This installment of Monday’s EU Austerity Drinking Tour finds us sick, drunk, and headed to the fourth and last winery in Graves in southeast Bordeaux.
To recap: a free van picked us up for “Portes Ouvertes dans les Graves” (Open Doors in Graves) in the sleepy town of Langon (below):
We tried Bordeaux’s just-fermented varietals at Château Pont de Brion (here), ate rotten grapes at Château La Croix (here), and met a red-only, family run, micro-winery at Château Caillivet (here).
Well-smashed, we and our white, tin chariot head to Bordeaux’s Southern-most winery: Château de Roquetaillade la Grange:
Soft hills roll with vine rows. This is the highest vineyard in Graves: roughly 100 meters above sea-level. Hardly a mountain, but unlike la Croix’s river-side, rotting grapes (tricky, but perfect for dessert wine), dry breezes and more drainage keep Roquetaillade’s vines happy. With all this rain, that matters.
Also unlike the rest of Langon, this “Château” has a château:
Papal nephew ownership dates back to the 14th century. Only in 1962 did the vines and castle go their separate ways. But we came for wine.
We hop into the French tour. Immediately things look different. Unlike the adorable garage-stables, with one person making wine from vine to finish with their bare hands, Roquetaillade embraces modernity. The Starship Enterprise probably uses the same destemmer:
We pass the lab where they do chemical analysis before blending. Then a pristine hall opens to two-story-tall tanks:
Nothing is left to chance. Temperature controls abound. Our mostly local crowd nods in affirmation. The next barn barely contains the red wine tanks:
Our round guide describes each varietal fermenting separately, at different temperatures, with different yeasts. Although massive, he calls it quaint compared to Bordeaux’s heavies downriver (or les gigantique in California).
Either way, this is modern, international wine-making, dialed to perfection. The world asked for clean, consistent product, in constant supply at ever-cheaper prices, and this is what we got: pure romance:
Our guide wows us once more, with the mountainous barrel room:
They look stacked, but each barrel hangs on an arm that can be lowered or raised independently of killing anyone nearby. Our guide demonstrates. We oo and ahh. Here extensive new oak time adds complexity to the blended reds.
In the tasting room, we work through their 2009s. By now palate fatigue, mental fatigue, and flu-fatigue creep up. I lost my tasting notes, but Graves’ tight acidity shows decently here. Roquetaillade’s wines taste bright, medium bodied, and pure. Pleasant red fruit, mineral, and oak roast are easy to pick out. But they taste too tidy to demand attention. Little else defines these wines (bored, I flash a business card and taste their Sauternes: tropical, fresh, light).
We wobble back into our van. As it rattles past humble, ancient churches, grocery stores, and subdivisions, I think back on this complicated place.
Graves is a border region. Here, France’s rustic, experimental South weaves with aspirational farmers, entrenched locals, and smart, Bordeaux U transplants. Most label their barn a “château” and tack on names like Brion, Camus, Croix in hopes of reflected glory (and accidental sales).
The quality is good, if extremely variable. The range of styles from rosé, red, white, to dessert reflects a local market’s need (unlike collector regions, like St. Emilion or the Médoc’s monochromatics). You won’t find any fruit bombs, massive tannins, high alcohols, or chew. Instead, good structure, fresh acidity, some fruit, body, minerality, and oak provide a daily, dinner drinking workhorse. The value is undeniable. Most cost under $30 and taste like proper Bordeaux.
Getting to visit four wineries for free was a treat. Thank you Portes Ouvertes dans les Graves for making our EU Austerity Drinking Tour possible.
The river basin levels off. A timely train takes us back to our home-stay in Bordeaux. Our Romanian host cooks up leek soup for our sick heads.
But illness be-damned. Next Monday, we head to St. Emilion: home of Merlot!