The region where I live in France is a sizable, though little known, portion of Bordeaux (technically and administratively known, basically, as the ‘Gironde Département’) where wine prices are reasonable, historical intrigue is ample and day to day living is blissfully unrushed.
Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson visited this wine region of Blaye (taking boats from the city of Bordeaux for visits) on the right bank of the Gironde estuary. So has every king of France except one. Eleanor of Aquitaine (queen at different times of both France and England) also passed through here during the age of troubadours and female trobairitz (wandering minstrels who sang love songs) in the 12th century.
We are surrounded here by oceans of vineyards. There are several hundred around the towns of Blaye and Bourg, though it can difficult to discern exactly how many. The winemaker-sponsored website and literature about the Blaye—Côte de Bordeaux appellation neglects to number the wineries within the 12,900 acres (5,213 hectares) of vines. Bourg, which is smaller although in some ways better organized for international visitors, has 157 wineries (châteaux) within 9,800 acres (3,979 hectares) of vines, or about 15 square miles (40 square kilometers) of juice growing terrain.
Within these spaces, winery names can be disarmingly confusing. Many wine châteaux (which is the name of a winery here; singular is château, plural is châteaux) have similar names.
The effort of wine producers to distinguish themselves with striking originality in naming their brand is largely absent. Heritage appears more important than gaining a competitive edge. It is this attitude toward life that, though sometimes illogical, provides a sizable sliver of attraction for this region.
For example—there’s Château Barbé and Château de Barbe, Château Nodot and Château Nodoz. There’s Château Lagarde and Château Roland La Garde. Château Monconseil-Gazin and Château Mondésir-Gazin. Château Bellevue and Château Bellevue Gazin. There’s Château Canteloup as well as Château Haut-Canteloup.
Most of these wine producers with similar names are veritable neighbors. Driving distances between the above listed pairs of wineries are: 3.8 miles, 4.5 miles, 3.3 miles, 1.4 miles, 0.5 mile and 0.5 mile.
Oddly, few locals appear confused. If you ask the difference between two like sounding châteaux, any local may walk to a window and point outside and inform you that over there is Château Barbé. He or she will then pronounce the two names slightly differently, with subtle tone and mannerisms implying that your linguistic deficiencies may be mildly heathen.
Should you dare mistake Monconseil-Gazin for Mondésir-Gazin, locals will likely shrug, shake mystified heads and query whether you enjoyed too many verre à vin last night?
It is now spring. Suddenly begins a parade of festivals: wine festivals, mountain biking and wine festivals, port festivals, music festivals, a black bass festival, an asparagus festival and a snail festival (which I tend to skip).
We recently had our annual Printemps des Vin de Blaye festival, where some 90 winemakers set up tastings in tents and ancient rooms in the local centuries-old Citadelle in Blaye. For a meager six Euros, visitors received an empty wine glass, a map and a pass that let them sample all the vino they desired for two days.
This is not a high cost or internationally renowned wine region. Yet I’ve tasted some local wines that cost between 7 and 15 Euros. Back in the U.S., some wines of the same quality might cost four times that amount.
Conviviality is key here. Friendless trumps marketing efforts.
Below is a visual tour of Printemps des Vins.
Each year I taste several wines and compare quality and cost to determine overall value, using my proprietary Vino Value Algorithm.
Below are results for a few reasonably priced good wines, together with value score: Superlative, Excellent and Good Value. (Subjective scores for taste were factored in, although not shown below.) All wines listed in this table are worth drinking. Unless noted, all are red.
|Vino Value™ Scoring of Selected Wines – Printemps des Vin de Blaye – April 2018|
|Winery||Wine||Retail Price – Euros||Retail Price – US dollars equivalent||Value Score|
|Château Nodot||2015||€ 9.00||$11.07||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Domaine de La Valade||2015 Tradition Rouge||€ 4.50||$5.54||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Domaine de La Valade||2015 Cuvée Prestige Rouge||€ 5.80||$7.13||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Tour Saint-Germain||2015 Cuvée Tradition||€ 11.00||$13.53||Good Value ♫|
|Château Rose Bellevue||2015 Secret||€ 18.50||$22.76||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château La Motte de Lignac||2016||€ 7.00||$8.61||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château Jussas||2015||€ 6.50||$8.00||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château Capron (Cantinot)||2011||€ 10.00||$12.30||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château du Vieux Puit||2012 Les Racines||€ 6.50||$8.00||Good Value ♫|
|Château Clos du Loup||2012 Le Louveteau||€ 7.50||$9.23||Good Value ♫|
|Château Florimond||2014 Réserve||€ 7.70||$9.47||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château Haut-Terrier||2015 Élevé en Barriques Neuves||€ 11.00||$13.53||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Moulin de Prade||2014||€ 5.00||$6.15||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Segonzac||2015 Vielles Vignes||€ 7.00||$8.61||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château Les Margagnis||2015||€ 7.20||$8.86||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château de Calmeilh||2015||€ 6.00||$7.38||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Lagarde||2015 Excellence||€ 12.00||$14.76||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Les Bertrands||2015 Cuvée Vieilles Vignes||€ 6.50||$8.00||Good Value ♫|
|Château Les Bertrands||2015 Cuvée Prestige||€ 8.50||$10.46||Good Value ♫|
|Château Magdeleine Bouhou||2015 La Boha||€ 8.50||$10.46||Good Value ♫|
|Château Marquisat La Pérouse||2016 Cuvée Prestige||€ 8.50||$10.46||Good Value ♫|
|Château Morange||2015||€ 6.00||$7.38||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Morange||2014 Vin d’Augustin Morange||€ 9.60||$11.81||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Monconseil Gazin||2015||€ 7.80||$9.59||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Haut-Colombier||2015||€ 7.50||$9.23||Good Value ♫|
|Château Haut-Colombier||2016||€ 8.00||$9.84||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Haut-Colombier||2017||€ 8.00||$9.84||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château Grillet-Beauséjour||2015 No. 2||€ 6.00||$7.38||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Petit Boyer||2016 Grand Réserve||€ 12.50||$15.38||Excellent Value ♫♫|
In contrast to our humble wine region, there are better known, and commensurately more expensive wine regions located nearby. Each year for a few weeks in spring, châteaux hold ‘En Primeur’ tastings of wines made from grapes harvested the previous fall. These events take place to our east, around Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, or across the water to our west, around and within the Médoc, Pessac-Leognan and Sauternes appellations.
Below are a few photos from some of the events to give you an overall flavor of how spring kicks in here in southwest France.
Finally, a warm Thank You to Hubert de Boüard and Laure Canu from Château Ángelus in Saint-Emilion; Hélène Garcin-Lévêque and Patrice Lévêque from Château Barde-Haut in Saint-Émilion; Lahcene Boutouba of Clavis Oréa wine; author Gilles Berdin of Bordeaux; Florence and Daniel Cathiard of Château Smith Haut Lafitte; Thomas Hebrard and staff of U’Wine; Marie-Louis Schyler of Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, and Soline Bossis from Château Mouton Rothschild.
The wine and food were wonderful, but your company was the true jewel of the En Primeurs week.
Thanks again for tuning in. The next posts will include wines from a few countries where you likely do not expect it…