Queen on the Right
Updated: Jan 22
Bordeaux is a truly great city and one of my favorites – it is rich in history, architecture, culture and gastronomy. And a stone’s throw from the city, is the region of that made it famous - lots of vineyards. The half-moon sweep of the river Garonne in the city made for an ideal port and the Romans built a trading center here.
But years of neglect and soot had made the streets and buildings dirty and black as I discovered the first time, I went to school there in the early 90s. The old city was strangled by traffic and suffocated by fumes. Large parts of lifeline riverbank were stuck in a post-industrial decline. Along came Alain Juppé in 1995 a politician with a surprising twist - to actually get things done! He had an innovative tramway built by a ground-level power supply meaning no ugly overhead wires and cables line the old city streets. This mode of transport greatly lowered traffic and exhausts.
Then a renewing Bourse facelift with the fabulous Miroir d’eau centerpiece and riverwalk on the quay to reconnect people to the Garonne. Also, a letter-writing initiative to encourage homeowners clean up the black walls and restore them to the beautiful creamy limestone facades of old, like he did on the gorgeous Hotel de Ville. There was a small hic-cup in political “challenges”, but the mayor’s legacy however is now set in bright, clean stone. Juppe’s mayoral approach to transforming Bordeaux over the last 23 years with a consistent and ambitious approach to urban planning has been undoubtedly a huge success.
In 2016 the amazing La Cité du Vin opened its doors - an imposing multi-level cultural space by the port which has had the most visible tourism success. Half of the city is listed by UNESCO making it the largest urban world heritage site. Arguably we could stand M. Juppé shoulder to shoulder next to the Marquis de Tourny, who regenerated the city in the mid-1700s.
Those same beautiful creamy limestones can be found all along the St.Émilion ridge 20 miles east of Bordeaux. It was from the limestone quarries of this plateau in and around the lovely village of Saint-Émilion, that stone blocks were excavated to build both the villages and most of the Chateaux in the surroundings. Under Saint-Émilion itself, is a 124 miles of massive cave systems exist from cutting these very large blocks out of the ground and bringing them up to the surface for construction. Its most famous Monolithic church itself is dazzling, entirely carved out of one solid limestone formation. It's gigantic proportions and uniqueness make it Europe's widest monolithic church and famous worldwide.
But this area is just as renown for her vineyards, ripe with complexity, seeing lime, clay, and sand within its geologic makeup. Paired with an ideal climate, Saint Émilion is always poised to produce incredible Merlot and Cab Franc; letting us drink them before the Cabernets even seem to settle. The Bordeaux region sometimes brush aside Merlot, claiming Cabernet is King; if so, Merlot is definitely the Queen. Always known as more feminine, softer, rounder, but maintaining elegance. Remember that the most expensive wine of Bordeaux is Chateau Petrus 100% Merlot!
With more than 800 different producers making wine in St. Emilion, there are a few large estates in the appellation, but many are worth the time to get to know. On the northwest edge of this appellation is the famed Chateau Cheval Blanc, one of only four Premier Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé - A. They border Pomerol and share the blue clay vein that extends into their property, which produces Merlot of extraordinary quality. As one of the world's best-known wines, their property reflects the prestige captured in their bottles.
Next door is Cháteau La Dominique, the new building is an eye-catcher, with its red walls and red steel vats imagined by Jean Nouvel overlooking the vineyard. The restaurant, La Terrasse Rouge is well blended with old and new with roof top views. My favorite is their underground blind tasting experience taken to the extreme. They built an underground tasting room to neutralize all the senses.
Vignobles Magali & Thibaut Decoster's are four vineyards offering grands crus, gastronomy, environment and art de vivre. Today this is the hub of four châteaux, two Saint Emilion Grand Crus Château de Candale (which once belonged to a descendant of King Edward III of England) and Château Roc de Candale. And two Grand Cru Classés, Château La Commanderie and Clos des Jacobins, where you can taste Merlots from all four of these properties.
Chateau de Ferrand Grand Cru Classe has three centuries of uninterrupted history from 1702. Its modern history is in 1978 Baron Marcel Bich purchased the Chateau today it is still owned by the Bic pen family, who have lovingly made this into a showstopper. Modern interiors and high tech as expected, it still maintains a very welcoming atmosphere. Besides
offering 22 different workshop opportunities to explore their wines, they have four lovely garden rooms to base yourself in the area.
On the right bank there is an outstanding food and wine center where you can spend days and discover how the Queen of Merlot expresses itself time and again.