Rather than talk about all the fabulous wine I tried in La Rioja and Médoc, which would most likely bore you, I will instead describe the idiosyncrasies of being a wine traveler.
In Haro, La Rioja, the mountains watched (and didn’t judge) as I sipped the tempranillos and viuras that flourish in this lovely Spanish microclimate. The first winery I visited, Bodegas Roda, provided some of the best olive oil I’ve ever had (Dauro). I ate at least twenty small croutons smothered in that delicious elixir. After the next tasting, at Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, the charming gentleman at the counter only charged me for one glass, because, apparently, he had “invited” me to the second. I didn’t argue. At Bodegas y Viñedos Gómez Cruzado, I went on my last tour before lunch with a father and son from the area. I was even able to communicate with them by the end of the tasting! The entire conversation consisted of me pointing at the bottles and saying “grape” in Spanish with a questioning tone, to which they kindly responded. Then I ate lunch, which I think was good, but as I don’t remember what I ate, I can’t attest. The tasting I went on that afternoon, at Bodegas Cune, was also delicious. I know I enjoyed it, because I sent some lovely e-mails with interesting typos. I apologize to those of you who had to suffer my orthographic inadequacy!
In Médoc, I had an altogether different experience, most likely the result of having to drive to get there. I arrived at the first winery, Château Hennebelle, just before 11 a.m. I went inside and asked if I could have a tour and tasting. The proprietor, who turned out to be one of the five generations that produce the wine, looked at me like I had asked what the capital of France was. So I tried their wine, which was fabulous of course, and bought a bottle while getting to know Pierre. His name was even on the bottle!
Then I attempted to find the restaurant I had chosen for lunch, Café Lavinal, without navigation of the electric or paper kind. This turned into a game that I eventually won, but not without circumnavigating the tiny town in which I dined at least three times. The lunch, I must say, was inimitable. More so because Café Lavinal had a wine vending machine (which I didn’t use- I drive responsibly 🙂 ). And an exquisite chocolate mousse. AND they were adorably polite. I’m pretty sure they thought I was rich, which was a nice thing for them to assume, incorrectly.
The next winery on the agenda was closed, but I decided to visit one at random before checking in at my hotel. This was exceptionally easy, because as I drove through Médoc, I saw that wineries surrounded the countryside, rather than the other way around. The one I visited, Vieux Château Landon, had been bought by a Chinese company, which, my guide told me, was quite common. The wine there was alright, but I wasn’t really feeling it. Moreover, I was so excited to get to my hotel, where I would do a tasting and celebrate my birthday. I said almost as much to my guide, who invited me to fête my birthday with him and a friend. I told him I would get back to him.
I finally arrived at my hotel, Rollan de By, near the Gironde Estuary and fairly close to the Atlantic Ocean. The proprietors there, Déborah and Benjamin, could not have been more kind or welcoming. They gave me a bottle of wine to enjoy with my dinner later, and also informed me of fun things to do in the area. So I went to Château La Tour de By, where I purchased tubes of wine. Yes, tubes of wine. They were made to be transported in carry-ons, and come in little vials that would be more appropriate for science experiments, or perhaps blood. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it years ago!
At my hotel’s winery, I went on the most in-depth wine tour I have ever been on. With no hint of sarcasm, this is the highest compliment I can give to a tour guide! At this point I was getting hungry, so luckily, my médocain platter was ready when I returned to the hotel. Benjamin also informed me that the guide from Vieux Château Landon had called the hotel to ask if I still wanted to go out for my birthday, and if so, to give him a call. I really wanted to text this young man that I had decided to stay in, but unfortunately I had purchased the crappiest cell phone credit that exists, and so no longer had any credit. Oops!
With my bottle of wine and médocain platter (which consisted of pâtés, boudin, ham, cherry tomatoes, bread, and desert), I feasted! I tried to find some Frenchy film on the TV to set the mood, but none were on. Instead I watched Les Simpsons. Très chic!
After sipping from the wellsprings of two very different wine regions, what have I to say? Firstly, à chacun son goût. I may love a young Cru Bourgeois from Médoc, while someone else prefers to drink it years later. Secondly, it depends, always. For me, my mood, what I am eating or not eating, the weather, and the company I keep all contribute to a ‘good’ wine selection. And I rarely regret the wine I select. Lastly, have fun! Wine is not meant to be drunk only by the fancy-shmancy pants of the world. It’s a democratic, often inexpensive, beautifully crafted beverage for all those of legal age. Go on, have a glass…Cheers!
*For extra credit, share your favorite wine(s) below!