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I'm happiest when the food I make becomes a backdrop to a lively conversation. When I'm not cooking, I'm traveling or dreaming about travel. Come sit with me, and enjoy! Read more here.

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« beef tagliata with rosemary and fried capers: a dish i've made 100 times | Main | bordeaux: the festival »

bordeaux: above ground, below ground


While in Bordeaux, Paul and I visited Saint Emilion, a picturesque village with medieval buildings surrounded by vineyards in every direction.

What amazed us most was what we found underneath – a network of underground caves dating back to the 14th century.

Lionel Candau, the handsome, sprightly manager of Chateau Belair winery, one of only 13 Premier Grand Cru Classe B wineries of Saint Emilion, led us beneath the winery through a maze of limestone hallways with dusty paths.



vertical tasting

We came upon an elevated stone mezzanine, which held a shrine of empty bottles dating back to 1831. It was dedicated to a vertical tasting the winery held several years back to taste the decades of wine it had accumulated.


Lionel continued to lead us down a spiral staircase carved in rock to the second level where the estate stored its collection of vintages.


The cellars, which are part of 10 hectares of underground limestone tunnels shared by other wineries in the area, were used for a period to grow mushrooms. Chateau Belair now keeps the wines at a average temperature of 52.7 degrees with a humidity of 95 percent year round.



We emerged above ground into the bright sun just as another group arrived for a tour. Lionel handled the two groups exactly the way you'd expect from a guy running a Premiere Grand Cru Classe -- with equal parts expertise and charm. He poured our glasses while introducing the other group to its tour.

After the second tour, Lionel circled back and we finished by tasting the Chateau Belair Premier Grand Cru Classe 2003 vintage (a blend of 80 percent Merlot and 20 percent Cabernet Franc).


The wine, which was more fruit-forward than their other vintages due to the hot year, was complex and refined. We rolled the supple red over our tongues coating our mouths with tannins and felt instantly elevated. We loved it so much that we splurged on two bottles at the winery's price of 50 euro per bottle.


After the tour, I peeked around the vineyards and was amazed at how manicured the grounds were compared to other wineries we had visited.




We found out that the winery, which had been owned and operated by Pascal Delbeck since 2003, had just been sold to the Moueix brothers, who own Chateau Petrus. Located just a short drive from Chateau Belair in Pomerol, Chateau Petrus makes some of the most cherished and expensive wine in the world. Click here to read about the sale in the Wine Spectator.

Our trip to the winery was part of a informative tour of Saint Emilion that we took from Caroline Feely, owner of French Wine Adventures.

Reader Comments (4)

oh man, ang, these photos are SO beautiful. no wonder you came back in such an existential tizzy. the daily view of the beltway is a little lacking by comparison.

July 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterM. C. Allan

Thanks, Carrie! It's so true about the beltway. It's great to have the pictures to remind me of one heck of a great vacation!

July 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela


Thanks so much for your sweet comments on my blog, that was really nice of you.

I am in love with your pictures from France, can I marry them? I took French growing up, but my husband has dragged me to Asia and the Pacific Rim instead... I get there some day!

I love your profile pic too. Many a person attempts to take a cute 'look how fun I am! really, I am!' picture but I've never seen one pan out until yours. I think it is adorable. It is the kind of pic where you want to meet and be bff's with the person.

Thanks again, and great blog! I hope we'll be seeing more of each other in the blogosphere.

August 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterhot garlic

I'm glad you liked the pics! France is entirely too photogenic, hence the million-and-a-half pictures I have posted here. Thanks for your insight on my profile picture. It's nice to know that it strikes the right balance. I look forward to reading more of your blog!

August 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

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