I was a guest for an experience of a lifetime. I spent a week in Bordeaux. Spending a week in Bordeaux is incredible in itself, but what made this a monumental affair was that I got to experience En Primeur week. This means that I was barrel sampling the 2017 vintage and what it led to was a greater understanding of the world of wine. It allowed me to see what happens outside of my comfort zone of New World Wines and be part of something that many people are not privy to. This trip of a lifetime was thanks to Millesima, who nominated my blog as a finalist for the 2018 Blog Awards and to all of the people who took time out of their busy days to vote for me as the winner. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
From the moment I found out I was a finalist, my emotions were off the charts. I was excited to be nominated as a finalist, but I was on edge during the two-week voting period. I was a bit obsessive about continuously checking the status of the votes. Then the final results were announced, and I was ecstatic that I won, then almost instantaneously I was I was a nervous wreck because I knew I had no clue about Bordeaux. I didn’t know the regions, I didn’t even really know where in France it was located. (Geography is not my forté) So after jumping up and down, doing my happy dance, and screaming for joy it hit me…. I would be embarking on an adventure that I had no previous exposure to.
I love adventure.. heck, the day job that pays for the winery is Adventure Ed where I teach kids how to tie harnesses, rock climb and zip line. But I don’t like being in a situation where I don’t have knowledge or at least a cursory background. So, I immediately began a deep dive into research. I started reading books, I began
learning attempting to learn French. I found myself down the Bordeaux aisle at my local wine shops and asking for suggestions of what wines to purchase.
Where is Bordeaux?
Located in Aquitaine, France.(44.84 latitude and -0.58 longitude) and it is situated at elevation 20 meters above sea level, Bordeaux has a population of approximately 224,000 people. The region is enormous with a range of about 4,000 square miles. Separated by the Garrone river that leads to the Gironde estuary the two famous banks: the left and right banks have their own distinctions. If you are curious which bank you would like better, the generalization is wines from the Left Bank, have more Cabernet Sauvignon than Merlot in the blend, while those on the Right Bank have more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon.
On our first day in Bordeaux, we were treated to a walking tour of the city by a very knowledgeable and funny Bruno. He was quite the entertainer and we learned so much!
Bordeaux’s mayor Alain Juppé has some very important improvement goals for his city. The first improvement, which he began campaigning for when he first entered office in 1995, saw its first stage of completion in 2005. What was this initiative? A complete lack of overhead cables for significant portions of the tram network. The electric cables are all underground. Bordeaux is the first city in France with this technology and it was greeted with great approval that other cities have adopted the “no-cable” technology. I really could not explain how this works on my own, so this is directly from invisiblebordeaux.
The 750 volts needed to power the trains is provided via a central rail. The central rail is split into 8-metre sections, each section being separated by neutral segments which are 3 metres long (visible in the foreground above). As the train moves, an antenna sends a signal to underground control units which are 22 metres apart. These, in turn, switch on the power supply in the sections of the rail which are located underneath the moving train, i.e. the third rail is only ever “live” when the train is travelling over it. At all other times, the rails are harmless and of no danger whatsoever to pedestrians.
Mayor Alain Juppé’s second initiative is the cleaning of the limestone fronts of buildings. Bordeaux is only behind Paris in the number of preserved historical buildings in France. In the oldest part of the city, houses were built in the 13th and 14th centuries. Other parts of the city Bruno brought us through were from the city from medieval times through the 15th to 18th centuries. (and some are very modern – as we laughed at the McDonald’s and Starbucks)
Most buildings within Bordeaux are made of yellow/white limestone which is rather porous. As a consequence of weather conditions and pollution, these buildings developed a dark appearance of a superficial dark grey to black crust. Many of these surfaces no longer have this superficial color thanks to the initiative. A large portion of the city, Le Port de La Lune, has almost been completely renovated. Mayor Juppé arranged for private owners to get subsidies from the government if they cleaned the outer surfaces of their buildings. The money they put towards the cleaning was tax-deductible.
We are Gascon! The French and English Relationship
As we entered Place du Parlement, Bruno, who was very proud to be Gascon, told us the historical significance of the plaza and how it relates to the French and English historical relationship as well as the exportation of wine since the middle of the 12th century. The Italian-styled square, Place du Parlement is located in the city center of Bordeaux in the Saint-Pierre district. Created in 1760 as the Place du Marché Royal it was renamed Place de la Liberté during the French Revolution.
The buildings in the square date from the first half of the eighteenth century and are extremely ornate. In the center, there is the fountain of Parliament that was installed in 1865 and was designed by the Bordeaux architect Louis-Michel Garros.
When the Duke of Aquitaine’s son died, his daughter, Eleanor, was 12 years old. With the Duchess so young, the Duke was worried that if he passed, his daughter would be taken advantage of because of her inheritance. So, he decided to arrange a marriage with the Prince of France. The Prince was 15 years old at the time. When Louis became King in 1137, Eleanor became Queen of France.
The King organized the Second Crusade to Jerusalem. Fear for her safety, Louis had Eleanor come with him on the Crusade. This marked the first time a Queen was involved in a war. On the way to Jerusalem, they stopped in Antioch, Turkey. Here, they met the Prince of Antioch who was a third cousin of Queen Eleanor.
Two Versions of the Story:
Theory #1: After 15 years of marriage and the birth of two daughters and no sons, Louis agreed to an annulment. Their daughters were declared legitimate and custody was awarded to Louis, and Eleanor was given her lands back. As soon as the annulment was granted, Eleanor became engaged to the Duke of Normandy, who became King Henry II of England in 1154.
Gascon theory: The French King Louis finds out that Queen is having an affair with the with her uncle, the Prince of Antioch. The King, obviously furious, annuls the marriage. She returned to Aquitaine and married the Duke of Normandy making her the Duchess of Normandy as well as the Duchess of Aquitaine.
Two years later, the revolution occurred in London. The Duke of Normandy became Henry the II of England, making Eleanor the Queen of England. They had eight children (5 sons.) When the third son became King (Richard the Lion Hearted), Bordeaux became English (for 300 years) allowing them to become familiar with the quality wine being produce in Bordeaux.
Cannelé From Heaven
Not really sure if words can describe the heavenly sensation of biting into a cannelé. As we walked through Bordeaux, Bruno mentioned these desserts, we all were intrigued, but didn’t really think much of it. As we continued, we walked past the bakery that Bruno said made the best cannelé in Bordeaux. He teased us by opening the door and letting us smell the wonderfully enticing aromas, then stated, we were moving on. There may have been a bit of dissension among the ranks as we really didn’t want to leave. Thankfully Remi, from Millesima went inside and purchased us some!
We were so enamored with the pastry, that we took a break from the tour to instagram the moment. As the wine bloggers we are, we took this very seriously. Notice in the photo taken by Kelly Mitchell (The Wine Siren) how we are all very focused on creating the perfect image from all angles. That’s Ryan O’Hara (The Fermented Fruit) squatting, I’m on a chair, Fabien Laîné determining the perfect angle while the Ruben Luyten (Sherry Notes) is filming the action.
According to a 2016 Forbes article, cannelé was actually a by-product of the wine-making industry.
The association with wine is simple. Winemakers often add egg whites to their juice to draw out excessive polyphenols (tannins). This process, known as ‘fining,’ smoothens the taste of wine. Positively charged egg white proteins—albumin—react with negatively charged polyphenols, creating particle clusters that sink to the bottom of wine barrels for later removal. Despite alternatives, egg whites are still used by many smaller wine producers. Historically, surplus egg yolks from this process were used to create the first cannelés.
Join me next week as I discuss the silent tasting of the 2017 En Primeur Wines at the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. I will be breaking down the AOCs represented at the event.