The return to Bordeaux has been a complete change of pace from the harvest in Alsace. A relaxed schedule has given me time to work on my internship report and presentation, not to mention time to rediscover my old stomping grounds.

Refamiliarizing myself with the territory: fog on the walk to school; the Cité du Vin is a new attraction. Rue Ste Catherine is empty on the holiday - you can actually see the obelisk at Place de la Victoire at the other end! Cleanup in Place de la Bourse and an evening view of the Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas.

Refamiliarizing myself with the territory: fog on the walk to school; the Cité du Vin is a new attraction. Rue Ste Catherine is devoid of shopping hordes on the holiday – you can actually see the obelisk at Place de la Victoire at the other end! Cleanup in Place de la Bourse and an evening view of the Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas.

Sweet wines of Bordeaux. The Sauternes appellation is the area inside the red blob. But you can also find some very good sweet wines outside the appellation: in Cadillac, Loupiac, Cérons and Ste -Croix

Sweet wines of Bordeaux. The Sauternes appellation is the area inside the red blob. But you can also find some very good sweet wines outside the appellation: in Cadillac, Loupiac, Cérons and Ste -Croix

If every summer weekend in Alsace hosts a Fête du Vin, each fall weekend in Bordeaux promises a Portes Ouvertes for one of the many appellations in the area. The first weekend back brings us to Sauternes, the region best known for sweet, Botyritised white wines. Sauternes is actually made up of five communes: Sauternes, Barsac, Bommes, Fargues and Preignac, all five of which can use the Sauternes appellation, although Barsac can also use its own name. The region is characterized by these sweet wines because it happens to be one of the areas in France with regularly occurring Botrytis, the mold that develops on the grapes. Under the right climatic conditions, this creates raisined grapes with concentrated flavours, which become beautifully complex and sweet wines. One of the key ingredients to this microclimate is the river Ciron: in warm and dry autumns, the cooler waters of the river Ciron form morning mist when they meet the warmer waters of the river Garonne. The humidity from the mist is the perfect environment for the mold to develop, while the warm midday sun prevents the vines from staying too humid, and the mold from spoiling the grapes.

Rousset Peyraguey wine labels since 2000.

Rousset Peyraguey wine labels since 2000.

Our first stop is Domaine Rousset Peyraguey in Preignac, a biodynamic winery with a winemaker known for thinking differently. Even in marketing he breaks the rules: each year features a complete redesign, yet somehow loyal Rousset Peyraguey lovers are able to identify his annual offerings. He uses the typical white Sauternes grapes: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, but his wines taste quite distinct due to one major difference during the vinification process. During the long fermentation process (up to a year, similar to what I saw at Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace), this winemaker leaves the barrels open to oxygen, giving nutty, sherry-like oxidation notes to the final wines. This is highly unusual, and for many winemakers quite risky as it could increase the likelihood of the wine spoiling. That said, it is a signature practice for this particular wine estate, and the final wines are surprisingly special. The second visit is to Château Filhot, a Second Growth estate from the 1855 classification, with somewhat fewer surprises than the preceding visit.

Portes Ouvertes Sauternes: the day begins at Domaine Rousset Peyraguey, biodynamic herbal preparations are waiting in the pails. Not to toot our own horns here, but we're ready for the ... Tasting all set up in the barrel room. moving over to Château Filhot, where we check out the wares. Some skeptical Finns in the tank room, and a range of Sauternes colours.

Portes Ouvertes Sauternes: the day begins at Domaine Rousset Peyraguey, where biodynamic herbal preparations are waiting in the pails. Well this cow horn is full of shit… (it actually is…), another biodynamic preparation in waiting. Above, examining the tasting set up in the barrel room, before we move over to Château Filhot (below), where we check out the wares. Some skeptical Finns in the tank room, and a Sauternes rainbow – colour evolution from younger to older wines.

We have not had many classes since the start of the semester, but when we do, we make sure they are fortified with wine. Or just fortified wine…much more efficient! Most of our classes thus far have focused on wines that fall within the 10-16% alcohol category, but for one glorious tasting session we explore a special category: wines fortified by the addition of more alcohol, like port or sherry. France actually has many wines that fall into this category – Vin Doux Naturel and Vin de Liqueur – from all around the country. Sweet fortified wines like this (and like port, but not necessarily like sherry, which is typically drier) are often found in warm regions, as the style developed as a way to stabilize fermentations challenged by hot weather. Winemaking is similar to regular wine except that during the fermentation process, a strong alcohol (usually grape brandy) is added which stops the yeast activity from converting any more sugar into alcohol. With the addition, the final wine has higher sugar content and higher alcohol content than regular wines, usually around 20%, and can be consumed as an aperitif or digestif (or, you know, whenever you want).

I thought my density-taking days were over for now, but not quite. Sorting out the visa calls for a little celebration in the form of this white port. Samples of sherry from the fortified wine class. Port barrels from Cálem, in Porto, where both large and small barrels are used to age the Tawny ports which are characterized by long aging in wood. The Ruby ports, however, are aged in a different style of barrel with a shorter duration, so the smell and taste are more fruit-driven and less wood-driven. Some pairing suggestions from the folks at Quevedo in Vila Nova da Gaia.

I thought my density-taking days were over for now, but not quite. Sorting out the visa calls for a little celebration in the form of this white port. Samples of Vin Doux Naturel from the fortified wine class. Port barrels from Cálem, in Porto, where both large and small barrels are used to age the Tawny ports which are characterized by long aging in wood. Ruby ports are often aged for a shorter duration in a different style of barrel, so the smell and taste are more fruit-driven and less wood-driven. Some pairing suggestions from the folks at Quevedo in Vila Nova da Gaia.

There is so much to cover in this category that I cannot do it justice in a short paragraph or two. I am also noticing my own preferences making themselves known – I tend to gravitate towards aged ports, and port-style wines, like that of Banyuls in the south of France. That said, production of this kind of drink is not limited to Europe. The New World is in love with this style – it can be made in the United States, Australia, India, Argentina, and even Canada. I’m looking forward to tasting the Nova Scotian port-style wines when I head there for the Christmas holidays.

Moving right along, we finally have a class on Italian wines. You don’t need me to tell you that Italian wine covers a lot of ground, and even one class is not nearly enough. So I’ll only focus on one special wine, an early favourite as I was starting to get to know Italian wines. Amarone della Valpolicella comes from the Valpolicella appellation, near the city of Verona in the Veneto region. The richly-flavoured dry red wine is produced by grapes that are dried out after harvest for roughly 120 days, to concentrate flavours. The final wines are bold, velvety, high in alcohol (14-16%) and have the semblance of sweetness.

Amarone comes to us from Valipolicella in the Veneto region. this slide prompts memories of the first Amarone I ever tasted, many years ago at the Gourmet Wine and Food show in Toronto. Once harvested, grapes are put on racks to dry out and concentrate the juices inside. Of all the wines at the tasting, the Amarone gets an extra-hefty pour.

This wine comes to us from Valipolicella in the Veneto region. this slide prompts memories of my first taste of Amarone della Valpolicella. Once harvested, grapes are put on racks to dry out and concentrate the juices inside. Of all the wines at the tasting, the Amarone gets an extra-hefty pour.

And every once in a super moon, this happens over Bordeaux...

And every once in a super moon, this appears over Bordeaux…

And on that note, it’s probably time for me to hydrate. We have a busy couple of weeks ahead of us : attending Vinitech, an international wine equipment trade show in Bordeaux, and then off to Spain and Portugal for ten days to learn about Iberian wines and start doing the research for our global wine company audit. Olé!

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