Being such a wine lover, a trip to France would not be complete without visiting Bordeaux and some châteaux. I feel like I know a lot about wine, but French wine is something much more complex. I’ve always found French wines daunting and it was time to learn more.
First off, the French in this region will look at you funny if you say winery, there they are called a château. Someone just recently asked me what was the difference and I had no clue, so I did a little research.
The answer I found seemed simple; a château is the French term for a country house or castle, and is most commonly used by the wineries of Bordeaux. This makes sense, the French are very specific and base findings on tradition. If you're looking for a more nuanced answer, wines from Bordeaux are from a specific château or estate. In contrast, wine from a Burgundy “domaine” is specific to the terrior and climate.
Wine brings to light the hidden secrets of the soul. ~ Horace
Most other European countries who produce great wines use generations of winemaking techniques based on the estate or region and generally don’t vary from strict traditions. For instance, Montepulciano is only produced in the one region of Italy that bears its name. The French are similar as well. However, wines produced in the USA don’t follow these rules. Why we don’t, is a different story.
Bordeaux is a huge wine region split into two by the Gironde Estuary which divides into the Dordogne and Garonne rivers; Right Bank (Merlot focused) and Left Bank (Cabernet focused). Petit Verdot and Cab Franc being the supporting grapes to blend to make Bordeaux. There is a small amount of white wine produced in the region but if you know me, you’ll understand why I’m skipping over them.
We stayed in Saint-Émilion in the Right Bank and did day trips to visit all the châteaux. This was probably not a wise decision based on the mere size of the region and time it took to get from the right bank to the left. We generally visited three châteaux per day. In the mornings we’d start with a formal wine tasting at one château. The next stop was at another for déjeuner and a casual second tasting, then we wrapped up the afternoon with another château tasting and tour as our third stop.
Saint-Émilion is a beautiful medieval village that has so much history and picturesque architecture. Be prepared to climb steep streets, and if you make the effort, the view from the top of the square is breathtaking. It's a very touristy place so we did our exploring of the town in the morning and late evening when the day tourists were gone. There is a numerous amount of wine shops and tasting rooms that support the region's growers. It’s a nice way to taste what the region has to offer if you don’t have time to visit the châteaux.
"Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried with fewer tensions and more tolerance." ~ Benjamin Franklin