“Everything is about wine in Bordeaux,” says Pierre-Jean Romatet. Given my penchant for fermented grapes, this was a region I could vibe with. Romatet was to be my guide that day, mine and the six other day trippers who made up our small group. We were on our way to wine country, Saint-Émilion to be exact. And we were ready for our education to begin.
Romatet is the founder of a Bordeaux wine tour company called Bordovino. He formed the idea for the boutique luxury experiences after sampling the wine tourism industry in Napa Valley. He saw a need in Bordeaux for a niche market, and he filled it. And now lucky patrons such as myself can gain access to the usually closed cellar doors of the region’s chateaux without having to hire a private driver, or join a larger group of, say, 50 other Bordeaux wine enthusiasts.
It was a short drive from the city center to the heart of wine country. We visited two chateaux that day, Chateau de Ferrand and Chateau Siaurac. In between the two stops we spent an hour or so exploring the medieval city of Saint-Émilion, wandering its tiny cobblestone streets and snapping as many photos as our memory cards would hold.
But back to the main reason we were there… wine. Bordeaux wine is world-renowned for its full-bodied reds, created primarily from the merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes. Saint-Émilion specifically produces mostly merlot, but always a blend of the two grapes. So, in the spirit of going local, we tasted reds.
In Bordeaux, they take their wine very seriously. It’s an art form here, crafted through generations of experimentation and fine tuning. You don’t just jet out to wine country, swig back as many glasses as you can and then carry on your way in a happy wine-induced haze. If you’re looking for that, simply set up shop at one of the city’s many wine bars. To tour Bordeaux wine country is to immerse yourself in their world, even if temporarily. They educate you on the entire process, from growing the grapes all the way to corking the bottle and releasing it for distribution. It was be an affront to swish it back like last night’s vin du table.
Romatet and Bordovino have upped the ante when it comes to absorbing more than the alcohol content on a wine tour. We learned about terroir, and the effect sunlight and weather has on the vines and subsequently the grapes. Saint-Émilion’s soil is a combination of limestone and clay, which is why they grow mostly merlot. It gives the area a whole different canvas from which to create than nearby Médoc, which has a gravel based soil and produces mostly cabernet sauvignon.
And then there are the aromas, and how that interacts with the wine to produce unique flavors. The best way to explain this is by example, which Romatet did by using the Le Nez du Vin kit by French wine expert Jean Lenoir. We sniffed three individually bottled aromas that are commonly present in red wine, and were challenged to identify them. After writing our answers and comparing them against the correct answer, we tasted the wine. Believe me, it made a difference.
We examined color, talked of tannins, and compared ages of the wines we sampled. And although I have splashed down a few bottle of wine in my day, now was when it all started to sink in. To hear it is one thing, but to live it and breath it (literally) is quite another.
I’m still no expert. I’ll probably never be comfortable calling myself more than an active enthusiast. But I did learn something that day, and saw a glimpse of how the pieces of the puzzle can fit together. It was enlightening, refreshing, and oh-so keeping with that famous French joie de vivre. And I can raise a glass to that any day.