DREAMSCAPES Fall/Winter 2017
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A CELEBRATION OF BORDEAUX WINES
 
(2017 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: DONNA S. VIEIRA



 

It’s a warm cloudless April afternoon in Bordeaux, France, and we’re sipping wine on the Sun Deck on board the AmaDolce, one of 19 ships operated by AMA Waterways. Life couldn’t be much more perfect.

Situated on the Garonne River in southwest France, Bordeaux is one of the country’s most beautiful cities. To the right, skateboarders, roller skaters and cyclists hurtle into the air at a waterfront skatepark. Behind them, impeccably preserved historic buildings with lovely window details once housed Turkish baths. “I could live here,” my husband whispers. I nod in agreement.

THE AMADOLCE

Our sleek ship sits low in the tidal waters of the Garonne River. AmaDolce. The name suits her well. Everything about her is dolce (sweet and soft) from the upholstery colours in the lounge and the stateroom decor to the service on board.

AmaDolce features spacious staterooms, most with French balconies. In-room facilities include marble-appointed bathrooms, complimentary entertainment on demand as well as internet and Wi-Fi service. On the Sun Deck, we find a fitness room, with walking track, sauna and whirlpool. There are two restaurants—the Chef’s Table, to which guests are invited to dine once during their cruise, and the main restaurant. AMA Waterways is the only river cruise line inducted into La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, one of the world’s most prestigious culinary organizations, so we’ll eat well. In the main lounge, wine lectures and nightly entertainment round out each day’s full itinerary.

This week, our wine hosts are Sandra and Anthony Bell, owners of Bell Wine Cellars in Napa, California, who will conduct wine seminars throughout the week.

IT’S ALL ABOUT WINE

Sitting in a favourable location at the 45th parallel, Bordeaux is France’s largest wine region, with amazing terroir.

Morning finds us 40 kilometres south of Bordeaux in Cadillac, founded in 1280, to sample wines at Château de Rayne-Vigneau and to tour Roquetaillade Castle.

This is Sauternes country. Our guide explains: “The Gironde and Ciron Rivers create specific weather conditions resulting in fresher, cooler waters, which create the mist and humidity that encourage the development of a fungus on the grapes. The plant reacts chemically to the fungus, which affects the taste of the wine, and the result is a ‘rotten’ berry. The berry juice evaporates leaving berries that resemble raisins, which are harvested one by one. The vinification process is carried out as usual and the juice within is the ‘gold of Bordeaux.’ Soils and subsoils make up the terroir, which affect variety. Saint-Émilion, which is necessary to create Sauternes, works well here. This area has been producing wine for 2,000 years so traditions also play a huge role in the making of Sauternes. Since there is little juice in the berry, one plant yields about two glasses of wine versus a bottle elsewhere.” Her final comment explains the prices.

Later we tour the Roquetaillade Castle, privately owned by the same family for 700 years, and originally built in the 10th century by Charlemagne. Around 1870, Viollet le Duc, who had a huge influence on Frank Lloyd Wright, restored it to its current neo-Gothic architecture.

Back on board AmaDolce, the Bells conduct their first of many wine-tasting seminars, proudly comparing their highly rated 2015 Napa Valley Sauvignon blanc and 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon to a white Bordeaux (Sauvignon blanc/Sémillon) and a red Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot).

Situated on the south bank of the Gironde estuary, Pauillac is our next stop. This gateway to the Haut-Médoc wine regions is home to three of the five “first growth” wineries, the world-renowned 1855 Wine Classification that gave the world Cru and Grand Cru wines. The region’s gravelly soils produce some of the world’s finest Bordeaux wines—especially those made from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grape varietals. This is also where you will find the most beautiful estates: Château Latour, Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Margaux and Château Pichon Longueville Baron.

At Château Léoville Poyferré, owned by the Cuvelier family for 100 years, we taste four wines ranging from a very young 2016 Château Moulin Riche to an exquisite 2000 Château Léoville Poyferré, which sells for 220 euros. A treat indeed.

On our fourth morning, we visit the charming town of Blaye, where we happen upon a delightful festival at the Citadel of Blaye—a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After lunch, we travel to Bourg, situated at the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. Due to its location, Bourg became an important trading centre and its medieval walls were built in the eighth century to protect it from raids or invasions.  Our walking tour takes us down picturesque alleyways and into the Horse-Carriage Museum and the World War II Petrol Cistern before ending at the Maison des vins des Côtes de Bourg for an exclusive wine festival and—you guessed it—more wine tasting.

The next day, my husband embarks on a bike tour from Libourne to Saint-Émilion, while I sign up for an afternoon excursion of Saint-Émilion, a charming village known for its picturesque architecture, monuments and historic vineyards—and delicious macarons made from the original recipe handed down through generations. Remnants of monasteries and convents from the 11th to 18th centuries line its steep, narrow cobblestone streets. We visit the Hermitage de Saint Émilion and, above it, the Trinity Chapel, Europe’s largest monolithic church built by monks in the 13th century, before browsing through myriad shops.

Next is Château de Pressac to taste Saint-Émilion wines. Historians would be especially interested in this area as the last battle of the 100 Year War took place in Castillon and the treaty was signed in the medieval castle of de Pressac.

Day six finds us in Libourne, a fortified Bastide town that was important for the salt trade—“white gold”—during the Middle Ages. Markets remain the soul of France and Libourne’s busy Tuesday morning market, one of the biggest around, has been operating for more than five centuries on the central square.

Later, we visit the magnificent Château de Montaigne, which was the family residence of philosopher Michel de Montaigne who wrote Les Essays in the 16th century. You might say he was one of the first bloggers, writing such gems as “A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband” and “In nine lifetimes, you will never know as much about your cat as your cat knows about you.” Destroyed by fire in 1885, the castle was rebuilt in one year. Apparently, a duplicate of the château is found in Tianjin, China.

Back in Bordeaux, we spend our last day wandering through this elegant port city known for its Gothic cathedral St. André, its many fine and contemporary art museums and 18th- and 19th-century mansions. We saunter past boutiques and restaurants along rue Sainte-Catherine, a 1.2-kilometre pedestrian street—the longest in Europe. We embark on an immersive, sensory adventure to discover the cultures and civilizations of wine at the newly built La Cité du Vin Wine Museum. Come morning, it will be hard to leave this capital of the wine world.

I am told wine is mentioned 440 times in the Bible, which I cannot verify, but it’s obviously been important to humanity for well over 2,000 years. No doubt, it will continue to flow for many more centuries to come. And Bordeaux is betting on it.

Travel Planner

Air Canada (aircanada.com) and Air France (airfrance.com) offer direct service from various Canadian gateways to Paris, with convenient connections to Bordeaux. Rail Europe

(raileurope.com) also operates train service from Charles de Gaulle Airport as well as from Paris centre to Bordeaux. A new TGV service has reduced the trip from four to two hours.

For more information on the various cruise itineraries offered by AMA Waterways, visit amawaterways.com.

 
 
 
 
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