliced steak with the same butter sauce as the main course. The steak was cooked to order and kept warm at the table. The slim, crispy frites were served in a golden mound. We pushed ourselves away before they tempted us with desert.  And off we went to taste the five major grapes of Bordeaux: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

Priere de Chine winery

We followed a scenic and winding two-lane road north of the city. Small villages boasted their own vineyards and tasting rooms. Our appointment was at the Chateau Prieure-Lichine in the Margaux appellation, in the town of Cantenac. Certain wineries are classified as “Grand Cru,” a designation that goes back to 1855 and the first effort to categorize levels of excellence in local wineries.  Chateaux Prieure-Lichine lived up to its reputation, with an exceptional sampling of wines in a modern tasting room next door to the production facility and remnants of the priory that housed the original winemaking on the premises.

We decided to make a second stop at Chateau Kirwan, another Grand Cru chateau that also is one of the few wineries that is still family-owned.  Chateau Kirwan’s wines were excellent, and their marketing savvy showed in the creative way they offered a single-serving of their Margaux blend in a glass test-tube container with a screw-top.

Before heading home, we drove by some of huge Bordeaux names, Chateau Palmer and Chateau Margaux. One day was just too short to get more than a drive-by sensation of this historic wine region.  According to the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux, American sales of Bordeaux wines were down last year. With U.S. wine drinking at an all time high, it may be that many younger Americans simply haven’t sampled the beauty of these famous French wines.  So many wines, so little time.

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