Bordeaux seen through the eyes of a Langhe native

The last time I was there was 1998, during my internship at a winery in Pomerol, made possible thanks to the partnership between the wine school in Alba and that in Bordeaux. After thirteen years I have now returned, on the occasion of an en primeur 2010 tasting, invited thanks to my former classmate, and also merchant of great French wines, Paolo Repetto of the company, Vinifera. I adopted the outlook of a carefree, serene tourist, my mind open and ready to absorb the French culture of wine.

Over the course of the long trip, which included a stopover in Dijon, I tried to free myself of the prejudices and commonplaces that characterize discussions of French wine: “…we have much to learn from the French”, “…our wines are better, however”, “…they are better at selling”, “…they can even sell smoke”.

I am not here, therefore, to talk to you about the technical aspects of Bordeaux wines, but rather I will try to bring you my experience as a wine producer, for once not travelling to promote my own wines, but for the pleasure of knowing a different culture.

Accustomed to Langa, the Bordeaux landscape is not particularly thrilling, plains alternate with lowlands and the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers are muddy and don’t do much for me. On the other hand I am drawn by the extreme care with which the vineyards are tended, the estates are majestic and it is not for nothing that they are called châteaux. Another detail that fascinated me is the cailloux, stones or gravel that characterize the different terrains of the area, mixed with clay or sand. It is precisely the presence of these rocks that defines that particularity and difference of refinement of the various vineyards in Medoc, Pomerol and Saint-Emilion.

The videos that you will find in this post are meant to transmit my immediate impressions of the tastings in Pauillac, Saint Emilion, Margaux, Saint Julien and Saint Estephe organized by a famous Bordeaux negociant and the châteaux, which opened their cellars for the event to industry professionals from all over the world.

The high point of my visit was during the tour at the Château Margaux, one of the most prestigious and ancient wineries in France. Friendly and approachable, the commercial director of the company, Monsieur Aurelien Valence, accompanied Paolo and I to the barrel cellar to have us taste the Pavillon blanc, a sauvignon of exceptional refinement and “minerality”. Next we tasted the first and second red wine, both classics of Bordeaux blends with a strong presence of cabernet sauvignon. Even though they were presented as very young wines and still very closed, I found them to be already pleasing and drinkable. I admit my limits, however, in that it was the first time that I tasted so many Bordeaux in so few days.

On the completion of my educational tour, I would like to try to draw some general conclusions about wine in France and in Italy. I can say with certainty that the most substantial difference between these two wine nations is not in the quality of the wine but in the capacity of the single vigneron. I think that the distinction is cultural. The French are possessed of the awareness and conviction that their wine is WINE. One laughs and jokes, but when one speaks of wine the tone of the conversation becomes solemn, whether the wine is a Lafite or a simple Languedoc-Roussillon. This sentiment is established and nurtured in the young, in the schools … this is the wine culture that we are missing.

On the other hand, however, I noted that in the eyes of the French, we are no longer the lame cousins who will never be able to compete with the grandeur of French wine, but they are watching us with awe and respect. This is due, above all, to how we have succeeded in establishing ourselves, taking a good slice of the global wine market away from our cousins beyond the Alps, despite the crisis.

And so I urge Italian producers: go and visit the French wine territories, there are many things to learn, but also you, French cousins, come and visit us here, we have interesting surprises for you to try.