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Bordeaux in Your Glass

A barge trip on one of France's many canals provides the opportunity to disembark and venture inland

Wine Blog on Ulizter

A barge trip on one of France's many canals provides the opportunity to disembark and venture inland. In this case, we chose to take some time to explore the vineyards of Bordeaux.

With world-famous names like Lafite and Latour, Pétrus and Le Pin, Cheval Blanc and Yquem, the vast Bordeaux region has always held a special appeal for lovers of fine wine.

The tour I took with my family was planned and hosted by France In Your Glass (800-578-0903), internationally recognized authorities on wine, award-winning writers, connoisseurs of fine food, and experts on local culture. Our private tour was led by James Lawther, a renowned British author and Master of Wine (MW). An MW is the wine equivalent of a 10th degree black belt - the highest accolade afforded anyone in the wine trade.

 

 

France In Your Glass's choice of an MW was a key component to the success of our trip. Only James and 235 of his fellow Masters of Wine have the ability to blind taste virtually any wine in the world, tell you what region the wine is from, the grape varietal from which it was made, and in many instances, the year the grape was grown. Not only did James open up our minds to the subtleties of wine, his connections opened up the top châteaux, restaurants, and fine hotels in the region.

We were invited to spend a week in Bordeaux with the owners and cellar masters of the world's most famous châteaux and domaines. Imagine stepping into a world, not normally open to the public, of intimate tastings and fine dining in the private wine cellars and salons of Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Mouton-Rothschild, Margaux, Cheval Blanc, Léoville-Las-Cases, and Pichon-Lalande.

Tom Stevenson writes in Sotheby's World Wine Encyclopedia that there are six factors that affect the taste and quality of wine. They include location, climate, terrain, soil, viticulture/vinification, and grape variety.

Understanding the Terroir
James started us on the road to enlightenment by teaching us that you can never really understand a wine unless you've first understood its terroir. Terroir is defined as the lands from a certain region, belonging to a specific vineyard, and sharing the same type of soil and weather conditions (and to some extent its winemaking expertise), which together imparts its specific personality to the wine.

Virtually all French wines are named for a place, instead of the grape. That's because the terroir matters more than the grape. The French system for regulating wine regions is known as the appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC), which means "regulated place name." In fact, the more specific the place described in the wine name, the better the wine is considered to be and the more it is likely to cost. For example, a wine label that lists only the region of Bordeaux is of less quality than a label that lists the specific vineyard (i.e., Latour, Lafite, etc.).

We learned that the French have been growing wine in Bordeaux for over two thousand years, way before the arrival of the Romans in 56 B.C. Bordeaux has 57 appellations, more than 9,000 wine-producing châteaux, and 13,000 wine growers. Bordeaux is one of the most important wine-producing regions in the world, producing one third of French wines of good quality.

For the growth of wine grapes, poor soil is better than rich soil and Bordeaux's limestone, gravel, sand, and clay soils are ideal. That's because these poor soil types require the vine to struggle, forcing the plant to grow small grapes with highly concentrated juice, thus producing intensely flavored wines.

The geography of Bordeaux in the southwest of France and its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean produces a temperate climate with a short winter and a high degree of humidity. According to Jancis Robinson, in her excellent book, The Oxford Companion to Wine, "France can provide the most suitable environments identified in climate and wine quality for growing grapes. In the south, the Mediterranean climate can be depended upon to ripen grapes fully, but not so fast that they do not have time to develop an interesting array of flavor compounds and phenolics."

In particular, these conditions are responsible for a long growing season and the long hang time on the vine that the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal needs to ripen fully and gain its complexity. Along with the high quality of its Cabernet Franc and Merlot grape production, this makes Bordeaux the envy of the wine world.

Red wines produced in Bordeaux are typically mixtures of the following five wines with each imparting its unique and important qualities to the other:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon is harsh when young but develops a very delicate bouquet in aging. Cabernet Sauvignon represents over half the planted grapes grown in the Bordeaux region. Its small bunches give strong tannic structure. With a proper balance of black currant fruit the tannin creates the legendary "wine of kings."
  • Cabernet Franc's small bunches of tiny blackberries impart vigor, tannin, strawberry, and blackberry aromas and good keeping qualities to the wine.
  • Merlot brings softness, suppleness, rich color, and body to the wine, and helps the mixture mature quickly.
  • Petit Verdot and Malbec are typically blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc to impart some of their peppery spice characteristics.

Although Bordeaux is mostly known for its reds, there are also very good white wines common to Bordeaux including Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle, and Sauternes.

Special Treatment
Our trip provided us with an incomparable opportunity to discover the many facets that make up the terroir of Bordeaux's broad appellations: the Médoc, the Graves, Saint Emilion, Pomerol, and Sauternes. From the moment we arrived, we were made to feel like special guests, with VIP access to the inner sanctum of Bordeaux's wine world. All greeted us like royalty, opening up their homes and pouring their very best vintage wines. We were privileged travelers and welcomed guests, and no doubt due to the esteem in which our host was held, never treated like a tour group with a hired guide.

For example, one afternoon, we were invited to a private luncheon at Pichon-Lalande as the guest of the château's owner Madame May Eliane de Lencquesaing. Madame is something of a missionary, promoting the ethos of fine Bordeaux wine on her many trips abroad where she speaks about the intellectual characteristics that make Bordeaux's blend, balance, elegance, complexity, and length the apotheosis of red wine. When we arrived, we noticed an American flag flying over the château which prompted us to ask if the château had any special interests in the United States. We were truly moved when told that the flag was flying in honor of our visit.

From the beginning, Bordeaux had a profound effect on enhancing our senses. Here, the food and wine tasted better, the fragrance was more acute and beguiling, the sights and sounds resonated with every facet of our minds and bodies until we were totally seduced by the experience.

On the final day of our trip, we were treated to a glorious day at Château Lafite-Rothschild. When we arrived, we were taken on a private tour of the baron's wine cellar where thousands of wines, dating back to 1798, were kept in ideal climatic condition. Next we were led to the Grand Chai. We were mesmerized. Between the aroma of aging wine, and the hundreds of romantically placed candles that lit the room, it was like taking a step back in time.

While we sampled the previous year's harvest, the cellar master related his recent experience tasting the 1798 vintage. I asked if the flavor of the fruit could have possibly remained after hundreds of years. His poetic reply spoke about a feeling rather than a flavor. He said the wine evoked images of a genteel society, of dust stirred up from the hoofs of horses and buggies, of women's long, elegant skirts, and where gloved hands meet in graceful waltzes.

I will never forget that blissful time in Bordeaux. It was an incomparable week of etched-in-your-mind vistas, tastings, and dining at legendary estates. I now have priceless memories of wines, cellars, and châteaux created centuries before and recollections of a place and moment in time where the complexity was in the wine and not in the world. Now as I sit at my desk and reflect on this amazing experience, just the thought of it brings me peace and becalms my soul. It has changed me forever.

More Stories By Fuat Kircaali

Fuat Kircaali is the founder and chairman of SYS-CON Media, CloudEXPO, Inc. and DXWorldEXPO, Inc.

Kircaali came to the United States from Zurich University, Switzerland in 1984 while studying for his PhD, to design computer systems for SH-2G submarine hunter helicopters for the U.S. Navy. He later worked at IBM's IS&CG Headquarters as a market research analyst under Mike Armstrong's leadership, an IBM executive who later ran IBM Europe and AT&T; and Fuat was the Director of Information Systems for UWCC, reporting to CEO Steve Silk (later Hebrew National CEO), one of the top marketing geniuses of the past two decades.

Kircaali founded SYS-CON Media in 1994, a privately held tech media company with sales exceeding $200 million. SYS-CON Media was listed three years in a row by Inc 500 and Deloitte and Touche among the fastest-growing private companies in America. Kircaali launched DXWorldEXPO LLC, a Lighthouse Point, FL-based "digital transformation" events company in March 2017.

Fuat completed Bogazici University (ranked among the top 100 universities in the world) Business Administration program in 1982 with a Bachelor's Degree in Istanbul, Turkey. He was one of 50 students accepted to the program out of over 1 million high school graduates.

http://twitter.com/fuatkircaali

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