Stage Three: We drove up from the Spanish/French border and experienced rain nearly all the way. But by the time we reached Pauillac, although it was partly cloudy, the rain had stopped except for occasional showers.
We stated at Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, a Relais & Chateau hotel owned by the Cazes family of Chateau Lynch-Bages. It is every bit what a R&C hotel should be, with nicely furnished and decorated rooms and plenty of common area space. The main restaurant is a Michelin two star, which was out of our budget range. Instead, we had dinner at the Bages Bistro Lavindra and it was very good, good enough that we returned the next day for lunch. They have eight wines available by the glass and an extensive wine list. It is located with the small village of Bages, most of which the Cazes family have purchased and renovated, opening up a wine store, delicatessen and a few other food stores.
We started our full-day of touring the next morning with Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Quite amazing, one of the five only first growths, property of the Rothschilds since 1853 and currently operated by 80-year old Philippina Rotchschild. Unfortunately for the tasting it was only a 2012 wine, still rather young for this bordeaux. We had lunch at Lavindra again and then went for a tour at Pontet Canet, which is right across the street from Mouton. Smaller presentation but very interesting, especially to see how differently they make the wine to their neighbor. Our tasting was much better, their 2007 which had much less tannins and more body that what we experienced at Mouton, funny what letting a wine age can do to its quality and performance. Our final tour was with Chateau Lynch-Bages, a favorite wine of ours, when we can afford it or it is being poured for us. Our guide was exceptional; she really knew not only Lynch-Bages well, but the whole wine production process. We really felt we learned more here than we had in all the other tours. And they finished off as well with a 2007 for their tasting, and although not one of their best years, it still was lovely.
TIP: It is better to stick to the smaller wineries, as they offer tastings and tours usually for free and provide tastings from aged wine. The high end one’s charge and provide only very young wines to taste.
We finished off our tour day with a bottle of champagne in the sitting area of Chateau Bages first and then an amazing dinner at Le Saint Julian in St. Julian. Not only is the setting wonderful (restored older home in white accentuated with dark wood furniture) but the food was amazing. Limited but excellent wine list with wines from the region and reasonable rates. We tried a 2009 Moulis, which has a higher percentage of Merlot than neighboring Pauillac, and it was superb.
Funny, for the money I much prefer Logroño; good wine, more action, better prices and more options for dining. And with the tapas bars, and the average price of a glass of wine from $1.5 to 2.5 euros, you can easily taste a lot of different wines at a reasonable price. Certainly they are bordeaux, but it sure makes a wide range of different wines very accessible.
From Bordeaux we headed east following the Dordogne river up into the Dordogne valley. (Click on any photo below to see a slideshow)