The relatively little town of Blaye, a 45 minute drive northeast of Bordeaux city, perches on the Gironde estuary. From here you catch a ferry across to the more renowned Medoc region. Or – you can visit Blaye’s Citadelle, a UNESCO world heritage site that was constructed as one of multiple ancient defense fortifications in the region.
A South African named Les holds wine education classes for a reasonable price at Villa St. Simon in Blaye. These take place in the newly refurbished ‘Galeria’ art gallery in town – modern, cosy and warm – with vibrant new art, sweet and fluid music from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, and a wine cellar below.
I sat in on a recent December wine tasting with Les, and took the following notes – insights from a bold chap unafraid to speak about risks and reward.
One 21-year-old woman at the table was studying law in England, and said that she wanted to do whatever it took to ‘make as much money as possible.’ Les told her:
“Don’t do anything for money. Do it for passion, and the money will come to you.”
More quotes and insights from Les are below.
“What is a well made wine? Like a good person – well-balanced.”
“What is a good wine? What you like.”
“A red wine is balanced between alcohol, tannins, fruit, and acid. You should not taste one predominantly over the others. There should be a balance.”
“It’s important in the way and order that you taste wines – one wine affects the others that follow.”
“In France, people start with a more modest wine, perhaps a punch or a ruby port.”
“In France, dessert is served after cheese. Sweet after savory. Americans start with cheese, which seals your stomach. No, that’s crazy.”
“Wine can taste different at different times depending on what you’re eating, the temperature, even who you are with.”
“I was once given a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 1982 as a gift, which eight years ago was worth 3,600 Euros a bottle. Lovely wine. Was it worth that? No. No wine is worth that. Don’t be a label victim. It’s like clothes. If you pay $3,000 for shoes, you’re paying for the label name.”
“How do we tell the age of wine in the glass? Tilt it against a white background. The little ring at the edge of the miniscus – there’s a double line. The color between the lines changes as the wine gets older. It loses blue, becomes red, then red-brown, then brown-yellow. The youngest ones are going to be more blue. That’s the key if you keep looking. Soon you’ll be able to get it every time because it absolutely screams at you.”
“Young wines benefit from oxygenation. Older wines, open only before you drink them – otherwise they will die.”
“Often young wines taste better they next day after they are opened.”
“I love corks because I’m old and traditional and I love the sound of the cork – and there’s something lovely about going out on a romantic dinner and opening the bottle.”
“I like to think that any wine can breathe – and that it suffocates under a screwcap. But in wine, everyone is right.”
“I’m of firm belief that the body eliminates everything it doesn’t want.”
“Wine is one of the greatest things to get into when you are young – because wherever you go, you will have a home.”
“Wine? Anthocyanins are good for the eyes, and it takes away your cholesterol. Also, you’ll feel good.”
“Some of the best places for whites in France – Alsace, Rhone, Burgundy, Entre deus Mers. Bordeaux is not exceptional for whites.”
“The French are very bad marketers. They work to live, not live to work. They’re absolutely right. Lunch time is two hours long. It’s sacred.”
“There are 10,000 chateaux in Bordeaux. I’d like to taste them all.”
“It’s getting trickier and trickier to find authentic places that are also secure.”