French railway travel is a pleasure: we eat, drink vin and converse as best we can.
On the way from Avignon to Bordeaux, we were seated with a young French lawyer, Marcel, whose English was surprisingly good. Turns out he had been a high school exchange student in Utah, of all places. He brought back his love of American football and plays for a team in Toulouse. He claims to be the smallest middle linebacker in all of France. He may also be the best looking.
It was after 9pm when we checked into our small boutique hotel and were warmly welcomed by the lovely Alex. She made us cafe and told us about all the highlights in Bordeaux – she’s a real home town booster and we like that.
On her advice we walked over to St. Catherine Street and wandered around, looking for a wine bar. Greg made friends with some theater folks, and Celia made friends with a glass of fine Bordeaux from St-Emilion, which was served with exquisite chocolates. When Celia expressed her pleasure with the wine, and especially the chocolates, the bartender brought a second plateful of chocolates. Celia was ecstatic and Greg thought she was going to pull a Meg Ryan from “When Harry Met Sally”.
The next morning Alice, another lovely and helpful concierge at our hotel, arranged for a wine class. We shared our two hour class with one other couple, from Cambridge, MA., via Mumbai. We learned a lot from Anna our instructor, even blended our own wines, and of course, tasted some fine wines.
All wines in the Bordeaux are required to be blended, which is quite different from other wine regions in France. Here’s something to know – the term “Superior” on a bottle of Bordeaux means grapes came from other vineyards in the region, not from one chateau, so maybe it’s not so “Superior”. Our best piece of insider info – the years 2009 and 2005 were the good recent vintages for Bordeaux wines.
We were determined to use our new found knowledge, and on Anna’s recommendation we went on to tour the Chateau Pape du Clement that afternoon. There was only one other couple signed up, Lorraine & Joe from Perth, by way of Tasmania. We had a private tour of the winery with Audrey, who spoke English well and indulged our questions and delays for picture taking. The Chateau and properties were gems; centuries old, but meticulously restored and lovingly cared for.
We toured the vineyards, each of the buildings, and were shown every step of the state of the art wine making process. Red wines are mashed in huge oak barrels, blended in stainless steel vats, and aged in very expensive oak barrels, some costing as much as 1,200 euros each! Chateau Pape du Clement was the owner’s first foray into the wine making business and clearly his favorite (he now owns 40 vineyards around the world). He has beautiful, historic, religious art throughout and even created a consecrated chapel for worship in one of the buildings that houses the bottles of wine. A beautiful, timeless place.
BTW – the biggest bottle they produce is called a Melchior, named after 1 of the 3 wise men who presented gifts to Jesus at his birth. This giant bottle contains 18 litres, which for you gringos is 26 bottles of wine, and yes, it takes 3 men to lift!
At the end of our tour, there was, of course, a tasting, and the chateau let us taste some very fine and expensive wines. They left us alone with the bottles (shades of Del Posto). We hit it off with our friends from Oz and stayed until the bottles were empty. We all bought wine and parted. They were headed for a hike through the Dordogne the next day.
During the winter Greg had run into Chloe, a world class traveler, in FL. They swapped stories and she told him that if we got to Bordeaux, we had to visit her brother’s place. He was about to open the first American beer bar in Bordeaux (sacre bleu!). So on our second night we set out on a journey in the rain to find the brother’s bar. We had some beers, watched some NBA playoff action, and felt at home. Her brother Louis was a bigger NYGiants fan than Greg, which is not easy. Louis immediately sent a phone-photo of the 3 of us to his sister, who is now in Senegal. Hi Chloe!
Our train from Bordeaux is now nearing Paris – Gare Montparnasse, which means the end of this rail trip and the end of this story. Bordeaux photos soon!
Then 3 days in Paris before we head home.