I would like to say that my first experience of Bordeaux wines was one congruent with the reputation surrounding the mecca of wine – elegance, velvet, warming richness. My first clear recollection of drinking Bordeaux however was far from this (I may have drunk much before however at that point for me wine was just wine and nothing else). My first Bordeaux moment was an encounter with a dusty bottle my Dad found in the garage. Vin de Bordeaux, 1979. He’d no doubt picked it up on one of our first family trips to the South of France when I was still mastering the technique of walking.
He’d dusted this off when I’d come home with a list of wines I needed to taste for my WSET course. “Ah, Bordeaux, let’s see what this is like” said my Dad, content he’d got something which could be of use and eager to see my newly honed palate in action. He poured out the salmon coloured liquid (most of the pigments had coagulated and settled wearily in flakes on the bottom of the bottles) and the wine plunked itself tiredly in my glass. The nose was pungent and so funky it was enough to put us off the next step. In Dad’s attempt to preserve prestige, he’d unwittingly made a bottle of vinegar.
Doubtless to say, my Dad should have drunk that about 20 years earlier, perhaps even when he was sitting on his folding camp chair under the Provencal sun. The name “Bordeaux” however, seemed to have duped him during successive spring-cleaning into thinking that this bottle merited shelf space. He’ll not be the first novice wine drinker to think that wine gets better with age – always – and especially if it’s got Bordeaux written on the front..
My first trip to the city of Bordeaux was for Vinexpo in 2007, the most important wine exhibition in the calendar. It was quite a different story to the dusty bottle moment, here I got to see the other side of Bordeaux, the part that really makes it unique in the world of wine – the history, the glamour, the wealth. The spectacular Fête de la Fleur dinner hosted by Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte during the Vinexpo festivities was a real show of what Bordeaux is about. It’s a soirée where Chateaux reward importers, journalists and enthusiastic wine connoisseurs with a “special mention”and good time in the hope of fostering continued Bordeaux brand loyalty. A dinner for 500 needed more than just a marquis so the chateau had emptied its marble-floored cellars of barrels from to create a venue to make your jaws drop. The menu was printed on Hermes leather scrolls and an army of waiters perfectly coordinated the whipping gleaming cloches off to reveal mouth-watering dishes. This dinner is the place to be seen (preferably in a designer dress/ suit) and wine producers pay over the odds to make sure they have a table to wine and dine those who could matter most to their business. It was for me one of the most memorable “business dinners” I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.
Through work, I’d had the chance to visit Bordeaux twice but most of the time was spent milling up and down the mile-long exhibition centre and I’d never found the time to saunter through the streets, breath in the atmosphere and really get to feel the soul of the city, so when the chance came to join a bloggers trip to see Bordeaux Fête le vin, I jumped at the chance. Organising wine events is what I do – and I rarely get chance to really enjoy them, so two days in one of the largest urban wine events around, sounded like a perfect chance to discover what I’d been missing.
Bordeaux Fête le Vin is held every two years (in the years the city doesn’t host Vinexpo) along a 2km stretch of the quays of the Garonne. For a ticket fee of 18 euro (or 15 for early purchase) wine lovers get the chance to receive an official glass and a booklet of coupons which gives them access to the stands. The festival had tents from each of the regional appellations, feature stands (such as Ecole de Vin stand), food stands, displays and lots and lots of wine.
In between other trips to parts of the region were we let loose to explore the Fête at our pace and my favourite – and the most unusual – had to be the Dark Lab set up by the Concours de Bordeaux. A completely black tasting room where visitors had the chance to experience a real blind tasting. In small groups, we were led by a visually impaired sommelier into the tasting room and positioned around a bar. By concentrating on the smells and the taste we had to work out what colour it could be. White? red? rose? The organisers had good foresight in making sure no red wine was included 🙂
Once back to daylight, we then weaved through the crowds and headed to the Ecole du Vin Stand ready for a cocktail session. Mixing wine sort of goes against my whole philosophy but its a practice that the Bordeaux promotion board use regularly which indicates it popularity. Armed with bright red mini shakers we were up on our feet adding a bit of energy to the mix.
As the popularity of Bordeaux wines continues in Asia – indeed during my trips to Asia a few years ago, all the wine lovers I met always went gaga over Bordeaux wines – Hong Kong took centre stage as guest country with a huge stand equipped for food and wine pairings as well displays of the things they are so well-known for – martial arts, tea and opera.
The revelry went on til the early hours with some of the larger stands providing the entertainment for a late night party.
But the real party was the light and sound show, an amazing show entitled “Homage to wine and men” projected onto 4000sqm of space on the facades of Palais Gabriel in the Place de la Bourse. With a width of over 200m, the organisers are pretty sure it’ll be the largest screen of the year in France. Seven high-definition projectors with a total power of over 160,000 lumen meant that the show had resolution which was about six times more than you would normally experience in a cinema. It was spectacular.
So that was my evening soaking up wine in Bordeaux – and what about the wines? I hear you ask.. Well with all that sightseeing and shaking going on, I ended up concentrating on the whites. Entre deux mere and Graves were the stands which appealed to us the most and the favourite wine of the night was this..
Le Sartre – Pessac Leognan.. Now I just have to find a way to get some to my Dad…..
Bordeaux Fête le Vin is held every two years in Bordeaux (and other cities around the globe) for more info :
Thanks to CIVB for an amazing trip!