Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thoughts on Exploring Wine Country

This is a very general topic which I am going to illustrate by focusing on two areas in France - Azay-le-Rideau Appellation near Tours and St. Emilion Appellation near Bordeaux.  The former is not so well known, the latter world famous.  What surprised us is how much more enjoyable the former was in that we were able to dig much deeper into the mysteries of wine tasting and buying at a humble vigneron near Azay than we could on a fabulous tour around a Premier Grand Cru Classé winery at St. Emilion.

We visited a small and very popular brasserie in Azay-le-Rideau and tried a local rosé (made from the Grolleau grape) with dinner.  It was delicious!  Next morning I saw the vineyard on a tourist information map and made a mental note of it.  The wine radar worked perfectly and in no time we found the place, Domaine du Haut Baigneux, where the owner, Jean-Pierre Perdriau was returning from lunch.  He welcomed us into his tasting room and I explained that we had drunk his rosé and wanted to taste more.
Domaine du Haut Baigneux, Azay-le-Rideau
He then cleaned four wine glasses and disappeared into his cellar, retrieving a bottle of rosé and a bottle of white (made from Chenin Blanc).  We tasted both and agreed that the rosé was fine and that the white was excellent.  Jean-Pierre was of the opinion that his white would last at least 10 years but that the rosé should be drunk soon.  The white is certainly young and crisp and would probably keep well (except we won't keep it long, not having a cellar!)

We left, very happy with the chance meeting and the 18 bottles of wine in the back of the car, average price 6 Euros each.

Now, every time we open a bottle of Domain du Haut Baigneux we have that pleasant feeling of having been there, tasting the wine in its birthplace and meeting the owner.  The wine simply tastes that much better!

On to Bordeaux and the incredibly beautiful area around St. Emilion.  Some bottles sell for more than a thousand Euros each though we were not in the market for these at all!  But as part of our reason for being in France we were invited to a special tour of St. Emilion, ending up at Chateau Clos-Fourtet, one of the top fifteen Premier Grand Cru Classé vineyards in the area.
St. Emilion - Clos-Fourtet
The tour was excellent and it was indeed an honor to walk through the various rooms at the winery and then descend into the chateau's three levels of cellars cut into the soft limestone that also provides St. Emilion with its special terroir.  We ended up in the chateau's tasting room and were given a taste of the 2006 wine, recently blended and very young on the palate.

This is interesting, I thought, what a good idea to compare this with a mature vintage.  Except the mature wine never materialized.  And to make things worse, we found the tasting room was not a place where we could buy (or entertain buying) a case.  So we left, somewhat disappointed.  I am not sure that I would even consider buying a bottle of Clos-Fourtet should I see one on a wine merchant's shelf.

I have another story about St. Emilion which will place it in a much better light - but that will have to wait for a day or two.