Our gite is on the fringe of the southern Bordeaux appellation called Les Graves (gravel pebbles on soil, sand or clay).  The grape varietals consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and smaller portions of Malbec and Petit Verdot.  The exact percentage varies enormously from year to year, and between chateaux.   Each year, the winemakers of this district open to the public for tastings, visits, and eating delicious food.  Today, we visited 6 properties.  The event runs for 2 days between 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  The theme this year is wood, and its influence on the taste of wine.

Jean-Francois and sister Isabelle were waiting for us when we showed up at the cellar door of Chateau Guillemins near Langon, at the southern limit of the appellation.  We were welcomed with kisses, hugs and smiles.  They said they’ve been talking about us for a month and wondering if we would come.  Amidst the antiques, paintings by J-F, honey, fruit jellies, and fermentation tanks, we tasted 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and the 2002 sweet white wine called l’Exotique.  They are still holding back the coveted 2004.  We bought a case of 2000 Cuvee Margaux and regular 2000.  With promises to return next year.

Our next chateau was Respide.  Alfonso couldn’t make it this Saturday to play salsa for the attendees.  We tasted their 2004 Callipyge (50/50 Merlot/Cab) gold medal winner and 2005 (65% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon), bronze medal winner, and bought a bottle of each.  Since the food was still in preparation, we moved north, to the sweet white wine district of Barsac, to the 16th century Chateau Massereau that backs up to the Ciron stream whose mists create the conditions for the noble rot that makes possible the sweet white wines of this area.  They make a pricey red as well as a very expensive sweet white, so we tasted and bought their generic tank-aged 2004 Bordeaux Superieur.  The chocolate maker from the Basque Country near Spain didn’t show, so we phoned Chateau St . Agreves in Landiras to see if they were cooking.

Mais, oui!!!  Of course, finding these obscure chateaux is never easy, with signs approximately the size of postage stamps, hand lettered.  Our pointed remarks to the House of the Wines of Graves as to the danger of cars suddenly stopping and turning once they are actually able to read the tiny signs have had no effect.  They continue to reuse the same minuscule signs year after year.

We were totally surprised and pleased at the warm welcome we received at Chateau Saint Agreves, including a 3 course meal (no charge).  We began by tasting the 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2003 special blend, and 2004 and 2005.  The percentage is 26% Cabernet Franc, 26% Cab. Sauvignon, and 43% Merlot in the 16 hectare vineyard. 

The congenial hostess led us to a picnic table with a huge bowl of bread, and gave us nice napkins and 2 plates of delicious raw salmon marinated in herbs and oil.  Next, the grillmaster produced duck breast, chestnut puree, squash and pumpkin, as well as a pork sausage.  The dessert was prunes in armagnac.  Even a coffee after the meal was offered to us!    The owner’s wife then toured us through their cellars, with explanations in English (she had spent time in England and Long Island ).  We were off down the road with a case of the 2003 and some happy memories of conversations with the people here.  This event is all about personal contact and conviviality.  We’ll be back!

Back across the autoroute in the community of Cerons, we visited Chateau Bourgelat, where the young owner Antoine was serving 2004 and 2005 Graves as well as 2005 Cerons and 2003 Sauternes sweet whites.  The buildings were covered by red ivy that waved in the brisk wind.  Water streamed down the urn fountain, glistening in the bright sun.  The place to be was the duck tasting bar in the courtyard, where a sarcastic duck liver grower from the Pyrenees was telling all kinds of untruths.  However, we think we won the day, because by the time we left, we had convinced the men at the bar that Steve was a Basque, that his great-great grandfather was born in Pamplona ( Irun ) and migrated to the U.S. 100 years ago.  They kept telling him how good he looked in his Basque beret, and commented on his typical Basque features!

The last chateau was the Emigrant (l’émigré).  The owner emigrated to Spain in 1793 after the French Revolution and his properties were sold.  A recently arrived Englishman warned us that only the white wine was any good, so we tasted and bought a bottle of their sweet white wine, and headed for home.

We are looking forward to tomorrow with Jean-Paul and Rachel in the northern part of the appellation.

Claudia and Steve
10/20/07