A standard reply I often gave when people asked me what I planned to do with my time when I took a precious break between jobs was, “I plan to drink wine.” I wasn’t kidding! My way of refreshing and resetting my mind was to go on this wine passion trip I self-curated and landed with private appointments to visit 13 of the World’s Best Wine and Champagne Houses in France, out of which some are not open to public and some are of a highly exclusive nature. Here are some of the stories.
The Red Wine Region
The 1855 wine classification of Bordeaux, based on Napoleon III’s request, introduced the concept of classification in 1855 to list the masterpieces of French wine-the best in class, basis their heritage, quality, wine growing and making and the price it commands. This classification, comprising 61 wine estates (or classified growths) or crus (cru means a village or wines belonging to a specific terroir) classified into a hierarchy of five starting with the PremierCru going up to the Fifth Growth Crus and it now serves as an expression of quality and prestige worldwide.
Pessac is where wines were first grown and made in the Bordeaux region, before going up to Medoc and across the right bank of the river to Saint Emilionvillage. The Chateau Pape-Clement, a beautiful Chateau in Pessac, historically owned by Betrand de Goth before he became Pope Clement V in 1305 (Yes, that’s right!), is one of the oldest wine estatesin Bordeaux with harvests dating back to 1252!
Chateau Haut-Brion, in existence since 1533, is the only non-Medoc Chateau to be part of thePremier Grand Cru Classification of 1855. Haut-Brion makes its own barrels using French oak. The current owner of HautBrion is Prince Robert ofLuxembourg!
The Medoc Wine Route
This breathtaking experience driving up 45 minutes from Bordeaux city centre to the Medoc region and the left bank, of the Gironde river is the most stunning and mind- blowing drive with miles and miles of vineyards and centuries old Chateaux lined along the vineyards! The route is called the ‘wine route’ and is a ‘MUST-DO’ drive in Bordeaux.The Medoc region is home to 16,500 hectares of vines, producing some of the best wines in the world.
Chateau PiChon Baron LongueviLLe
The Medoc region is home to 16,500 hectares of vines,producing some of the best wines in the world. The wines of Medoc are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon (being the predominant grape variety), Cabernet Franc and Merlot.Therefore, the wines from this region are rich in tannins and spiciness combined with the remarkable finesse and complexity of Cabernet Sauvignon, which also offers incomparable cellaring and ageing potential.
The Northern Medoc area of Pauillac houses the Fifth Grand Cru Classified Chateau PontetCanet. PontetCanet, in existence since 1705, has its own certified organic and biodynamic methods of viticulture. The average age of the vines at Pontet Canet is 45 years! Chateau Mouton Rothschild, one of the five Premier Grand Cru 1855 Classified Chateau (since 1973) is part of the Rothschild empire. Baron Philippe de Rothschild and CeLLar at Beau-Sejour BeCot
Baroness Philippine believed that wine making is truly an art. The most fascinating fact about Mouton Rothschild is that each vintage label is designed by an internationally-renowned artist since 1945 - including Picasso (1973), Dali (1958), Andy Warhol (1975), the Indian artist Anish Kapoor (2009) and even Prince Charles (2004)!
Further on, the Chateau Pichon Baron Longueville will take your breath away! Founded in the 17th century, Chateau Pichon Baron was built in the charming, romantic and imposing Renaissance style in 1851 and is stunning! The Chateau, classified as a Second Grand Cru Classe under the 1855 Grand Cru Classification, was bought over by the AXA insurance company in 1987. They are probably the only onesto have underground blending tanks at their facility.
Fermentation CaSkS at Chateau PaPe CLement
Located at a 40-minute drive from Bordeaux centre towards the right bank is the stunning, ancient medieval village of Saint Emilion. It is the onlyvineyard site in the world to be part of the UNESCOheritage program. Saint Emilion, formerly known as Ascumbas and then renamed after a monk from the 8thcentury, is a village full of history. The Romans invested inthe local terroir of Saint Emilion since the 2nd century andplanted the first vines. The grape varieties used in SaintEmilion are predominantly Merlot with a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Merlot lends the roundness, fruity and the mellowness to the wines of this region and grows best in the less gravelly soil of Saint Emilion.
Save the best for the last!
The LVMH group owned St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe ‘A’ Chateau Cheval Blanc – a formidable name in the French wine world, is an absolute privilege to get access into - I was lucky because it is not otherwise open to public. Cheval Blanc has introduced veryadvanced technological procedures and fine attention todetail for growing, fermenting and bottling their wine and has neatly segregated and labelled their wines by type of grape and age of the vine. Here you get to see vines datingfrom as far back as 1920!Staying the last two nights at the majestic Chateau Hotel Grand Barrail in the heart of St. Emilion village was just what we needed to round off this excursion into France’s most exclusive wine trail.
(The writer is a leading marketing professional)