One Trick Pony: Bordeaux and St Emilion

14 Jun

Our route from Verignac to Bordeaux took in the village of Eyzies with its ancient houses built into towering cliff walls. Several surviving Trogolodyte forts are dotted about these parts. Our coffee stop was Hotel Glycines by the river with its gorgeous gardens and perfect pain au chocolat.

First impressions of Bordeaux on a grey weekend weren’t encouraging. Paris does river city 18th century monumenal architecture better with the added appeal of a wide variety of attractive, green open public spaces. Bordeaux’s one lage public garden and the massive square in front of the Girondins monument seem to be about it. Outside of the central three blocks many of the stone fronted apartment buildings are empty and crumbling. We stayed near Quai des Chartrons walking everywhere, dodging dog shit. Trams and city cycle hire are plentiful and cheap but we need the exercise.

Bordeaux’s fame hinges on the wine trade. Wine stores offering free tastings abound and wine lists in good restaurants run to five pages, all local. We cook meals in our aparthotel but relish our two meals out, one a delicious Japanese lunch, the other a final lunch at grand chandeliered Cafe Opera with ‘Tosca’ as our sound track.

Best bar was Cafe Brun with its laidback staff and the French Open final on the big screen.

With limited time we opt for a half day tour and wine tasting in World Heritage listed St Emilion. But before we can pop the corks we first have to visit St Emilion’s cave. It’s said the monk spent 17 years as a hermit there in the 8th century trying to escape disciples. Celebrity had its drawbacks even then. His mouldy, cold bunker is claustrophobic. The large underground church dedicated to St Emilion was constructed well after his death and over many decades by successive families who carved it by hand out of limestone. The church was ransacked by revolutionaries who scraped the salt petre from the walls for gun powder and left only a couple of original sculptures. On the rainy June day we visit day trippers’ numbers are managable but this small town must heave in July and August.

Our guide, Amelie, selected our tasting shop well. Young, animated Monsieur Mansour set up six local red wines from different vintages and explained the provenance of each before we tasted. His gadgetry included a huge decanting glass (much faster than the standard decanter) and a helium gas pouring attachment to ensure opened bottles don’t lose their flavour. Three of the six wines were divine. Smooth, luscious flavours rolling in waves from the tip of the tongue down into the throat. Some of the wines were produced by vineyards of only three hectares. And of course we couldn’t leave without sampling a couple of whites! Twelve of the best bottles are now wending their way back to Brisbane as gifts and to be enjoyed in the company of friends and family.

Bordeaux’s one trick turns out to be a very classy act indeed.

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