Wednesday, May 18th: Final preparations to leave for Bordeaux. The airport limo came at 3:45 pm. Met several of the group in the lounge before the flight – we will be twenty-four in all for the 10th annual Aspler-Pauwels wine tour of Bordeaux and the Dordogne. On the Air France flight they gave us menus in tourist class (!) and served Devereaux Champagne (!!).
Thursday, May 19th: A short layover in Paris where the pilot announced that there was an air traffic controllers’ strike and we might be delayed (Plus ça change). In Bordeaux we boarded a large luxurious bus to take us to our hotel for the next 5 nights – the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux in the city centre. This took some time as Bordeaux traffic is insane. Walked over to Brasserie L’Orleans for a bite to eat. I ordered foie gras terrine and the six of us demolished two bottles of Première de Figuière Rosé 2015.
The first of many plates of foie gras
When Deborah woke after a nap we both went to the hotel outdoor café for her to eat (foie gras and a glass of Château Puy De La Tour 2012). Walked around the city for half an hour visiting shops, including Le Comptoir de Mathilde, a unique shop selling a range of candies and chocolates.
Before dinner a welcome cocktail in the hotel lounge – Sichel Sirius Bordeaux Blanc 2013 and Château Darzac 2013 Bordeaux Supèrieure – followed by a group dinner at the nearby Le Bouchon Bordelais. A set menu of cod and potato balls as an amuse bouche, a prawn dish followed by filet de boeuf in teriyaki sauce with French fries. Dessert – a smoothie of mango with raspberries and a cornet of cheese. The well-chosen wines by the restaurant – Château Favray Pouilly-Fumé 2014 and Château Fourcas Hosten 2005. A delicious and raucous meal.
Friday, May 20th: Today we have a local guide, Antonio, who explained the history and appellation system of Bordeaux at interminable length. Our first stop is Château Haut-Brion, located in a suburb of Bordeaux in Pessac-Léognan, surrounded by houses. Barbara, the winery’s German tour guide, screened a video about the two properties – Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, across the road from each other – narrated by the owner, Prince Robert of Luxembourg. Then a tour of the property and the cellars followed by a comparative tasting of La Mission Haut-Brion 2007 and Haut-Brion 2007.
Next stop, Château Smith Haut Lafitte. Former Olympic skiers Daniel and Florence Cathiard have invested much of their supermarket and sporting goods fortune into the estate since 1990.
Daniel Cathiard of Smith Haut Lafitte
After a tour and tasting of Smith Haut Lafitte 2011 with gougeons, Daniel showed us the hidden cellar: two panels in the floor that open electronically with stairs leading down. Then into lunch:
Landaise salad with foie gras, paired with
Les Hauts de Smith White 2014
Stuffed chicken with horn-of-plenty mushrooms and hazelnuts, fondant potato, fried bacon, dual-coloured carrots, with
Smith Haut Lafitte Red 2007
Plate with two fine Comté cheeses – one young, one mature – with dried fruits, with Le Petit Haut Lafitte red 2010
Gourmet dessert trio and coffee: cannelé, lime “religeuse,” chocolate and orange brownie with blackcurrant sorbet
(I am beginning to come down with a cold and am losing my voice.)
Then back to the hotel for a short nap before meeting James Sichel for a quick glass of champagne. James’s family (he has three brothers, one of whom is his twin) owns Château Palmer and Château Angludet, among other notable properties.
We dine as a group at the Brasserie Bordelais a short walk from the hotel – a huge communal table in the cellar, seated on benches. I order carpaccio of mule (a local fish, not a donkey), grilled salmon and tarte tatin. The wines: G de Giraud 2015, Château Angludet 2011, Château Palmer 2006 and Château Trillol 2012 (a property the Sichel family owns in Corbières: a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah). Finally, another product marketed by Maison Sichel, Château d’Orignac Pineau des Charentes, a delicious sweet wine like a light tawny port. Quite the best Pineau des Charentes I’ve tasted.
A great Pineau des Charentes
Saturday, May 21st: Our group splint in two for a guided walking tour of Bordeaux. Lunched at La Boite à Huitres (38 cours du Chapeau Rouge) – two dozen oysters with a bottle of Guilbeau Frères Le Soleil Nantais Muscdaet sur lie 2014. Deborah and I walked around the shops, dropping in to Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery & Cellar (14 cours de l’Intendace), where they sell fine wines by the glass from Enomatic machines. Then stopped for ice cream as the weather turned hot.
Jean d’Alos cheese shop, Bordeaux
A pre-dinner glass of Veuve Clicquot on the Grand Hotel’s “Night Beach” rooftop bar with its spectacular panoramic view of Bordeaux. Then we walked over to dine with our friends Aris and Marcia at Le Chapon Fin (5 rue Montesquieu). The restaurant has a stone grotto effect at the back. Started with a glass of Ruinart Champagne. With crayfish soup, a bottle of Lynch Bages Blanc de Blanc 2014, followed by Château Guard Larose 1999 and 2005. Then the cheese trolley arrived. With a selection of cheeses, a bottle of Château Montrose 1998 and to finish off, while we waited for the rain to stop, Leopold Groumel Age des Eprices and Age des Fleurs. A magnificent meal.
Le Chapon Fin
Sunday, May 22nd: A slight hiccup with the non-arrival of our bus meant that our group had to take a series of taxis to Château de Fargues in Sauternes. We were welcomed by the owner, Comte Alexander de Lur Saluces, and his CEO, Prince Eudes d’Orléans.
Comte Alexandre de Lur Saluces
The Count explained how his vineyard loses 4/5 of its volume of grapes through botrytis – or to put it another way, a vine produces one glass of wine, while a vine for dry wines will produce enough grapes for a bottle. The vineyard is planted to 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. The castle, currently being restored, was first built in 1306 and acquired by the Lur Saluces family in 1472 through marriage. The first vintage of Château de Fargues was 1943. After a tour of the facility and a video we were offered a tasting of Château de Fargues 2005, which was served with oysters (!) and cod ceviche (!). Then in to lunch.
Lunch at de Fargues
Back in Bordeaux, Deborah and I and our dinner companions from last night took a long walk along the river, getting caught in a sudden downpour on the way back to the hotel. A glass of Veuve Clicquot in the bar before heading out to dinner. Fancied a pizza so we walked over to Da Peppone on cours Georges Clemenceau. Had to queue for about 25 minutes and then were sent upstairs. There is no wine list; you have to go down to the cellar to select your wine and bring it to your table. I chose a half bottle of Masi Campofiorin 2012 with my chorizo pizza. Walked back to the hotel in the rain.
Pizza at Da Peppone
Monday, May 23rd: Today we bussed north to the Saint-Estèphe commune to visit Château Phélan Ségur. After a tour a tasting of Château Phélan Ségur 2012, 2011 and 2010 led by the winemaker, Fabrice Bacquey.
Château Phélan Ségur
A glass of Billecart Salmon Brut Réserve before lunch, served with one-bite portions of foie gras and smoked salmon on toast. Then into lunch:
Next stop, Château Margaux for a tour of the new cellar designed by Sir Norman Foster and a tasting of Château Margaux Pavillon Rouge 2006 and Château Margaux 2006. The last time we were here ten years ago we stood outside the locked gates and admired the Grecian façade from afar.
Château Margaux’s cellar
Dined at L’Entrecôte, a short walk from the hotel. We were told that we would have to queue, as this restaurant only serves walnut salad, steak and chips and desserts and is very popular. But we walked right in. We ordered a bottle of red Bordeaux (the only other choice was rosé). The dinner was 19 euros each plus 14 euros for the wine and with a single dessert of strawberries and cream the bill came to 58 euros. Packed before going to bed as we leave to the Dordogne tomorrow.
Tuesday, May 24th: We crossed the Entre-Deux-Mers region between the Dordogne and Garonne tributaries of the Gironde Estuary. In Saint-Émilion we stopped for a visit to Château Figeac, where the highly animated Jodi Foster-lookalike, Gwenelle Brieu, toured us around and poured us a sample of Château Figeac 2011.
Gwenelle Brieu of Chateau Figeac
Lunched at La Terrace Rouge, Château La Dominique’s restaurant in Saint-Émilion. The menu: grilled scallops vol-au-vent, roast capon and foie gras on a bed of cabbage and a dessert of panacotta and various cookies. The wines: Château Le Grand Verdus Blanc 2014, La Motte des Clémont-Richon 2011 and Château La Dominique 2007.
Dessert at La Terrace Rouge
For the drive along the magnificent Dordogne River Valley, Aris bought a magnum of Château La Dominique 2011 and Château Feyat 2011 which we drank out of plastic glasses on the bus. We checked into our charming hotel, Vieux Logis Relais & Chateaux in the town of Trémolat.
Le Vieux Logis
Before dinner, an aperitif in the garden at which our group demolished two bottles of rosé – Grand Mayne 2015 and Mirabelle du Château de la Jaubertie 2014. At dinner in the hotel’s bistro across the road I ordered for our table of six, Clos des Verdots Blanc 2014 and Château Tiregand 2011. I had foie gras, magret de Canard followed by vacheran de fraise. We also had a bottle of Château Haut Marbuzet 2006 followed by Château de Laubade Bas Armagnac XO.
Wednesday, May 25th: Set off after breakfast for a tour of the castles, storybook villages and idyllic countryside that make the Dordogne region (“le Périgord” to the French) one of the most appealing in France. Visited the truffle farm of Édouard Aynaud in a tiny village called Péchalifour. He entertained us with a lecture on the different types of truffle and what to avoid (Indicum). Then into the woods with his border collie, Lino, to hunt for truffles. Lino found three, one of which I had the honour of digging up.
Truffle meister Édouard Aynaud
Tony and truffle hound Lino
Then a visit to the medieval town of Sarlat, centre of “le Périgord noir,” on market day, where the vendors were offering goose confit and magret, and fois gras. Deborah and I were attracted to a shop selling mounds of salted caramel candy. We filled up a bag and when it was weighed we were told it was 40 euros.
Lunch at Les Chevaliers de la Tour, a small restaurant in Impasse des Violettes. I ordered foie gras with a pichet of rosé. Next stop, Beynac castle, which dates back to the twelfth century. A guide took us around the castle, which offers a magnificent panoramic view of the river and surrounding countryside.
The keys to the castle
A glass of Laurent-Perrier Champagne in the garden before dinner at Le Vieux Logis. The menu:
Crémeux de gras de canard et l’esturegon fumé.
Tuile de pain et salade de champignons
La barbue en filet rôti, barigoule d’artichauts à l’huile de noix
Le pigeon en croûte as la périgordine, asperges vertes et polenta du pays
Assoirtiment de fromages
Le premières framboises, crème noisette et fine crouche de meringue
The wines: Château Les Marnières Bergerac Blanc Sec 2014. Domaine du Grand Jaure “Mémoire” Pécharment 2011.
Thursday, May 26th: After breakfast we stopped at Domaine de Barbe, a foie gras farm where we were given a seminar on how foie gras is made as humanely as possible.
Foie gras farm
This was followed by a picnic lunch with foie gras served several ways, as well as smoked duck breast and duck gizzards on salad. This was followed by cheeses and patisserie. The wines: La Mas de Romanin Alpilles Rosé 2014, a bottle of Bachelder Côte de Beaune Blanc 2011 and Château Le Terre Blanc Monbazillac 2003.
Foie gras lunch
After lunch we checked into our hotel in Saint-Émilion, Château Hôtel Grand Barrail.
Château Hôtel Grand Barrail
An hour later we were on the road again to Château Faugères for a tour and tasting. This is the most modern winery in Saint-Émilion, with state-of-the-art equipment. Here we tasted Cap de Faugères 2012, Haut Faugères 2010, Château Faugères 2010 and the magnificent Péby Faugères 2004 (100% Merlot), ending with another of the company’s wines, the dessert wine, La Chapelle de Lafaurie-Peyraguey.
Group dinner this evening in our hotel’s exceptional restaurant.
The wines: Château Lagarde Blanc 2013 and Château Barail Lamarzolle 2007 in magnums. (The vineyard is right outside our bedroom window.)
Friday, May 27th: This morning we make the short trip into Pomerol, the smallest of all the major Bordeaux wine-producing appellations, to visit Vieux Château Certan. We are welcomed by one of the owners, Alexandre Thienpoint, who shows us around and pours Vieux Château Certan 2005 and Vieux Château Certan 2015 (which is still in barrel; at 14.6% alcohol, the highest the winery has ever made).
Alexandre Thienpoint of Vieux Château Certan
Lunched in Saint-Émilion at L’Envers du Décor on Saint Peter fish with three bottles of Château Bellevue Sauvignon Gris 2013. Then back to the hotel to pack before our final dinner and an early morning start to the airport. Dined at les Belles Perdrix de Troplong Mondot. Before dinner a glass of Bollinger Special Cuvée with an amuse-bouche of avocado mousse with mullet and a madeleine with ham and cheese, then into the restaurant.
Pigeon dish at Les Belles Perdrix
The wines: Ladoucette Pouilly-Fumé 2014, Domaine P. Alliet Chinon 2013, Château Troplong Mondot 2004 in magnum, and Château Sigalas Rabaud 2004.
Saturday, May 28th: Our bus took us to Bordeaux Airport to catch the 10:20 AM flight for Toronto via Paris. Because of the late arrival of the plane from Paris we missed our connecting flight to Toronto and had to overnight at the Hotel Ibis Style near the airport at Roissy and take an early flight to Amsterdam. On the Bordeaux/Paris leg the plane suddenly dropped in turbulence and the contents of a full cup of coffee hit the roof above a passenger three rows ahead of us. Altogether a very entertaining trip.