France – Day 6 (Friday, October 7, 2011)

The Final Tour of Bordeaux

A final shopping trip in town was in order this morning, and somehow we found the Rue de Sainte Catherine, which is a “locals market.” Judging by the lower prices and the non-touristy stuff for sale, this is where the regulars went to shop. Every other shop was a kabob place, too and the smells were making me hungry the whole time we walked down the street. We also came across some kind of mini-shopping mall. Paul and I opted to hang outside because, for some ungodly reason, the French like their shopping malls REALLY FRICKIN’ warm inside.

Down by the quay and Monument aux Girondins, a carnival was being set up, complete with a fairly decent-sized Ferris Wheel. Once we got back to the hotel, there was also a street festival going on, complete with vendors handing out free samples of cheese, meats, and even cognac. On top of all of this, there was a street performer dressed up like a cowboy, doing some slow-motion version of “The Robot,” which was weird. We still aren’t sure what all the fuss was about, but that cognac would come back to visit us later.

Is He a Beatle, Justin Bieber or Fred from “Scooby-Doo?”

Today was a cloudy, cool day, but didn’t stop us from rushing out to the Saint Julien / Saint Estephe region (north of Bordeaux and along the Garonne Estuary). The first thing you notice about this area is the soil, which has the signature rocks and pebbles of the Bordeaux region, but it’s also sandier (understandable given our even closer proximity to the coast). According to one of our hosts (see below), the rocky soil forces vine roots to dig deeper into the ground in order to reach water that’s held in the rich clay underneath. The rocks also retain heat from the sun and counteract the cooling winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean (Yes, I definitely pay attention during wine lectures).

Our first winery of the day was Chateau Talbot, complete with its own too-beautiful-for-words ivy-covered mansion (complete with an old pigeon tower that is fully-engulfed by Mother Nature) and the ever-present, and welcome smell of oak.* The tour through this winery was a bit of a whirlwind, and the wines a bit too dry for my tastes (This winery is known for its distinctive, dry reds, a mix of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot).

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* Has anyone produced a perfume or cologne based on this scent? Maybe someone should…

As you approach the Chateau Lafon-Rochet estate, the unavoidable eye-catcher is the brilliantly yellow mansion, a pleasant and striking contrast to the rest of the beige stone and terra cotta roof houses and mansions dotting the countryside. The estate is owned by Guy Tesseron, who’s background is primarily cognac, and operations were eventually taken over by Michel Tesseron, and currently are overseen by his son Basile. Stepping off the tour bus, I nearly walk headlong into a handsome, older gent with wavy grey hair and serious, striking eyes. Based on some pictures I Googled, and Basile’s appearance, I’m 99% sure I nearly walked into Michel Tesseron. All I could manage to say was “bonjour” and trip out of his way. Something tells me his impression was less than ideal (probably along the lines of “You silly American!”).

Basile was our host for the tour, and his Justin Bieber-esque haircut left some of us comparing him to the lost Beatle, or even a little bit of Fred from Scooby-Doo.* Allen explained to us later that, as opposed to the other winery owners or hosts we met on this trip, Basile is a dyed-in-the-wool “vines man,” who focuses on growing the vines and fruit rather than the making of the wines (also important, but we’re talking about the source over the production here). Basile spent a good deal of our time discussing the soil, how it affects the growth and development of the vines and fruit, and cultivating through these factors over years (see above). He was the most charming, affable and instructive host we had on the entire trip and he made you appreciate the work and knowledge that goes into winemaking.

Unfortunately, their wines weren’t among my favorites, though they had the strong tannic features I tend to like in red wines. We all remarked about how one vintage we tasted (I believe it was the 2002) has a distinctive, buttery smell and taste (as in, all you can smell is butter).

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* And if he or anyone connected to him should ever read this, please believe me when I say I mean this in the most complimentary, non-mocking way possible.

Last Night in Bordeaux

It being our last night in Bordeaux, a group of us decided to go out for a really good meal, as well as try to evade Creepy Guy. The plan Paul concocted involved us leaving the hotel at different times and meeting at one of the tram stops. Our hope was that Creepy Guy wouldn’t catch on to us wandering around on our own. In addition to the carnival going on over by the Monument aux Girondins, there was a street festival in full swing a block over from our hotel on the Av. Theirs. We all showed up over there since the agreed-upon tram station was also along that street. Vendors were handing out samples of baked goods, smoked meats and sausages, cheeses and even fruit juice-infused cognacs. Some of our crowd bought cherry and peach cognac, then we hopped on the tram for downtown Bordeaux.

As we pulled into the very next stop, a devastated Paul exclaimed “Oh shit!” A glance at Paul led us to look out the window as we saw what he did – Creepy Guy staring in at us on the tram stop platform. I’m not sure if he had gotten wind of our plan or if it was just coincidence, but he consequently elected to join us either way. Once downtown, we tried some stalling tactics to shake him off – including one ploy on his cheap mentality that we were going somewhere expensive (his response was “I won’t eat with you, but I’ll follow you there”). After a few other stops to try and bore him away, we caved and picked a decent restaurant to settle in. As we sat down, Creepy Guy announced that he wasn’t hungry and went off on his own, leaving us feeling just a tad guilty, but the wine we had at dinner took care of that quickly enough.* Dinner was excellent and only disrupted when Creepy Guy turned up at dessert. Apparently he went down to Sweeny Todd’s, got hammered and wanted to announce this to everyone before he took off again. At one point we considered checking out the carnival, but the long week was catching up with us and we had to be up early for the train ride to Paris the following morning.

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Taken from mid-way across the Pont de Pierre.

* Personally, it was our very attractive waitress with her low-cut top that made the difference for me.

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