Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

[Travel] Wine Tour in Bordeaux

Early this year, we chose Bordeaux as a destination for a long weekend. Thanks to Aer Lingus, we got good value flights, with flight times at sensible hours and we sorted a lovely apartment in the old town through Airbnb. The only thing left to think about was which vineyards we would visit. I thought briefly about renting a car, but instead I booked a "Best of Wine Tourism" day trip via the Bordeaux Tourism website. The Tourism office offers a good selection of half-day and day-long tours in the various appellations surrounding Bordeaux, making it the perfect way for us first-time visitors to see Bordeaux. The "Best of" tour visits 3 different châteaux, selected from the 16 châteaux who won "Best of Wine Tourism" awards in 2015. The destinations rotate for every trip, meaning that we would not know which vineyards we would be visiting until we set out. 

On a bright Saturday morning, we joined our tour group outside the Bordeaux Tourism office and boarded our coach for the days' fun. The first stop was relatively close by in Pessac-Léognan, where we would be visiting the winery at Château Couhins. Most of the estate is owned by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) who use it for viniculture research while still also producing a white grand cru classé.

In fact, this would be the only white wine we would taste on the day, not surprising given the predominance of red wines in the Bordeaux region. Made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc and full of crisp fresh fruit such as grapefruit and gooseberries, accompanied by good acidity and balance, this wine would give the top New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs quite a run for their money.
Chateaux Couhins-Lurton
Vines at Château Couhins
On the tour at Château Couhins
The cellar at Château Couhins
Tasting the wines
Our second stop of the day would be in the appellation of Fronsac, where we were visiting the beautiful Château de La Dauphine. Once hailed throughout the word for their quality, the wines of Fronsac fell out of popularity after phylloxera hit. Dating back to 1670, the struggling château was purchased by Jean Halley in 2000, who set out on a program of modernisation and revitalisation. The property is now being farmed organically and boasts a state-of-the-art vinification cellar with concrete and steel tanks designed to match each of the 14 plot sizes. 

Following a walk through the vineyards and the vinification cellar, we entered the château itself for lunch. Here we were treated to a superb 4 course meal, served by black-jacketed French waiters and  accompanied by lashings of wine from the estate. We started with the second label Delphis de La Dauphine (90% Merlot, 10% Cabarnet Franc), before moving to the first label Château de La Dauphine (also 90% Merlot and 10% Cabarnet Franc). I enjoyed both wines but the main wine was a very classy affair with fine tannins, dark red fruit and blackcurrants and good length.

After a very lengthy lunch, and lots of chat with our dining companions, it was time to board the bus for the last château. To be honest, given the free-flowing wine at lunch, I was a little surprised that we all made it back to the bus safely without losing any companions to the land of nod. 
The vines at Château de La Dauphine
The picturesque village of Fronsac
More grapes, nearing ripeness
The modern vinification cellar at Château de La Dauphine
The cellar at Château de La Dauphine
The beautiful Château de La Dauphine
The final stop was Château de Candale, a Saint-Émillion Grand Cru vineyard, set amongst field after field of beautifully maintained vines. The château is famous for its restaurant which, along with an outdoor terrace, is located on a gentle slope, affording us a chance to sit in the evening sun with a glass of fine wine. Following a tour of the winemaking facilities, we tasted two wines from the château. We started with the house rosé, S off Scandal, a light and fresh Bordeaux rosé, made especially for easy drinking. Next was the second label Roc de Candale, a nicely silky wine with lots of peppery notes. Disappointingly, we didn't get to taste any of the first label wine.
The gateway at Château de Candale in Saint-Émillion
The Saint-Émillion countryside
Getting the tour at Château de Candale
S off Scandale rosé from Château de Candale
Our tour guide had hoped that we could visit the village of Saint-Émillon itself, but due to time constraints, we were limited to a quick drive-past, which also took in a stop outside the gates of the  (disappointingly restrained) world famous Pétrus estate. 

Having set out at 09.30, we arrived back in Bordeaux at 18.30. I must admit to being a little surprised at how quickly the day had passed. Tickets for the tour cost €105 per person, but I thought it was excellent value for the trip, considering it had 3 private guided tours, lashings of wine and a delicious, boozy lunch. Plus, there was no need to worry about drink-driving or being over the limit. 


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