We learn something new each time we visit one of Bordeaux’s winemakers.  The rule of thumb here is, 100 days after the vines flower comes the harvesting.  The harvest of the local Sauvignon Blanc grapes and the earliest red varietal, Merlot, is already underway.
 
Tuesday, we visited Chateau LaFargue, a modest, yet award-winning property in Pessac-Leognan appellation south of Bordeaux.  We went to pick up a case of 2004 red which we had purchased last year as futures.  Not content to just “grab and go”, we stood at the tasting bar as the acutely sophisticated (and knowledgeable) blonde sales manager offered us tastings of whatever we desired.  And even threw in a wooden case with “tampon” (the end piece with the chateau’s insignia and name stamped on it)
 
We wanted to taste the 2000 and 2003, reputed as excellent years.  We were more impressed with their Cuvee Prestige blends, which spend 18 months in new barrels aging, and are harvested from the older vines.  The 2000 was Steve’s favorite, and Claudia preferred the 2003.  That year was so hot and dry that everyone had to apply for an exemption to exceed the maximum 13% alcohol level.  We know.  We were here 6 months of that year (including having a pacemaker installed!).  Since the tap roots of these vines delve down 100 feet for water, in spite of drought they still produced excellent wine.
 
The wine books chronicle what each month’s weather was like for a given year, and relates how it affects the wine.  For 2006, for example, they might write:  “there was a heat wave July 12-25, with a cool, rainy August.  On Sunday, September 10, there was a long and violent rain, with thunder rolling like massive bowling balls down the lanes of the sky.  Some parcels received damage, but the harvest had already been brought in at other properties”.  After hearing the final earth-shatteringly loud thunder bomb, we were sure the entire wine harvest had been vaporized!  But the winemakers said it had not hit the ground.
 
The 2004 is said to be a moderately good year, but the 2005 is the year that everyone is getting excited about.  Lucky, because French wine sales had dropped precipitously for several years.  Now, exports are up 18.6% through May (IHT 8/8/06), based mainly on avid international demand for the 2005.
 
The supermarkets all run “Foire aux Vins” promotions and print color catalogs in September.  J-P and Rachel again invited us to the after-hours gourmet wine tasting event at Intermarche this year.  Hundreds of faithful customers were anxiously milling about the wooden wine crates from all over France.  There was the clink of bottles being loaded into carts and the buzz of conversation.  People lined up 10 deep around the food as if they hadn’t eaten a crumb in days.  I saw one thin older man shoveling fresh Arcachon oysters into his mouth as fast as he could.  Soon the trays of cheese cubes, fatty sausages, fine ham, and olives were gone.  The trays of foie gras on baguette lasted only seconds with this crowd.
 
We re-connected with the well-muscled and fashionably-dressed Stefanne (fluent English speaker who visits Napa properties).  Pouring generous glasses of the sweet white 1999 Sauternes called Roumieu, he offered to take us to Brane-Cantenac and other properties later in October when our guests arrive.  We also talked with the sommelier pouring “foreign” wines, some Chilean, Portuguese and Argentinean.  There were no American wines on offer.  The French are super sensitive to their recent failures competing with the rest of the international players, so they don’t let in much non-French wine.  Only if the importer’s name is Rothschild or Lurton does it get in.
 
One might think that all French wines are expensive.  This is true in fine wine stores in America.  But here, where wine is food, prices are fine.  Gold-medal winning Grenache/syrah from the villages of the Cotes-du-Rhone costs 2 to 6 euros.  An Alsace Riesling or Gewurztraminer might run 3-6 euros.  The Loire Valley cabernet franc- based reds run 4-6.  The generic Bordeaux are 3-5, with the reds from the right bank running 6, and the southern Graves cost 8.  Only Burgundies and the prestigious Grand Crus run you big money.  Chateau d’Yquem, the top Sauternes, was 157 euros a bottle .  So here, even with the euro exchange rate being so high (1.27 dollars buys one euro), you can still drink high quality wines at affordable prices.
 
Of course, we are only consuming red wine for health purposes, not because of the convivial, fun atmosphere around here.
 
Claudia and Steve
9/13/06

Be Sociable, Share!