Bordeaux

13 – 14/09/2016

Note to self: When going through Airbnb, double check whether a cleaning fee is included in the total. We struck gold again with our Airbnb listing for Bordeaux, and needed to clean the apartment before we left. On the plus side, it was just as small as the attic in Marseilles, with a wooden pull-down ladder to climb up to the bed.

The forecast on our first day in Bordeaux was for rain and thunderstorms. Neither of us had packed an umbrella. Well, Amy did. She just didn’t find it until she was re-packing two days later. It was sunny when we were leaving the apartment, so we thought “it’ll be right”. We were walking for less than two minutes when we felt the first rain drops. Amy didn’t look all that enthused, but I was stoked. The grey skies and rain were bliss after the sweltering heat in Marseilles. Also, I think things look prettier in the rain. Although I was having a blast running round in the rain (Amy, not so much), we took shelter during the heavier downpour by hopping onto trams and popping into cafés. After exploring the main part of town and taking in the sights for several hours, we went back to the apartment to wait out the massive thunderstorm that was expected later in the afternoon.

Later in the evening, we braved the rain to get some food. This time, armed with an umbrella that we didn’t initially see hanging right by the door. We went to La Petite Savoie, which is a restaurant all about cheese. Right up our alley! We ordered the raclette and the reblochon. Two types of cheese, made for melting. Raclette is what the peasants in the mountains of Switzerland and France used to eat when they were herding cows. They would place the wheel of raclette next to the campfire, and once the top layer began to ooze, they would scrape the melted cheese onto some bread or potatoes. We melted our cheese over steamed potatoes and an assortment of deli meats. SO GOOD. We also got some pickles, which were necessary to break up all that cheese and meat. We were going to order a fondue to share as an entrée, but the waitress said it would be too much. Now, Amy and I love a good food challenge, but after a few mouthfuls of the raclette and reblochon we were both glad we had listened to her. It was super filling. The perfect meal on a cold rainy night.

We did a day-long wine tour on our second day. It kicked off with a tour and tasting at the Musée du Vin ed du Négoce (Wine and Trade Museum) in Les Chartrons, the wine merchant’s district, where we learnt about the history of wine making and selling in Bordeaux. Bordeaux produces 90% red wine and 10% white wine. Unlike in Australia, where wine is labelled and sold based on the type of grape (e.g., Shiraz, Merlot, Riesling, etc.), in Bordeaux and other parts of Europe, the wine is labelled by appellation. The appellation refers to the legally defined wine region from where the grapes were grown. Sometimes, an appellation can just be one vineyard, or château.

After the tour and tasting, we headed back to the main part of Bordeaux for lunch at a cheese and wine restaurant. More cheese! It was a simple lunch of roast chicken and veggies, with rice and three different kinds of cheeses. Plus, several bottles of red to share amongst our small group of eight, which included our tour guide (Bruno). We had a good tour group, made up of Australians, Brits and Americans. The English guy, who was a novice wine maker back in England, had a brilliant brain teaser that got conversation going over lunch. Here it is: There are only three countries in the world that don’t contain any of the letters found in “mackerel”. Even with the world map hanging up on the wall in front of me, I still came up with nothing. But there was an older guy from Edinburgh, who was genius. He got two out of the three countries, plus another Olympic brain teaser, before we’d even gotten dessert. In between courses and trying to think of possible countries, we went down to the restaurant’s cheese vault. A delicious sight indeed. As soon as we opened the door, we were hit with this incredible smell of cheese.

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After lunch, we hopped onto a bus, with 46 other people, to go to one of the wine regions – Saint-Émilion. We had double checked the forecast before leaving the apartment that morning. Cloudy skies, but fine. No rain. So again we thought “it’ll be right”, and didn’t bring the umbrella. Rookie error. It poured in Saint-Émilion. I swear I spent most of my time with my head ducked down in a poor attempt to shield myself from the rain. From the few times I did look up and around, Saint-Émilion seemed like a picturesque town. The upper and lower parts of town are connected by relatively steep cobbled streets, which were an accident waiting to happen in the wet weather. We went down to the widest underground church in Europe. It was cool to see, I guess. But I couldn’t hear anything Bruno was saying. Our group was so big, and there were at least two other big tour groups down there with us. We should’ve done what these two ladies in our group did – bailed and gone to get a few glasses of wine.

Before heading back to Bordeaux, we stopped in at Château Ambe Tour Pourret, where we were quickly run through the wine making process in Bordeaux today, before another brief tasting. The process seems much the same as it is in Australia, but France maintains tradition and favours the cork over the screw top. Fun fact: Once they’ve drained the vat, in which they press the juice from the grapes and ferment the wine, the leftover pomace or marc (skins, seeds, etc.) is sent to the government as a payment instead of taxes. It’s then turned into medicinal alcohol.

Bordeaux is one of the most famous wine regions in the world. No doubt. While I’ve enjoyed the wine we’ve had here and in France, I have to say, I think Australia is producing wine that’s just as good, if not better.

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Sometimes all the small things just come together to make for a really memorable experience. With Bordeaux, it was the weather, the food, the people (the waitress at La Petite Savoie, Bruno and our small morning tour group), the sights, and just the general vibe. Bordeaux felt like a bigger city and a smaller town at the same time. It felt busy enough, but not hectic, like Paris and Marseilles did. Definitely on the list of places to revisit.

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