Medoc & St Emilion
SmoothRed’s Bordeaux Wine Experience certainly lived up to expectations. At first glance, it seems expensive – £754 per person for 3 nights B&B in 3-star hotel and two full day tours – but a wine tour locally is around €150 each, and ours included an exceptional lunch at what the guide described as the best restaurant in St Emilion plus €20 entry ticket to Cite du Vin so overall it really was worth the price.
All arrangements beforehand were efficient and checking-in with easyJet was the easiest ever. A late flight from Bristol airport on a Friday meant it was 9.30pm local time before we arrived, but the hotel was a good choice in centre of Bordeaux so easy to pop around the corner to find food.
As you would expect for Friday evening, lively crowds of people were out enjoying a beautiful autumn evening sat outside bars and restaurants – just what we needed! A tapas-slate of cured meats and cheese and an excellent bottle of rich, red Bordeaux wine (what else?) was a brilliant price of €25.50 for two. Clearly, we were going to enjoy our first trip to this region of France.
Tour operators SmoothRed offer VIP treatment for guests with just our group of 4 plus another couple chauffeured around for the day. First class guides on both days, impressively knowledgeable about the whole wine-making process and the region, and not even fazed by questions about tips for growing your own vine back home. See part 2 of the report for details of the six vineyards we visited.
We were collected outside the Tourist Information as planned, near the Grand Theatre and opposite L’Ecole du Vin, and given a brief description of how the Bordeaux wine region is made up. Lots of “oh, I see now” comments as the different terrain of the Medoc and St Emilion, and therefore the type of wine produced, was explained in simple terms. No need to be a wine buff here.
Both days start at 9.30am and finish around 5.30pm, covering quite a lot of the region. St Emilion is hilly and the Medoc flat – according to our guide Ugo, they have a ‘sand dune’ as the highest point at 3 metres tall! Free time for lunch on day one alongside the quay at Pauillace. Le Petit Commerce fish restaurant is a must, with a pleasant young waiter who helped us along with our quaint version of French. Wonderful fish soup followed by the biggest, creamiest crème brulee we have ever had. A bottle of local dry white wine, of course, plus cappuccino while sat on the boardwalk in the sunshine and light autumn breeze. Perfect. And excellent value at around €21.25 each including the wine.
Several more tastings then back to the city centre, time to change and explore the bustling square-cobbled streets for somewhere different to eat. Very different in fact. Glance around the Restaurant de Boeuf and suddenly realise there is a sofa, rug and coffee table fixed to the ceiling. In fact, the whole ceiling is set out as a room, complete with a cat and bowl of food. Although people were queueing to get a table by the time we left, the steaks were so tough and stringy we wouldn’t choose to eat here again.
Day two to St Emilion follows a similar pattern except that the SmoothRed package includes 3-course lunch at the exceptional L’Envers du Décor plus a large glass each of white and red wine. This is a beautiful Medieval town so a web of narrow uneven-cobbled streets, some very steep, lined with every type of store related to the wine industry. Fascinating snippets of religious history all around, evidenced in crumbling edifices and the destruction of faces on stone figures on church walls. Definitely worth spending a few days here if you have a chance.
As the flight home on the last day is very late, there is time to explore. Fortunately, it was bright and sunny, ideal for a walk along the river to Cite du Vin. Ticket price includes a glass of wine, so again this was a bonus as part of our trip. It is a modern building with hi-tech displays and as many touch-pads as you could want! It tracks the development of vines and wine-making from ancient times to modern processes, with unusual facts and lots of little tableau to illustrate points. We were amazed to see how long there has been a wine-making tradition in China, more than a thousand years, and to see photographs of wineries with mock-chateaux palatial houses – very odd.
It is a packed tour on the two days of visits to vineyards, with some walking over difficult surfaces, so not sure you would cope if you are not very mobile, but each of the six places we visited had something different to show us and added a bit more to our increasing knowledge of wine-making in Bordeaux. If you are fascinated by the how and why of wine-making, rather than just knocking it back, the SmoothRed package is a perfect way to learn more. Thankfully, there isn’t a test at the end to check how much you know now, but there is a wine school you could always sign up for.
The Bordeaux Wine Festival takes place every two years and is on 18th-21st June in 2020. It looks like an exciting event from the photographs of last year’s festival – may have to make a sacrifice in the name of research.