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The first National Wine Tourism Awards from France

February 1, 2010

Last week the French minister of tourism presented the first ‘Prix National de l’Oenotourisme’ – wine tourism awards in four different categories and I’m delighted to say that all of them are already included in Wine Travel Guides! There were 260 entrants in all and I would love to get hold of that list. In the meantime, the winners are as follows:

The winners receive a plaque and also – apparently – public relations help with promoting the award. (Needless to say no-one has yet officially contacted Wine Travel Guides about these awards).

Source des Caudalies

As these were the first ever awards, the wine tourism council decided to mention four family wine producers they consider to be pioneers in wine tourism. These producers will also help on the council, which was only formed last year.

These last four recognitions demonstrate to me quite simply the public relations power of certain wine families in France. I will say no more except that there are other pioneers that could have been selected – let’s hope they will enter next year’s competition and receive just recompense.

The only other similar awards that I know of in Europe are the Great Wine Capitals Awards and these of course only cover one city/wine region per country so, in France that’s Bordeaux.

I do hope these awards encourage more French wine producers to fully embrace the potential of wine tourism. The next task of France’s wine tourism council is to create a new seal of approval awarded to those who fulfil certain designated standards of wine tourism. Applications are being called for now.

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The great wine capital of Bordeaux

November 25, 2009

Garonne River in Bordeaux

By Wink Lorch

The name Bordeaux conjures up different things to the wine lover: a red or perhaps a white wine; a large and world famous wine region; and to those in the know, a great wine city. After years in the world of wine, I can’t help but know something about the wines, though I’m far from a Bordeaux expert; I have experienced several short trips to Bordeaux’ wine regions, but until early this November I knew virtually nothing of the historic city of Bordeaux.

Bordeaux seems to be enjoying a new lease of life as current mayor Alain Juppé (ex-Prime Minister of France) encourages the administration to continue its programme of investments in renovating and revitalising many old quarters of this very classical French city. On the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites since 2007 the main sights range from fine buildings to churches, museums and the spacious Jardin Public including the botanic gardens. It’s worth staying in the heart of the city – offerings vary from the very smart and pricey Regent Grand Hotel opposite the Grand Théatre down to some very reasonable options. If you have a car it’s definitely best to leave it safely parked up somewhere, for it’s a lovely city to walk around, and if you get tired you can just jump on the ever-expanding tram system.

Le Grand Théatre on Place de la Comédie

It’s not only the old town and the rather grand public buildings that have had makeovers, but also the fascinating Chartrons quarter by the Garonne river. The Quai des Chartrons is lined with old warehouses which used to form the offices and warehouses of the traditional Bordeaux wine merchant families or négociant firms – their nickname was l’aristrocracie des bouchons (the cork aristocracy). Today the Chartrons district buzzes with cafés, craft workshops and is a prized residential area. It is also home to Bordeaux’ wine museum, notable for the fascinating section devoted to how the trading of the négoces (as the word is abbreviated) worked, something that to some extent still effects the way top Bordeaux is sold today.

Few négociants remain in the Chartrons area now, but you can visit their modern equivalent, Millésima at the other end of the city near the station (the other strategic area for merchants to be based from a transport point of view). A fine wine mail-order/internet specialist that sells a full range of Bordeaux wines from the most expensive châteaux downwards, you can tour the huge cellars of Millésima to gaze on row upon row of wooden boxes (they hold around two million bottles of very expensive stock). You can also pre-book an educational tasting of whatever wines you wish to taste …. providing you pay the cost, of course. For anyone in Bordeaux for a spell of time, Millésima also has a wine school offering a programme of tasting events, including sessions matching food with top Bordeaux châteaux wines.

As you might expect, the city boasts a growing number of wine shops and not all are focussed on Bordeaux. In the old town, Cousin & Co has wines from all over France and a few from other countries with friendly staff and friendly prices. A tiny shop Vins et Plus in the up-market Triangle d’Or shopping area offers a rotating stock of 60 wines focussing on organic and small producers. And, among the several shops specializing in top Bordeaux, I looked in on newcomer Max Bordeaux, who’s originality is their offer of a large range of First and Second Growth Châteaux to taste from enomatic machines – a chance for a sip of the greats at a reasonable price.

Wine Bar at the Maison des Vins

Apart from wine shops, the city offers an array of food, fashion, antique and household shops; weekly markets; cafés and restaurants of all shades and prices; and naturellement, there are also plenty of bars to stop at for a glass of wine. The Bordeaux Wine Information Centre has its own wine bar on the very grand ground floor of its offices, close to the city’s main tourist office. Whilst perusing the plentiful information about the wines of the region, you can relax with a monthly changing range of wines by the glass and a snack at any time of day.

Staying there at the invitation of Great Wine Capitals who were holding their AGM in Bordeaux and presenting their prestigious Best Of International Wine Tourism Awards, even in the November rain I just loved this city of wine – the very first ‘Great Wine Capital’. I would urge anyone planning a visit to discover the wines of the Bordeaux region, to allocate some quality time right in the heart of the city.

For more details of some of the places I visited and further recommendations, do take a look at our travel guide to Bordeaux City and its Négociants, written by Jane Anson who also writes the fascinating New Bordeaux blog.

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New ‘Lightning Cruise’ explores the wine rivers of France

April 1, 2009

Wine Travel Guides announces sponsorship of the wine tour to end all wine tours, which will take place in April 2010. This will be your chance to experience the great wine regions of France cruising along the historic waterways of France. The 10-day exclusive Lightning Cruise will see you supping some of the finest wines of the world on the luxury SS Dom Pérignon in the company of some prize-winning British Masters of Wine.

Your cruise through the wine rivers of France

Your cruise through the wine rivers of France

Great wine has always been produced close to rivers and wine used to be transported along the waterways to its traditional customers, the royal courts of Europe. Now wine geeks can follow wine’s journey on our specially designed cruise ship, which will transport you along rivers that have been made navigable exclusively for us as one of the new French Ministry of Wine Tourism’s initiatives.

Meet the ship in Nantes (RyanAir will fly you in from an outlying airport in London – don’t forget to pay the extra for proper life-jackets – NOT included in our price). Then we cruise up the Loire river, with a side visit along the Layon tributary. Here we will examine botrytis spores with a Master of Wine winner of the technical detail prize – 5cl tastes of the famous dessert Grand Crus Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume will be available (or half bottles of Coteaux de l’Aubance for non-wine-reverent spouses).

After a demi-tour back to the Loire we cruise on through Tours and Orléans, then turn northwards along a linking canal to the Seine for a stop in Paris for a firework display by the Bastille (we hope for an appearance from top French wine journalists who’ve been interred for failing to display a health warning on their articles).

Trees grown on Dom Pérignon's burial ground were used for ship

Trees used to build the cruise ship were grown on Dom Pérignon's burial ground above Champagne vineyards by the Marne River

Next we join the Marne river to visit the original shipyard near Epernay, where the SS Dom Pérignon was built from trees grown on the Montagne de Reims. We plan a lively debating evening whilst there about whether Merrett of England or Dom Pérignon himself actually invented Champagne – leader of the debate here will be a winner of the Master of Wine’s Bollinger Prize. (A Karaoke alternative may be made available to non-wine-bore spouses).

From the Marne we spit onto the stately Saône River that runs through parts of Burgundy. Here, choose from side visits either to Jurassic Park home to Vin Jaune with owner of Wine Travel Guides, or to examine pruning at the exclusive Clos de Tart with one of our increasingly common lady Masters of Wine.

Ever southwards towards the great Rhône river we make a stop first in the Beaujolais vineyards for another evening debate: “Beaujolais – Vin de Merde ou pas Vin de Merde?. This will be led by a Master of Wine founder of the Beaujolais Nouveau race – and bets will be taken on the result of the debate – it’s sure to be a fun evening (we will taste samples of the ten Beaujolais cruises during the debate).

Following a gastronomic extravaganza in Lyon with one of our larger-than-life Masters of Wines, our cruise ship will head down the Rhône to Marseille stopping to collect pebbles from the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. (You will receive a full explanation from a newly pontificated Master of Wine of why, in a bid to reduce ever-increasing alcohol levels, the pebbles need to be removed – first-hand evidence of global warming effects).

A little over half-way through our cruise near Marseille, our luxury ship will slip from the Rhône estuary into the Mediterranean for some sea breezes. We will tie up for the evening to allow those who wish, to visit the night clubs of Marseille, whilst others enjoy a guided, comparative tasting of the organoleptic effects of sea breezes on the wine tasting palate.

Into calming waters, we cruise into the famous Canal du Midi, sailing speedily past and ignoring the huge Languedoc vineyards through Béziers and Carcassonne towards the final important wine destination of our Lightning Cruise – Bordeaux.

Jancis Robinson

Jancis Robinson

Slowing down to appreciate the vineyards close to the Garonne River, with a detour to explore the Ciron, another nobly rotted tributary, we sail majestically into Bordeaux to meet our mega famous Master of Wine Jancis Robinson for a tutored tasting on the theme of “Why a Bordeaux Château is a Fool’s Domaine”.

At the end of our cruise, you will have ticked off the Loire, Paris, Champagne, Burgundy, Jura, Rhône, Provence, Languedoc, South-West and Bordeaux from your wine touring wish list and there will be only Alsace and Savoie to go if you want in future to say you’ve ‘done French wine regions’ – all thanks to the Wine Travel Guides Lightning Cruise.

Our luxury cruise ship © Sven Reinecke - Fotolia.com

Luxury cruise ship SS Dom Pérignon ©Sven Reinecke - Fotolia.com

Other cruises run by the Cruising Rivers and Canals Company (CRAC) include The Bonus Cruise: Explore the great Banking Capitals by river and lake (Geneva/Zurich) hosted by Top Investment Bankers; and The Motor Cruise: Visit Europe’s finest Car Manufacturers along the Rhine and its tributaries hosted by recently retired Formula 1 Drivers.

Dates for the Lightning Cruise sponsored by Wine Travel Guides will be April 1st – 10th 2010. Prices start at £10,410/$10,410/€10,410. Places are limited to 10,410 people, so please contact us fast to make your reservations.

For other interesting wine stories published on 1st April 2009 do check out the Dregs Report.

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The Weekly Twitter Quiz #10 – Château de La Brède, Graves

March 11, 2009

Travelling in wine regions is not all about wine; certainly in Europe, it’s easy to add in some cultural elements to a wine tour. Many wine regions have interesting ecclesiastical relics, old forts and art museums as well as châteaux with stories that may be nothing to do with wine. This week’s answer to the Twitter quiz is one of the latter.

Château de la Brède, south of Bordeaux

Château de la Brède, south of Bordeaux

Jane Anson, who lives in Bordeaux, selected Château de La Brède, as one of the key non-wine attractions in her guide on the southern Graves and Sauternes. For many centuries owned by the family of the philosopher Montesquieu she describes it as follows:

One of the few moated castles in the area, and extraordinarily well preserved, the château is also surrounded by English-style gardens. Expect plenty of proud displays of Montesquieu’s musings.

My Twitter followers are a clever bunch. Richard who was last week’s winner got the correct answer right away but reveals he studied philosophy – Doug of AbleGrape was there too but then he always finds the answer on his very own specialist search engine. So, my first real congratulations and choice of PDF guide must go to Dave Mcallister of Redwood, California who was very persistent and came up with an equally right answer – Château Peyredoulle in Blaye, which it seems belonged to the family of Italian philosopher and humanist Pic de la Mirandole. Further congratulations are also due to Mark Manning of Seattle who was convinced the answer must be the illustrious Château d’Yquem in Sauternes due to its links with the French writer and philosopher Montaigne. The French love philosophy – ever heard them discussing the philosophy of wine? So, no surprise there are plenty of connections.

Jane Anson keeps everyone up-to-date on what’s happening in the region with her new Bordeaux blog and has just updated the eight micro-region guides to Bordeaux for Wine Travel Guides. Why do we have eight? Well, it’s a huge region and if you are just planning a visit for a couple of days, you might only want one or two guides – that’s the great thing about on-line guides, you can just print a few pages of just what you need, and what’s more, being on-line they should be bang up to date. Move over guide books, on-line guides are here to stay.

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Manchester: Wine City??

February 3, 2009

By Jane Anson

Bordeaux winemakers visit the Reserve wine shop

Bordeaux winemakers visit the Reserve wine shop

Having just spent a week in Manchester and Leeds with ten winemakers from Bordeaux, it occurred to me that we rarely talk about England as a wine destination for tourists. But maybe we should: it is after all the most dynamic wine market in the world, where wines from every conceivable country compete for shelf space. There can be few better countries to visit for horizontal or vertical tastings of just about any grape, from just about any producer.

And there are increasingly interesting things on offer for wine tourists. On a previous trip with winemakers, we visited Denbies, a winery in Surrey around an hour outside of London, that had a very impressive tourism installation, including an IMAX-style cinema experience comparing the terroir to Champagne, all set to the rousing strains of classical music (what was it exactly? In my head, it was Land of Hope and Glory, but you get the picture).

This time, in the north of England, it was a little harder to visit actual wineries. Of course James May and Oz Clarke, in their programme Oz and James Drink to Britain, recently visited one in Yorkshire called Leventhorpe, and I heard that there was a winery opening in Urmston, just outside of Manchester city centre. We had planned to visit this one, but apparently the man who runs it has gone AWOL and we were unable to contact him. If anyone knows anything about this, I would be thrilled to hear more.

But Manchester was full of great surprises for wine lovers. Besides excellent wine lists in hotels such as the Lowry, we visited two of the best independent wine shops that I know Hanging Ditch in the centre of town, right opposite Harvey Nicols and Reserve Wines in Didsbury that has just recently won the UK’s independent wine merchant of the year at the International Wine & Spirits Challenge. If you think England is all about binge drinking, or a love of either wine brands or Pinot Grigio of dubious origin, I suggest you go visit these two places. Both have passionate, knowledgeable owners who are keen to share their love of unusual bottling with their clients.

Whilst waiting until Wine Travel Guides covers England, visit the English Wine Producers website for full details of wineries to visit in both England and Wales.

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New wine shop in Margaux

December 17, 2008

By Jane Anson

Clos des Quatres Vents shop in Margaux

Clos des Quatres Vents shop in Margaux

I have been researching my updates for the Bordeaux Wine Travel Guides this week, in the mad rush to get everything done before leaving for Paris tomorrow.

This meant I was up in Margaux yesterday to do a tasting and visit with Luc Thienpont at Clos des Quatres Vents. Luc is the elder brother of Jacques Thienpont at Le Pin in Pomerol – which brings me to a handy tip if you are ever desperate for a bottle of Le Pin when on the Left Bank. Go to the Cave des Quatres Vents because they sell a few bottles. That may seem at best an unlikely scenario, but they sold two bottles at the weekend for a Christmas present for some very lucky husband.

This wine shop opened in July 2008, and now brings the total of wine boutiques in Margaux to three. It has a good range of Thienpont wines (I recommend the Entre deux Mers from yet another brother, called Le Roc du Château Pellebouc), and many others from around the Médoc and Bordeaux – plus decanters, glasses, aprons and other wine accessories. Luc said he is considering opening a wine bar at the back of the shop over the summer months, which would be a great idea.

Margaux still has a long way to go before it rivals Saint Emilion (where are the cafés for a cake and a coffee?), but things are definitely moving in this little Médoc town.

Cave des Quatre Vents, 12, Rue Georges-Mandel, 33460 Margaux. Tél. : 05 56 58 54 51.


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