May 1st is Labor Day in France and many European countries. It is also one of the few days where the tram and the buses in Bordeaux do not run. But that weekend was also the Saint Emilion Portes Ouvertes and what else are a bunch of wine nerds to do with a bit of free time?
So I braved renting a car through Drivy, basically AirBnb for cars, and off we went. I have to say it was actually a really great experience. The lovely woman I rented the car from actually let me pick up the car the night before I was scheduled to, so that I didn’t have to work out how to get to her house without the availability of the bus. And the next evening she was flexible about the return, even driving me home since it was late and the bus was still not running. And the car itself was a bit well-loved but it ran perfectly. And aside from one small moment of getting stuck in the mud on a hill there were absolutely no issues.
So on a rainy Labor Day morning I traversed the city and picked up the girls for our adventure in Saint Emilion. After getting a wee lost on our way to our first stop (which required a change of navigators) we finally arrived at Chateau Grand Corbin. Having arrived on the early side we were one of the first groups of the day and got to enjoy a more detailed and personalized tour before our tasting. Located in the Secteur du Prince Noir Chateau Grand Corbin was formed from the fusion of two estates in late 2011. While the cellars were simple and functional, the Chateau itself has been stunningly and lovingly restored.
That day we tasted the 2012 Chateau Grand Corbin. Surprisingly the estate cared enough to decant the wine to ensure it showed at its best, particularly as it was the first vintage to be created from the new combined estate. Yet the wine was clearly close to reaching its peak and will be drinkable in just a few short years as the wine is based more on finesse than strength. Soft and refined on the palate the wine has good underlying minerality with cherry, baking spices and vanilla.
After that we tried to visit Chateau Franc Mayne (where we ran into the little issue with the mud) where despite the sign advertising Portes Ouvertes, the estate was not in fact open until after lunch. So… at that point we decided to head into the center of the town for lunch instead. We had a very lovely lunch at one of the restaurants nestled at the base of the church.
Then it was back to the hard work at Chateau Soutard. When we arrived we were promptly informed that reservations were required for a tour and we would be unable to see the estate, but that we could still taste the wine. In fact, a lot of people were disappointed that day. But we braved the cold and blustery weather to enjoy a class of the 2002 Chateau Soutard. Garnet in color the wine nonetheless was quite bold with notes of raisins, vanilla, anise and a touch of oak. The wine was clearly well-developed, as there was a lack of primary fruit character. But it was the perfect wine for drinking.
Thankfully however as we were leaving the estate team redeemed themselves and we were asked to join the tour. Another recently restored estate, the beautiful cellars and event facilities date to 2010. I noted that the estate clearly would be a perfect venue for a wedding. Also of note was the very small percentage of Malbec vines planted in the vineyard. At this point, some of you may be saying; What? While not considered a traditional part of the Bordeaux Blend, Malbec is in fact a historical Bordeaux Grape varietal that largely disappeared after the Phylloxera crisis. The other thing that struck me about this estate was the unique and rather ingenious lighted tasting table. With their tasting room housed underground and dimly lighted the unique table is lighted from underneath to allow visitors a chance to get a better sense of the wine.
For our final stop of the day we went back to Chateau Franc Mayne for what was the funniest and most perfunctory tour I have ever been on. An intern with clearly limited knowledge of the estate’s workings led the large group of about 40 or so people. The tour basically consisted of: Ok this is the vat room and here is where we vinifiy the wine. Followed by: this is the underground barrel cellar where we age the wine. Then: “Ok time to taste.” However, I find my curiosity peaked and I find that the estate features prominently on my to visit (properly) list. We did taste two of the wines that day – according to my notes at least one was a 2011 – but truthfully due to the crush of people I didn’t get much detail and gave up on proper tasting notes.
Finally it was back to the city for tea, frozen pizza and a badly dubbed movie with the girls. Overall, a rather typical and yet strangely unique portes ouvertes experience.