Double-Blind Tasting – Bordeaux from 1990 and Prior

Just when you thought we were done posting about Bordeaux for a while, I thought I’d throw in a review from a couple months back when my wine group did a double-blind tasting of Bordeaux wines from 1990 and prior.  My wine group of eight guys has been meeting monthly for about nine years now.  The host picks the wine theme and most of our tastings are double-blind.  This time, our wonderful host, Bill Schallert, invited the wives to join the group, so my wife, Christina, was happy to come and taste some swill.  Since we had just returned a month prior from our two week trip to Bordeaux, we absolutely loved the idea of being able to taste some more mature Bordeaux wines, as most of the wines you get to taste at the Chateaux are on the younger side.

I have always really liked tasting blind, or better yet, double-blind.  For those that don’t know the difference between blind and double-blind:  a blind tasting is when you know the wines that are being served, but you do not know the order.  A double-blind tasting is when you don’t know what wines are being served, but they may meet a category (Bordeaux 1990 and prior), and you also don’t know the order.  I like blind tastings because I consider myself a perpetual student of wine, and I don’t want my opinion to be potentially swayed by any labels.

See? You can tell we tasted them blind by the brown wrapping still hanging on to the bottle of Palmer.
See? You can tell we tasted them blind by the brown wrapping still hanging on to the bottle of Palmer.    A good night!

Here are the wines and the order that we tasted them in:


2003 Chateau Raveneau – Monts Mains, Chablis – Nice melon fruit a little sea breeze and oyster shell minerality on the nose.  In the mouth, ripe melon, white peach and a little spice, with  limestone and oyster shells.  Good acidity for a 2003 Chablis, that keeps everything lively on the medium-long spicy white fruit and ocean air finish.  Raveneau makes some absolutely wonderful Chablis, even in a hot year like 2003.  This was a great way to start. (93 pts.)

This is always an excellent white producer.
This is such an excellent producer of Chablis.

Flight #1

1989 Chateau Pichon Lalande, St. Julien – Classic stinky feet Bordeaux nose with a little bit of Band-Aid jumps from the glass, sweet dark berry fruit, dry leaves, forest floor and baking spices.  Medium-full bodied, with good acidity, resolved tannins and a nice long dark fruit finish.  This is a classic mature Bordeaux, that is drinking very well right now.  The ’89 Pichon Lalande is on a faster track and drinking more mature than most of the other 89’s that I have had.  I would venture to say that it will not last nearly as long either.  While a lot of the 89’s will continue to improve through 2020, I will probably finish off my ’89 Pichon Lalande before 2020.  I don’t see it getting any better than where it is at present. (94 pts.)

1990 Chateau Prieure Lichine, Margaux – Darker berry nose with a little Band-Aid again.  In the mouth, darker small berry fruit, black currants, slight bit of spice, decent acidity and surprisingly assertive tannins.  Medium-full bodied and a long dark tannic fruit finish, that doesn’t have the sweetness of fruit the first wine had.  This is a big and dark wine, but it doesn’t give you the pleasure in the finish. (89 pts.)

1981 Chateau Gruaud Larose, St. Julien – Dark earthy red/black berry fruit nose, with just a hint of green bell pepper, but not in a bad way.  In the mouth, deep dark red bing cherry and earthy blackberry fruit, baking spices, slight bit of forest floor and still fairly tannic.  Full bodied and a long sweet dark tannic fruit finish.  This is a big wine that is surprisingly youthful and still drinking young.  I could not believe that it was from the ’81 vintage when it was revealed, it tasted more like a ’96.  (93 pts.)

Flight #2

1982 Chateau Palmer, Margaux -Very nice spicy dark fruit and dark chocolate nose.  Very smooth in the mouth, small ripe dark bing cherries and blackberries, lots of baking spices, slight bit of forest floor and resolved sweet tannins.  Full bodied, sweet/spicy dark red/black fruit just singing on the very long fruit filled finish.  This wine is drinking very well today and even beat the ’83 Palmer that I had about a year ago.  I don’t see this wine getting any better than it is today, so no reason to wait, but no hurry either if well stored.  (96 pts.)

1989 Chateau Angelus, St. Emilion – Very dark cherry fruit and chocolate nose.  In the mouth, ripe black bing cherries and very dark bittersweet chocolate, good acidity and with just the slightest hint of baking spices.  Full bodied and a nice long very dark chocolate fruit filled very tannic finish.  This wine was very tannic and seemed a little closed in on its self, it just was not singing.  You could see the huge potential, but it was begging for another decade in the cellar to really show its stuff.  I know the person who brought the wine bought it on release and it has been well-stored since, so maybe it just needed a lot more air and/or more years in the cellar.  (95 pts.) now with upside.

After tasting the 1989 Angelus, I mentioned to my wife “This wine tastes like a wine we just had in Bordeaux,” it just seemed so distinct.  The others at the table heard me mention this to Christina, so they asked me what I thought the wine was.  I said I didn’t know the vintage, but the characteristics of the wine reminded me of the ’05 and ’06 Chateau Angelus we had a month ago.  I was shocked to see it was an ’89 Angelus, but glad to see that my flavor memory recall was working.  I guess I learned something on that trip (and practice makes perfect, right??).  The ’05 and ’06 Angelus wines were some of the highlights of our wonderful trip.

1989 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac – Dark cherry and bitter chocolate nose.  Smooth in the mouth, with dark black cherries, bitter sweet chocolate and some spice.  Good acidity and still very tannic on the long dark fruit finish.  This wine must have been resting in a very cold, dark cellar and is in need of another 5+ years to show what it has to offer.  A very nice wine, but will not give up what it has right now.  (93 pts.) with upside.

1983 Chateau Magdelaine, St. Emilion – Dark cherry fruit and spice with some dark chocolate on the nose.  Very smooth in the mouth, beautiful ripe dark bing cherries, lots of baking spices and a little forest floor adds to the wonderful complexity.  Fully resolved tannins, medium-full bodied and an absolutely beautiful long sweet dark spicy fruit finish.  This is my first time having wine from this producer and they knocked it out of the park with the ’83.  This is a gorgeous wine today, so if you own it, open a bottle.  You won’t be disappointed.  (96 pts.)

2005 Chateau Rieussec, Sauternes – Sweet pineapple, some melon and honey on the nose.  Very sweet pineapple in the mouth, with some spiced honey and decent acidity.  The very sweet finish is long but the honey aspect is just a little too cloyingly sweet for my taste.  It is a nice, well-made wine, but I would prefer a little more acidity to counter the sweetness.  (92 pts.)

All in all, it was a very nice evening with a great group of guys (and girls).  Wouldn’t mind repeating it again soon…!

Day Ten, Second Stop: Chateau Angelus

We had to hurry over to our next appointment at Chateau Angelus – luckily there was pretty good signage on the way, or who knows how long it would’ve taken us to find the estate on the winding roads.  But when we did find it, wow – it was a hive of activity!

Chateau Angelus.
Chateau Angelus.

The Chateau itself  is undergoing renovations – there were workers, trucks and heavy machinery in front of the main entrance.  Right across the street in the vineyards, there were more trucks and workers – they had also started harvest that day.  We were met by a member of the Angelus PR team, who very kindly informed us that they were also shooting a video on the premises that day, so we were somewhat restricted by where we could go and when, within the Chateau.

A busy day, between harvest and renovations.
A busy day, between harvest and renovations.

By way of background, I was quite excited to visit Angelus, because of the stellar reputation of the wines.  It is one of only four premier grand cru classe A estates in the St. Emilion region – an honor recently bestowed on them in 2012 and a testament to the hard work of the family to bring the estate’s wines back to its original quality.  In fact, the brand has been getting more and more play lately – it has even been featured in one James Bond film – Casino Royale.  It almost made it into another, but unfortunately, all of the footage of Angelus in the second film ended up on the cutting room floor.

According to Ch. Angelus history, the estate began with Georges Bouard, who was born in 1544.  At the end of the 18th Century, Catherine (also known as Sophie) de Bouard de Laforest, who was born in 1773, married Souffrain de Lavergne and came to live at Chateau Mazerat in St. Emilion.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Maurice de Bouard, acquired the enclosure adjacent to Mazerat. The estate then took on the name from a very ancient patch of vines in the center where the vineyard workers could hear the Angeleus (or the church bells), ring  from the three churches of the countryside: the Mazerat Chapel, The Church of Saint-Martin de Mazerat and that of St. Emilion.

Chateau Angelus was then extended little by little by his sons Jaques and Christian, who bought several adjacent plots until in the 1960’s it formed the property that Hubert de Bouard de Laforest, along with his cousin, Jean-Bernard Grenie, run today. They have shaped a legendary estate, steeped in tradition from the vines and innovation in their winemaking processes.  Hubert de Bouard is also in high demand in the region as a consulting winemaker.  We met him briefly, and one definitely gets the impression that he is a busy man.

Our lovely guide, Bong Tram, took us on a brief tour of the estate, where we saw more sorting going on as part of the harvest.  The newly remodeled parts of the estate were quite beautiful – we hope to visit again when it’s finished.  The large project was designed by the noted architect Jean-Pierre Errath, and included the creation of new cellars, new guest reception areas, work on the Chateau, business offices and a restoration of their famous bell tower.  The newly restored bell tower has 20 beautiful shiny bells, which can be controlled electronically.

According to Wikipedia, “The Angelus is a Christian devotion in memory of the Incarnation.  The Angelus devotion is usually accompanied by the ringing of the Angelus bell, which is a call to prayer and to spread good-will to everyone on Earth.”  In that spirit, Bong handed us what looked like a garage door opener and told us to push a button – suddenly, from the bell tower at Ch. Angelus, the American national anthem began playing in all it’s glory.  It was a pretty spectacular display, we admit, and one that you can imagine impresses their many visitors from the far reaches of the globe when their own anthems play.

Another shot with the bells.
Another shot of the Chateau with the bells.

From there, we drove with Bong to a smaller Chateau on the property where we could taste in relative calm from all the activity at the main estate.  Frankly, you could have put me in a closet and I would have still had a great tasting experience with these wines.  I was so delighted at what Bong decided to open – I’m still grateful for this tasting experience.  In fact, thanks to our time at Angelus, a few weeks later, back at home, I was able to pick a 1989 Angelus out of a double-blind line-up of aged Bordeaux – the flavor profile was just so recognizable to me.

Chateau Bellevue.
A smaller Chateau on the property.

While St. Emilion and the right bank are known for their Merlot-based wines, Angelus actually uses a fairly high percentage of Cabernet Franc in their blends.  In fact, 47% of the estate is planted with Cabernet Franc, which they care for very judiciously.  The vineyards of Angelus are planted on the South-facing slope, and the Cabernet Franc, in particular, are planted at the foot of that slope, which provides excellent drainage for the vines.  We happen to be big fans of the Cab Franc grape varietal, so it’s probably no surprise that we’re also big fans of Angelus.

Concrete vats.
Concrete vats.
Preparing for grapes.
Preparing for the grapes.

2009 Chateau Bellevue, Bordeaux – Very fresh ripe dark red/black fruit nose.  In the mouth, sweet red/black fruit, decent acidity and tannic.  Medium-full bodied, with a medium dark fruit tannic finish.  Still very young and slightly monolithic at this point, but will improve with more time in the bottle.

2006 Chateau Angelus, St. Emilion – Very fresh, very dark fruit and dark chocolate on the nose.  In the mouth, again very dark blackberries, black currants and dark bing cherries combine with dark bittersweet chocolate and spices.  This is a very elegant wine that is full-bodied and very complex, but it is also structured for the long haul.  The wine is smooth in the mouth and the ripe tannins are very fine.  This is such a beautifully elegant wine, that when you are just about to think this is as about as good as a St. Emilion wine can get, the 2005 comes along.

2005 Chateau Angelus, St. Emilion – This is very similar to the 2006 Ch. Angelus, but just increase everything by another notch.  Very fresh sweet dark fruit of black berries, dark chocolate and spices.  In the mouth, very deep dark blackberries, black currants, ripe dark bing cherries, baking spices and limestone minerality.  Full bodied and very concentrated, yet at the same time it feels light in the mouth.  The wine has very good acidity and a freshness to it, that I think comes from the minerality and just gives it a lift.  This wine is structured to last 50 years, but the tannins are ripe and so extremely fine.  Even though this wine is very tannic and can be enjoyed today, but I would highly recommend that you wait until at least 2020 to open a bottle.  The very long sweet black fruit and mineral finish, just does not quit in the mouth.  This is an absolutely wonderful and elegant Bordeaux of the highest level and will be a gem in any cellar.

The view from Chateau Bellevue.
A view of the vineyards.

Ch. Angelus also considers the 2005 to be one of its legendary vintages – we were privileged to taste it that day.  In fact, we longed to stay and finish the bottle (!), but we had one more pressing appointment.  Our thanks to Bong and her team – we certainly hope our paths cross again someday!

Day Nine: Visit to Le Chai Furtif (The Stealth Cellar) at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

We went back to the hotel, grabbed bikes, and met Mr. Cathiard on the road leading to the Chateau.  We were doing our best to look casual and at home on the bikes – on the very gravelly road with his two enthusiastic dogs bounding along beside us – while we listened to Mr. Cathiard talk about his latest project.

Bob on his bike.
Bob on his bike.

We admit, we were sort of expecting a cellar underground in the forest, so we were listening with great intent as he described the project.  We began to realize what it really was after a few minutes though.  Not really a second label, but a second wine altogether, Chai Furtif was a winery nestled in the woods, built with the highest standards of sustainability in mind.

The Chai Furtif.
The Chai Furtif.
The dogs names were Barrel...
Their names were Barrel…
And Corkscrew.  Perfect.
And Corkscrew. Perfect.

Mr. Cathiard explained that the goal of the project was to be in balance with the forest.  The winery is built in an abandoned quarry, and built of materials that blend with its surroundings.  It’s almost spa-like, with its canopy of trees overhead, making it a very peaceful, serene place.

More art installations.  This one moved.
More art installations.
Forgive us, we can't remember the symbolism of this piece, but it's still really fun.
Forgive us, we can’t remember the symbolism of this piece, but it’s still really fun.

Technically speaking, they spared no expense to make it eco-friendly, with low energy consumption, renewable energy sources and minimal environmental impact in mind.  To that end, they use a unique system to capture the CO2 released during the fermentation, turning it into sodium bicarbonate and rendering this normally harmful bi-product, harmless.  (They have thoughts on what they will also use the sodium bicarbonate for as well – possibly in beauty products.) Everything from the extra insulation in the walls to the low consumption lighting, the solar generated energy, and the regeneration of rainwater to use in their viticulture practices, all feed into the master plan for this very thoughtful cellar venture.

A beautiful vat room.
A beautiful vat room.

Mr. Cathiard sees it as the next generation in winemaking, and we admit, it was a fascinating departure from everything we had seen so far!  At some point, we’ll have to get our hands on the wine produced here so that we can taste the fruit of all of this very diligent – and beautifully designed – labor.

Bob Watt with Daniel Cathiard of Chateau Smith Haut Lafite.
Bob Watt with Daniel Cathiard of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte.

Thank you, Mr. Cathiard, for a wonderful adventure!

Day Nine, First Stop: Chateau Haut Bailly

We were warmly greeted at Chateau Haut Bailly by a member of their PR team.  In addition to spending time touring the estate and discussing their winemaking practices, she and Christina also spent some time talking about marketing in Bordeaux.  In particular, the level of international acclaim the region gets, and how the various chateau decide where to spend their marketing efforts.  It’s always an interesting conversation, but generally ends with the same conclusion – the UK is the backbone, the US is the elephant you can’t ignore and China is the darling that they hope won’t ditch them at the ball.  (Our words, not hers!)

Chateau Haut Bailly.
Chateau Haut Bailly.
They had recently renovated some of the buildings.
They had recently renovated some of the buildings.
The front of the chateau.
The front of the chateau.

The Chateau Haut Bailly estate was founded in the 14th century.  The vineyards are planted on limestone and fossilized shells, which gives a unique character to the wines produced here.  The vineyard is also located at one of the highest elevations in the Graves region of Bordeaux.  Chateau Haut Bailly did extremely well in the 19th century, where is was given the classification of “cru exceptionnel” among the Bordeaux Grand Crus Classes.  In the Graves region of Bordeaux, only Ch. Haut Brion and Ch. Haut Bailly were considered at the top.

Today, an American couple, Robert & Elisabeth Wilmers, own Ch. Haut Bailly, purchasing it back in 1998.  Robert Wilmers is currently the CEO of M&T Bank, and his passion for the estate is evident in all of the work he has invested in raising the quality of Haut Bailly’s wines to their former glory.  They have 26 thermal-regulated traditional cement vats for the fermentation process, ranging in sizes from 30 to 120 hectolitres.  The 26 cement vats enable them to ferment the different lots separately.  They definitely had one of the more impressive cement vat installations that we saw on our trip.  They also use modern stainless steel vats for the blending process.

The traditional cement vats.
The traditional cement vats.
The newer stainless steel vats.
The newer stainless steel vat room.

Here’s what we tasted:

From half bottle to Melchiore.  No, we didn't taste all of that!
From half bottle to an 18 liter Melchior (two cases of wine in one bottle).  No, we didn’t taste all of that!

2008 La Parde de Haut Bailly – Very bright floral red cherries, high acid and good mouth-feel.  Medium bodied with a nice structure of fine tannins.  Sweet, spicy red fruit on the medium length finish.  This is a nice 2nd wine.

2008 Haut Bailly – Deep dark ripe spicy blackberry fruit nose.  Smells like a blackberry pie.  In the mouth, very dark delicate black fruit, with very good acidity keeping it lively.  Nice structure of very fine tannins on the long dark spicy black fruit finish.  This is an excellent 2008 Bordeaux wine, beautifully made.  This will also be a great value in comparison to the competition.

We left Ch. Haut Bailly to head back to our hotel nearby for lunch.  It was turning out to be a gloriously warm and beautiful September day…perfect for lounging by the pool!

The Cool Cars of Bordeaux

Authored by Christina Watt

As we drove along in the “mystery beast” throughout Bordeaux (more on that in a minute), Bob couldn’t help but notice a couple of spectacular cars that we had to stop and admire.  His dad used to race cars like these when he was growing up, so he can never resist taking a good look.  I suspect you’ll admire them too.

In the village of Bages:

In the village of Bages, a perfect
A mint condition Triumph roadster.
Another view.
Another view.

In the town of St. Emillion:

A beautiful
A beautiful vintage Porsche.
A closer look.
A closer look.
Just gorgeous.
Just gorgeous.

At Les Sources de Caudalie:

A nice Maybach.  Wish the photo showed you the interior - believe me, it wouldn't suck to tour in this ride.
A nice Maybach. Wish the photo showed you the interior – believe me, it wouldn’t suck to tour in this ride.

Even these guys made us smile in Sauternes:

A fun little fleet.
A fun little fleet at Chateau Suduiraut.

But what didn’t make us smile?  Our rental car.  We had reserved a Mercedes, since we figured we’d be spending a lot of time in the car (and an automatic, so I could also drive it if need be), but missed the fine, fine print (Mercedes “or like model”). When we arrived, of course, there was no Mercedes to be found at Europecar, and more disturbingly, no automatics either.  (Yup, I’m mentioning them by name.)  Instead, we got the closest possible thing they could find for us.  A manual BMW, which in theory, would have been just fine.  IF it hadn’t been missing the emblems on both the front AND the back of the car, and had been an automatic.

The mystery beast.
The mystery beast.

Yup, you have to be pretty cool to drive the mystery beast – they don’t let just anyone behind the wheel of this baby…!

Day Eight: The Sweet Town of Sauternes and our Favorite Lunch at Les Sapien

The town of Sauternes is a charming little town right in the middle of the vineyards of Sauternes.  Before lunch, we walked through the town, looking at the various buildings and shops.

Christina Watt in the town of Sauternes.
Christina Watt in the town of Sauternes.
Bob Watt in Sauternes.
Bob Watt in Sauternes.
Sleepy and quaint.
Sleepy and quaint.

We came across a cute wine shop that was doing a tasting of Chateau Lamothe Sauternes.

The super cute wine shop.
The super cute wine shop.

Miriam, the delightful woman running the store, happily shared these wines with us:

Miriam was very gracious.
Miriam was very gracious.

2009 Chateau Lamothe – Nice bright nose of peaches and pears.  In the mouth, very fresh peaches, pears and some spice, with good acids and a complex long finish.  The finish of this wine stays in the mouth long after it is gone.  A very nice wine and one to look for.

2005 Chateau Lamothe – Bright nose of white peaches with a little spiciness.  In the mouth, white peach, hint of pineapple and a slight spicy honey note.  Very good acid on the slightly spicy white fruit medium long finish.

2001 Chateau Lamothe – Subtle but very complex nose of peaches, pears, green melon and spicy honey.  In the mouth, very delicate flavors of white peaches, pears, spicy young pineapple and a hint of honey.  Keeps changing in the mouth.  Very good acid and a very long complex finish that won’t quit.  This is a very nice wine and one to look for if you can find it.

2000 Chateau Lamothe – A more mature nose of yellow peaches and some ripe pineapple.  In the mouth, ripe peaches and pineapple combined with a little mango.  Decent acid and a nice long finish of ripe fruit.  The 2000 doesn’t have the energy of the other three vintages, but it is drinking well now.

After the tasting, we wandered across the street to Les Sapien.  Honestly, if we had realized how good this lunch would be, we would have made way more time for it.  We were on time for our reservation, but it was scheduled tightly, with a visit to the fabled Chateau d’Yquem looming large.  What a shame it was, because this lunch was easily one of the best meals we had on our trip.

A partial patio view of the restaurant, Les Sapien.
A partial patio view of the restaurant, Les Sapien.

After the starters, Christina got a pork tenderloin dish that was truly amazing, while I opted for the fish, which was also very well-prepared.  If you know me, you know I’m not a dessert person – while I can tolerate the sugars in wine, I don’t typically do well with the sugar in most desserts.  This dessert, however, was a rare exception.  Blue cheese ice cream.  I’m not sure how to describe it, except to say I can still remember how good it was – and how I had to fend off the occasional wandering spoon from Christina.  We had a very nice dry white wine with our lunch, produced by Chateau Suduiraut called Suduiraut Blanc Sec.

2011 Chateau Suduiraut Blanc Sec – Very bright and crisp, with strong lemony acidity, almost like a Chablis (which I love).  Very nice white fruit and green melon with just a hint of spice from oak.  Nice medium-long clean and refreshing finish.  I have never seen this wine in the states, but I will look to see if I can find it.  It is a great summertime sipper, especially while overlooking the vineyards.

I think this is the only picture we got of the food.  We were in such a hurry, That it wasn't until we were about halfway through that we realized we should have really been recording more of the meal.
I think this is the only picture we got of the food. We were in such a hurry, that it wasn’t until we were about halfway through that we realized we should have really been recording more of the meal!

We had to depart the restaurant all too soon, but we vowed to return again one day – for a leisurely dinner on their spectacular patio.  If you are ever in the area, this is a must-stop restaurant.  Next up – the legendary Chateau d’Yquem!

Day Seven Dinner: Where the Wheels Fell off the Wagon

Authored by Christina

By now you may be wondering – just how long is this Bordeaux tour??  It was 12 days, so we’re more than halfway done recapping our visits (thank goodness, right?) – and we have the fabulous town of Sauternes coming up next.

So far, all had gone remarkably well on our tour.  But we were confronted with an unusual circumstance this evening – we didn’t have dinner scheduled anywhere.

After eating so much heavy food  (I’m normally gluten and dairy-free), I really was craving something light.  We were heading in the direction of Bordeaux city as we went back to our hotel that evening, so we asked Nicolas Glumineau of Pichon Lalande at lunch that day for a dinner recommendation.  I threw out sushi, and he threw me a look – apparently that was asking for a lot in Bordeaux.

Then he remembered a Japanese restaurant in town very near where we had stayed the previous weekend.  He couldn’t remember the name, but he sketched out a little map on the back of his business card, and we thought it looked simple enough.

We made our way back to Bordeaux easily enough and found parking without fuss. As we drove through town, I saw a small restaurant on the corner very near where we had originally stayed, advertising sushi.  We decided it could be the back-up plan.

We followed the little map as best we could, but the best thing we could find was the store Badie – no sushi, but a store of all champagne – Bob thought he’d died and gone to heaven.  The concept appeared to be well done – a store with champagne on one side of the street, and another store with Bordeaux wines on the other side of the street.  We skidded to a halt in front of the well-done windows – just as they were about to close.  We decided the trip back into town was worth it just to discover this little concept.

The store-front of the Badie Champagne shop at closing time.  The Bordeaux wine shop was directly across the street.
The store-front of the Badie Champagne shop at closing time. The Badie wine shop was directly across the street.

We also discovered another engaging store-front, this time, a display of armagnacs and cognacs – which were actually very popular in the region.  Bob is always wondering why more stores and bars don”t make better use of lighting – I wish the picture was better – the whole store was glowing amber.

A cognac shop in Bordeaux.
An Armagnac & cognac shop in Bordeaux. The background appears light here, but in reality it’s a great amber color.

But try as we might, we could not discover that Japanese restaurant.  So off to Plan B.  To be honest, we knew when we walked in that we should walk out of this little restaurant, but we were so hungry, and at the very least, this place looked like it would be quick.  It was the Bordeaux version of the Japanese conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, not so far off from what I had been asking for.  The execution of the concept was so poorly done though, machine-made rolls, dried-out rice, fishy-smelling sushi – it was disappointing to settle in for a bad meal, but we were so hungry, we gave up and braved it.

Naturally, we don’t have any good wine recommendations coming out of this dinner experience, but we more than made up for it the next day in Sauternes, and we keep wondering if Seattle needs a champagne shop like Badie…

Day Four: Exploring Bordeaux City

On our only full day in Bordeaux City, we started out by attending Mass at the pretty Notre Dame Cathedral just off the main plaza.

The Notre Dame Cathedral of Bordeaux.
The Notre Dame Cathedral of Bordeaux.

We then headed to lunch at La Brasserie Bordelaise.  The restaurant specialized in charcuterie and all sorts of amazing grilled meats – we found ourselves wishing we had a restaurant like it at home.  We were seated in the front part of the restaurant, but later discovered that there was a whole huge back section with private rooms.  Clearly, the restaurant must do well in the evenings.

Bordeaux 2013 158
Restaurant La Brasserie Bordelaise.

Christina is a huge fan of Lillet, so she was enchanted by the display of this entire restaurant with window displays of Lillet bottles that we came across as we wandered through the city.

The whole restaurant was decked out like this - unfortunately it wasn't open and the other pictures didn't do it justice.
The whole restaurant was decked out like this – unfortunately it wasn’t open and the other pictures didn’t do it justice.

The fountains and monuments were beautiful.  There was a very unusual fountain with mists of water that shot out of the ground at regular intervals.  It was warm enough that people were simply sitting on the ground being sprayed by the fountain.

Misty fountain (probably not it's official name).
Misty fountain (probably not it’s official name).
Bordeaux 2013 2738
Beautiful monument.
The river was lined with these stately buildings.
The river bank was lined with these stately buildings.
A peek-a-boo view of another church.
A peek-a-boo view of another church.
Christina about to start shopping...
Christina about to start shopping…

At some point, Christina decided she really needed to shop – the close proximity to all the stores was killing her.  But it may have killed her even more to realize that 90 percent of the stores were closed on Sunday, though I was happy that it didn’t kill the wallet!

I had to settle for some window shopping as well – I have to say, there were some beautiful storefront displays.  We loved this champagne shop – sadly, we ran in exactly at closing time, so couldn’t stay!

An interesting concept - the store, Badie, has a champagne shop on one side of the street, and a wine shop on the other side.  Pretty cool.
An interesting concept – the store, Badie, has a champagne shop on one side of the street, and a wine shop on the other side. Pretty cool.

We had dinner that night at the rustic and charming La Tupina, a restaurant that had been recommended by two of our wine friends in Seattle, who claimed we absolutely could not miss the duck fat frites.  Suffering from a little palate fatigue, it appears we ordered wines by the glass that were not memorable, because we didn’t take a single note!

The open kitchen where meats were prepped and roasted.
The open kitchen where meats were prepped and roasted.
The famous duck fat frites.  Greg and Eric, this is for you!
The famous duck fat frites. Greg and Eric, this is for you!
The outdoor seating.
The outdoor seating.

Perhaps it was the effect of having meal after heavy meal, but Christina and I laughed out loud when a small motorbike appeared on the street outside the terrace of the restaurant with a large crate on the back marked “Sushi World,” which the delivery person took to the back kitchen door of the restaurant.

Christina shook her head.  “I never figured I’d be saying this while in Bordeaux,” she sighed. “But sushi sounds really, really good right now.”

On the way home, we couldn’t help but notice that the city is as beautiful by night as it is by day.  We certainly enjoyed our stay, and very much look forward to returning someday.

The Opera House.
The Opera House.
A hotel in the main square - can't remember the name now.
The Grand Hotel de Bordeaux in the main square .

Tomorrow, on the road again…

Day Two Dinner: Restaurant Cordeillan Bages – 2 Michelin *

Somehow, after our day of touring, we managed to grab a little time before dinner at the hotel.  But first, we wandered into the little town near the hotel that was constructed as an idyllic village – the little town of Bages.

The darling boulangerie in the town of Bages.
The beautiful boulangerie in the town of Bages.
We loved this clever doorway in Bages.
We loved this clever window in Bages.

The boulangerie there held a delightful assortment of cheeses, wines, pastries and nibbles.  But none so amazing (in my wife’s opinion), as the Foie Gras Chips.  If they weren’t so fragile, she would’ve smuggled them home in our bags.

Christina still dreams of these chips.
Christina still dreams of these chips.

We also forgot to mention the great Cafe Lavinal bistro in the heart of the town – we actually ate there the first night we arrived, but truth be told, we were so tired that Christina had to keep waking me up during dinner.

Cafe Lavinal - a classic french bistro.
Cafe Lavinal – a classic french bistro.
Another view of the Cafe.
Another view of the Cafe.
Even the gift shop was idyllic - and well stocked.
Even the gift shop was idyllic – and well stocked.
The front of our hotel, a very short walk from the center of town.
The front of our hotel, a very short walk from the center of town.
A view of the courtyard from our window.
A view of the courtyard from our window.

So, technically, on our second full day, but three dinners later, we found ourselves back at our hotel, the Cordeillan Bages, for dinner at their renowned restaurant, run by Chef Jean-Luc Rocha.  The moment you entered, you knew it was going to be a serious white-tablecloth dining experience.

Bob reading his favorite book - the restaurant wine list!
Bob reading his favorite book – the restaurant wine list!

We each had a different glass of champagne to start the evening, and then enjoyed a bottle of red from the Barton estates – we thought it fitting, since we had been there that morning.

The 2003 Languoa Barton.
The 2003 Langoa Barton.

2003 Langoa Barton – Sweet dark red/black fruit combined with baking spices and just enough good acidity to keep it all lively.  The tannins are mostly resolved and the wine has a nice long spicy fruit filled finish.  This is drinking very well right now and over the next decade.

Honestly, at this point, the food all runs together.  We had a fixed-course meal, and Christina declared my dish choices the winners, though they were all truly amazing, and the service was impeccable.

Bordeaux 2013 118Bordeaux 2013 120Bordeaux 2013 121Bordeaux 2013 122Bordeaux 2013 123Bordeaux 2013 124

The food was not only beautiful – like art on a plate, it tasted just as good as it looked.  I’m not ashamed to admit that after the cheese course, we had to call it a night and head straight to bed!  Too much to do the next day…!

Duck, Duck, Goose…Cooking Class at Phelan Segur

Authored by Christina Watt

Our first morning we drove up to St. Estephe to kick off the tour at Phelan Segur with a cooking class.  We pulled up at the very impressive Chateau where we were greeted outside the door by the chef, Jimmy, carrying a basket of beautiful fresh produce.  Over the course of the next two plus hours, we were treated to lessons by Chef Jimmy and translations by Edouard – oh, how we wished we had brushed up more on our French!  But we all managed to work together to produce a beautiful meal.

The Phelan Segur Crest.
The Phelan Segur Crest.

We started off by learning how to make the traditional French cannele – little carmelized cakes with a custard-like center – oh my.  They explained to us that what we had just learned to make was a very popular pastry that originated in Bordeaux – they were everywhere!  (See the kitchn for a great cannele recipe and a little history on this tasty treat.)

Getting started on the cannele.
Getting started on the cannele.
Our first cannele.
Our first batch! We have to get some of those little molds at home…

While the cannele were baking, we began working on our homemade pastry crust for our duck pie.  Turns out Bob has just the right precise and patient touch for making pastry dough.  Me?  Apparently I’m a little impatient, no surprise to those who know me well!

Bob and Jimmy working the pastry dough.
Bob and Chef Jimmy working the pastry dough.

In between turns of the dough, we prepared the duck.  We seared the breasts with chopped vegetables and cooked the legs to get two different types of meat, and created a jus (sauce) using the rest of the duck remains.  Chef Jimmy added wine to the pan to create the jus, lighting it with the flame from the stove.  And then he looked at me to try it.  I was convinced I would wind up with my hair on fire, but we managed to produce the necessary flame without incident.  (Bob was ready for it though – he actually filmed this part in anticipation.  He knows me too well.)

My first time...
Too much information?  It was definitely a first for us!
Keeping my hair away from the flame!
Keeping my hair away from the flame!
Jus in the making.
A delicious jus in the making.

My eyes about popped out of my head when Chef Jimmy plunked down a big slab of foie gras – at 11:00 am in the morning, no less!  From the smiles on our faces, he ascertained (correctly) that the we very much enjoyed foie, so he told me to cut three big slabs of it.  Thinking he’d be searing it for some sort of appetizer, I happily complied.  A short while later, I found myself placing those large slabs into the middle of our duck pies – clearly, a heart attack in the making!

I've died and gone to foie heaven.
I’ve died and gone to foie heaven.

Finally, we concocted a beautiful chocolate ganache, which I again attempted to hurry along – who knew it took so much finesse to get that chocolate to such a glossy state?

Getting there...
Getting there…
Bob concentrates on the dessert embellishments.
Bob concentrates on the dessert embellishments.

After a very informative and fun couple of hours in the kitchen, we enjoyed a tour with Edouard and a tasting with winemaker Fabrice Bacquey while Chef Jimmy put the finishing touches on our meal.

The tasting room.
The tasting room.

Next up – the final meal and the fabulous wines!