Editor’s Note: While Carl is busy trying to get the wine bar up and running, we’ve asked Tom Welsh, the new manager of the 530 Wine Bar, to fill in for this (and last) week’s blog. He has been sharing some of the wine-related experiences he had on a recent trip to France. Thank you, Tom!
By Tom Welsh
First, a correction to last week’s blog (it has since been corrected on the actual post): The river pictured is the Garonne, not the Gironde. The Garonne and Dordogne rivers meet just north of the city of Bordeaux to form the Gironde.
That is a relevant point with which to start this week’s blog entry. The day following the big tasting event, I crossed both rivers to tour the “right bank” area of Bordeaux. You have probably heard reference to the left and right “banks” of Bordeaux. The “left bank” refers to land on the western side of the Garonne and Gironde rivers, as well as a bit on the east side of the Garonne, while the “right bank” is the eastern side of the Dordogne and Gironde rivers. These areas are mostly known for red wines, while the area between the two rivers, known as Entre Deux Mers (between two seas) is known mainly for white wine production.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape variety of the left bank and is blended with one or more of, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and in a couple of rare cases, Carménère. The right bank vineyards and wines are dominated by Merlot, blended mainly with Cabernet Franc. The others are present but play a smaller role, if used at all.
The wines of the two banks are different because of this and also because of the varied soil types of the two areas. The left bank is very gravelly soil with limestone deep below it. This makes the vines work harder for nourishment, which is the reason that Cabernet Sauvignon does well there. That, and the nature of the grape itself, lead to more tannic, mineral-driven, firmly structured wines suitable for (and needing) longer aging. The soils of the right bank are more sand- and clay-based with limestone closer to the surface. The clay in the soil retains water letting the Merlot grapes ripen more easily, and producing softer, rounder wines that are easier to drink with less aging. But that is not to say that the Merlot-based right bank wines are not complex and of high quality.
The two principal appellations of the right bank are Pomerol and Saint Émilion. These are where the best known and most expensive wines of the right bank originate. Other notable areas producing very good and more reasonably priced wines are Fronsac, Côtes de Bourg, Côtes de Castillon and the four “satellites” of Saint Émilion: Puisseguin, St. Georges, Montagne and Lussac. Each of these also has the name Saint Émilion attached. An interesting fact that demonstrates the importance of wine and tourism in the area is that the beautiful medieval village of Saint Émilion has only 200 residents but has 72 wine shops!
I visited three wineries that day on the right bank: Château Figeac and Château Larmande in Saint Émilion and Château Gazin in Pomerol. All of Bordeaux was preparing to begin harvesting the following week so the grapes were at optimum ripeness. I ate a few grapes from a vine at Château Figeac, getting a head start on tasting the 2021 vintage!
It was interesting to see that each of these three wineries used combinations of different types of fermentation vessels: steel, wood, clay and concrete. Château Figeac was about to produce the first vintage in their new state-of-the-art winery facility, while Château Gazin had probably the oldest and most traditional equipment.
All the wines were delicious of course, but my favorite was Château Gazin. This may not be a coincidence because the vineyards of Château Gazin are adjacent to those of Chateau Petrus, the most expensive and one of the highest regarded of all Bordeaux wines. In fact, a few generations ago, in a finance crunch, Château Gazin sold some of its vineyard acreage to Petrus, so there is some Gazin “blood” in your $5,000 bottle of Château Petrus. By contrast, a good vintage bottle of Château Gazin can be yours for less than $100!
This was my first visit to Bordeaux and I certainly hope not the last. I found the city to be interesting and beautiful, sort of a small-scale version of Paris. The countryside was beautiful with picturesque villages and of course, the wines were tremendous. I look forward to another visit to see the Cité du Vin, the recently (2016) opened museum and education center, which I did not have time for. It is an impressive building with the design meant to replicate the flow of wine poured into a decanter. And, of course, there are many other vineyards and Chateaux to visit. So much wine, so little time!
Until next week,