About 45 minutes outside of Bordeaux is Saint-Émilion, a small, medieval village that sits on the right bank of the Dordogne river. It is a city of ~2000 people that produces ~2,000,000 million cases of wine each year.
We booked a tour with Rustic Vines and visited two Chateaux – the stately Chateau de Pressac (which has the Grand cru classé classification) and Chateau Laniote (a smaller family Chateau ) – the Saint-Émilion village, and a local wine merchant. Along the way, we received a good amount of information from our entertaining guide, Thomas. We learned about:
- The primary grapes blended in Bordeaux wines, and what is more predominant depending on if it is left bank or right bank
- The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC system)
- The classification system and that getting classified is not just about the wine produced, but the entire operation at the chateau.
- The best vintages (and some of the worst)
- The first and second labels and how to spot this when looking at a bottle
- When and how blending occurs
I’ve always been a little embarrassed by my wine knowledge given that I worked for a wine retailer, a fact I neglected to share when introducing myself to our fellow wine tour travelers, so I found this very helpful in giving me a little more street cred.
After the wine tour, we went to Le Bar à Vin to put our education into practice and had a long conversation about wine tasting. Wine tasting has eluded me for the most part. I’ve gone to several wine tastings and various vineyards and whatnot, and have always thought that they should start wine tastings with a “Tasting Intro” for real novices. I don’t mean the 4 S’s (see, swirl, smell, sip) about how to taste it. For me, the hardest part about tasting a wine is matching the lexicon with a particular flavor. What do spice, citrus, oak, earth, and black fruit really taste like in wine? I wish someone would give me two or three wines with distinct flavor profiles, that I drink in parallel, and just tell me what the key flavor profiles are – so I can associate the presence of or lack of a flavor with actual words. Because I suspect, that if you can’t articulate what you tasted, it’s much harder to fully appreciate and then remember what you tasted well after the fact. And I really want to do both.
But alas, in the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to keep sipping until I figure it out.
I think there’s a reason why wine figures into so many religions. There’s something transcendent about it. It’s sort of the way that music is more than the sum of its parts. You have all these elements that make up the terroir that wine can communicate.
~Maynard James Keenan