Our first full day in Bordeaux actually started in nearby Dordogne. We woke to the sun shining through the window in our Fiat Panda…Yes, we spent the night sleeping in our ride at a campsite we found the night before. It was simple, but safe and had all the ammenities we needed to shower, brush our teeth and continue our journey.
We drove about 15 minutes to a small town about an hour outside of Bordeaux called St. Foy la Grande where we’d booked a hotel. We drove through the sleepy little village, which took about ten minutes, then checked into our room, grabbed breakfast from the downstairs cafe, and headed out to taste some wine! Speaking of breakfast, this cafe served up some of the best pain au chocolat we’ve ever tasted!
We drove South back towards Dordogne to visit the surrounding chateaus and get a feel for the area. As we made our way around the beautiful countryside, most properties looked solemn and closed up rather than open for tasting wine. Our 4-cylinder Fiat struggled up most of the hills and we had to gun it in first gear to get to the top. At the first chateau we pulled into, the proprietor came out in an apron and told us most places were closed on Sundays (A-ha! We should have known!)
Undeterred, we kept going until we came upon a chateau called Domaine du Cantonnet and found the winemaker with his legs kicked up on a table reading the Sunday paper. We asked in our best French if we could taste and miraculously he hopped up and said he would take us around!
We parked and he led us to a barn-like building where he had a small tasting bar and stored most of his wines. We thought it was interesting that even though he was located in Bordeaux, his wines were made from Bergerac fruit. We tried his 2010 rose and 2007 rouge while he walked us through the production and barrel room. The wines were refreshing, tasty, reasonably priced and we left with a few of each.
The next place we visited was called Chateau Guillaume Blanc and we approached it much the same way. We drove in, asked a woman in flip-flops if we could taste, she smiled, said ‘of course!’ and summoned the winemaker to give us a tasting. He walked out in shorts his own set of flip-flops and happily invited us in.
We started with barrel samples of their blanc which was beautifully balanced and was much needed respite the heat of the afternoon. After this, we wound through the maze of stainless steel vats and tasted directly from the various tanks. All were red wines, but a different fermentation styles had been used in each tank: some had no oak at all, some used oak chips and some were fermented in oak casks.
During this part of the tasting, the winemaker’s daughter peeked in and followed us around at a distance. She was dressed in a black tutu with tights and a pink t-shirt; we couldn’t help but adore her immediately. Eventually, we left the cellar and walked into the barrel room where we tasted their reserve wine. It had been fermenting in French oak casks for 12 months and was our favorite wine of the day.
Finally, we toured their vineyards and were shown where all of the varietals are grown. Merlot, which is the main grape on that side of the Gironde River, is grown on the hillsides where it can receive more sun and develop richer characteristics.
We finished the last sips in our glass, picked up several bottles to take with us, and thanked the winemaker for such a wonderful time. Just as we were leaving, our day got even better when he surprised us with an unlabeled bottle from the barrel room!
At this point, we were exhausted from the tours and all the wine, so we made our way back to the hotel to relax before heading into Bordeaux for dinner at the highly recommended restaurant, La Tupina. Unfortunately, we didn’t relax much since it was the hottest week of Summer and our hotel had no air conditioning and no fans. Needless to say, we couldn’t wait to get into the Fiat and blast the A/C.