If you’re in Bordeaux and would like to visit the regional vineyards, I highly recommend you stop by the Office de Tourisme de Bordeaux. The Bordeaux Tourist Office is likely the most organized institution in the entire city and (unless you have a personal connection with the vineyard owners) is probably the best way for you to obtain a guided tour and tasting of the local châteaux.
Châteaux & terroirs is among a series of tours the office offers (currently on a daily basis), departing each afternoon to one of the main Bordeaux wine regions. Being Tuesday, today’s tour was scheduled for Entre-deux-Mers (literally translated as “between two seas”, though the locals prefer to say “between two tides” to reference the tides from the two rivers surrounding this region: Dordogne and Garonne). The entire tour lasted five hours, during which we visited two châteaux with a guided tour of the grounds and winery, met with the owners—and of course, visited the tasting room for a sampling of the châteaux wines.
Our first stop was at Château de Castelneu, located in Saint-Léon (Gironde). We were greeted by the owner, Loïc de Roquefeuil, who enthusiastically showed us the château grounds, winery, and cellar. 75 acres of the property is devoted to growing grapes, from which two AOC Entre-deux-Mers dry white wines, two AOC Bordeaux Supérieur red wines, and one AOC Bordeaux Clairet are produced.
We sampled three of these wines, starting with a 2006 dry white wine made from 100% old vines Sémillon. This wine is a bit of an exception in that it’s a mono-cépage, or varietal wine; whereas, Bordeaux typically produces assemblage, or blended wines. The Sémillon was golden in color with the nose of an oaky, buttery chardonnay. However, the taste was quite faint—a hint of earthiness and some lemon notes, but not all that exciting considering it was produced from vines over 110 years old. If anything, I expected more intense, concentrated flavor. However, the next wine sampled—the clairet—was far from disappointing.
A Bordeaux Clairet resembles a rosé, but is darker in color and more extracted. It mirrors the original Bordeaux Claret wines that were exported prior to the 18th century (before the advent of barrel aging, leading to the production of more full-bodied red wines). The 2007 clairet produced by Ch. Castelneau was immensely refreshing and very easy to drink. It was bright magenta in color, with a nose of fresh strawberries and whipped cream. The taste though was more raspberry with an abundance of minerality. Loïc explained this wine wasn’t meant to be consumed just in the summer, but also during the dreary winter months—to cheer things up.
The final wine we tasted was a 2006 Grande Reserve Rouge, a blend of mostly Merlot with some Cabernet Franc that spent 18 months in barrels. Its color was sparkling ruby without a trace of cloudiness. The nose was of red and black cherries and a bit of black pepper. The taste was incredibly smooth and again with a healthy dose of minerality mixed in with some blk. pepper and cherry notes. Not at all a heavy wine—I noticed it was just 12.5% abv.
Otherwise, there’s two things I found particularly apparent about the Entre-deux-Mers region:
- This is the home of Bordeaux’s value wines. The three wines I mentioned above cost EUR 12 (old vines Sémillon), EUR 8 (Bordeaux Clairet), and EUR 15 (Grande Reserve Rouge).
- These château owners have enormous fixer-uppers to tend to. Both Ch. Castelneau and Ch. Camarsac (the second château we visited) date back to the 14th century. They’ve weathered the elements, fires, and several significant wars. In addition to producing and selling their wine, side-projects include installing a modern kitchen and winterization for year-round occupation.