Birthday Bash in Beautiful Bordeaux!

9 February, 2011

Well happy 2011!

To make up for a lack of blogging last year, I promised myself that this year I would blog every adventure that we go on.

So here goes…

As most of you know, January 20th is Cath’s birthday, so we try and have a mini adventure to celebrate her big day.

This year we decided to go to Bordeaux France, to see what its all about.

As a kid, Bordeaux seemed to be a very exotic place, where cheese eating, striped top wearing bicycle riding French people living in giant chateaux making garlic necklaces and the most expensive wine in the world. I definitely hadn’t ever seen or drunk any of this famous stuff, and I didn’t know what “Bordeaux” was, or why it was so special, but probably thanks to the movies and British TV shows, i knew it just was!!!

But then after cutting our teeth on new world wines in Australia and New Zealand (and a glass or two of Brasilian wine to give us some perspective), and nearly 8 years living in England , we did get to drink some Bordeaux wines, and after the easy drinking, bold flavours of the new world wines, there really wasn’t enough (to my uneducated palate) to make me bother with Bordeaux wines, but with prices so high, and all the hoopla that goes with great bordeaux we thought we should go and check it out.

Now first for those who haven’t visited some background on Bordeaux:

Bordeaux is here:

They have been growing wine in Bordeaux since the about 48AD, and the English liked the wine (known as claret in England) so much that in the 12th century thanks to the marriage of Henry Plantagenet and Aleinor d’Aquitaine, the region became part of English territory and they established a free trade zone between England and Aquitaine!

There are 60 appellations that make up the region of Bordeaux, some of them (like Margaux and St Emiliion) are really no bigger than a standard kiwi farm, others like haut medoc are pretty decent sized. One of the chateaus we visited explained that 1 hectare of land in a good appellation planted with grapes generally sells for about €1,000,000!!!

The châteaux don’t actually sell their own wine, they sell all of their output to a “negociant” or wine merchant who then sells it on their behalf, this is believed to be why many chateaux still don’t sell any wine at their vineyard door, or in neighbouring shops or wine stores, one staff member told us that they don’t even know who their customers are, as they have no contact with them!

Bordeaux isn’t having an easy time at the moment, exports are falling (in 2004 sales to the USA fell 59% and in the UK, Australia has overtaken France as the largest importer), so they are trying to reduce the glut in Bordeaux, removing about 10% of the grapes to try and recover the price.

A traditional Bordeaux bottle doesn’t actually tell you what it contains, just the chateau that made it, the classification (ie how fancy it traditionally is) and the appellation (or region within Bordeaux) where it was grown, whether or not it was bottled at the chateaux (lots of chateau’s now share trailer based bottling plants, allowing them to share the bottling plant between their chateau’s)!!!, and the vintage.  It is now believed that this complex naming convention is hurting their export sales as almost all of the rest of the world now gives the consumer what they want, the grape variety, the region and the year!

So i hear you scream!  “what is a Bordeaux wine?”

It’s normally a blend of at least a couple of the following varieties: Cab Sav, Cab Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.

* thanks wikipedia!!!

Whites are also grown in smaller amounts including Semillon, Sav Blanc and Muscadelle (generally blended to make a sauterne).

So armed with all small bit of knowledge we headed off for the weekend to Bordeaux, we flew into airport and picked up (very optimistically) a fiat 500 convertible  – hoping that we could get some cold crisp winter sunshine!

The first thing to realise is that its very different to visiting vineyards in the new world, first most of the chateaux* are closed for the winter, then they may only open on weekdays, not weekend, then if they are open (many don’t accept visitors), then if they do accept visitors, you need to book ahead, (our hostess told us of people who arrived 4 minutes late and were turned away)! Then once you get in the door, you cant just taste the wine, you need to do a tour first, as you can imagine the visible parts of the wine making process is exactly the same in every place, so after the first tour there isn’t much to keep up the interest up – except the wine at the end!! Even after you have tasted some of their wines, they may still not actually have any for sale, so if you liked it, you cant buy any at the cellar door, and the wine maker may not even be able to tell you where you could buy it, because they are not involved in the selling process – its an amazing set  up!

But I have to say our host’s at the chateaux we visited were all very accommodating and very well informed on their product, so they made the trip worthwhile. Plus even though it was the off season, we still ate at some amazing restaurants and set a new record for consuming foie gras three times in 48 hours!

* double thanks wikipedia for teaching me that chateaux is the plural of chateau!!!

So here are some snaps from our trip:


It was cold, clear and really really windy!

It’s a bit quiet around here (wandering around the village near Château Lynch Bages in the appellation Pauillac)

Really quiet around here!!

They really don’t make wine like this anymore, but stainless steel tanks don’t make such great photos..

Sadly they no longer press the grapes with their feet in these large trays either, they use a whiz bang motorized presses instead!

Barrels and barrels in the cellars – each one containing approximately 300 bottles of wine!

The biggest most beautiful chateau we saw, reminds me of the house i grew up in back in Nelson!

Us at Château Giscours in the appellation of Margaux – not only is this place stunningly beautiful, it has a cricket oval and really friendly staff!

French oak barrels, apparently american oak is not held in high regard here!

Our chateau for the weekend, Chateau Beau Jardin our hosts Jean and Michele were totally awesome!

Grapes growing, you can see nicely rounded river stones poking through the thin layer of soil…

Just in case you thought all the houses were grand chateaux, here is one very cute little cottage

But, some of the chateaux were truly amazing!

Winding our way through the villages of the left bank!


Thats all for now folks!


Venice Carnival 2010

2 April, 2010

After enjoying Carnival 2008 in Rio de Janeiro:

Carnival in Argentina

Then escaping Brazil for Carnival 2009:

Carnival in Rio

For Carnival 2010, we decided it was time to sample a European Carnival.

So with Ana, Piero, Deb and Robert-Michael we headed to Venice to celebrate Carnival 2010 at a masquerade ball.

Now we were all masquerade ball novices so we didn’t really know what to expect, we attended a ball at  Luna Hotel Baglioni:

Hotel Luna Baglioni

A bit of research quickly showed us that you could literally spend as much as you wanted on a ball – from around €150 per person for the evening to well into the €1,000’s of Euros!! Our ball was in the lower middle of the price range, but included a live performance of Opera to start the evening, performers during the evening, a buffet meal and most importantly all we could drink and dance!!!

But the big question was, would anyone actually dress up for the ball?

Perhaps coming from the southern hemisphere, we were a bit sceptical about dressing up, sure we wanted to – but we didn’t want to be the only ones there who did! In the end we figured that with the seven of us dressed up it wouldn’t really matter if anyone else did, so we went ahead and found our costumes.

We looked at costume hire in Venice and were literally blown away at the prices – most hire places we contacted were asking around €400 for a costume, so after a bit of research we found out that for the men, the minimum was a mask, black suit, bow tie and a cape, so we boys agreed to go with that option and to hire our capes in London (for about £30 each)! The girls also found their outfits in London, so we packed up our costumes, wigs and masks, jumped on various planes and met up in Venice.

Looking back on it now, and seeing the amazing costumes that were available in Venice, if we went again we would probably try and scrape together enough cash to hire a costume from Venice, the elegance of the outfits, with matching shoes and stockings, the beautiful luxurious wigs and amazing masks that people hired in Venice certainly put our costumes to shame – but heh, you live and learn!

So here we are cruising into town on Friday night in a beautiful water taxi, RM took the mask theme to the extreme, and he wasn’t seen without a mask the whole time we were there!

Now, Venice is always beautiful, here are some snaps we took on this trip, that hopefully give an impression of the beauty of the city:

Please admire Gregs new top hat, not quite sure when he will ever wear it again!

But Venice takes on a whole new angle when the streets are full of carnival goers, it really is totally surreal:

So we wandered around the city all day Saturday, marvelling at the beauty of the masks and costumes on display

You literally never knew what was going to be around the next corner, including this rather scary group who we were walking silently through the city:

We got ready in our apartment and with an amazing lack of fuss and time, suddenly we were transformed and ready to go to the ball:

We walked across Venice to the hotel, it was about 20 minutes walk and it was pure fantasy, crowds of carnival dressed people filled the city admiring each others outfits as they passed and having an amazing time.

Here we are at the start of the evening, before the opera started:

Straight after this photo was taken, we were approached by a Spanish television crew who were making a show about carnival and the next thing you know, Piero and Ana were doing an interview in Spanish for the show, while we non Spanish speakers sat around like very well dressed extras!

We then sat down and watched the opera, for us it was our first experience of opera, and it was very nice to see it in such a small intimate venue. It was a very pleasant way to start the evening – especially combined with a bellini cocktail or five!

We then moved into the ballroom, which was just amazing, from our research we saw that a lot of the balls in Venice are held in conference centres or new hotels, but the nice thing about our hotel was that it was seriously old, with a beautiful ballroom covered in frescos with chandeliers and portraits, and as you can see below full to bursting with people dressed in the most beautiful costumes:

So we settled in and made the most of the evening, apart from a near brawl with some very hungry elderly Austrians who tried to push into the food queue, the evening was perfect, we quickly made friends with our waiter who spent the whole evening sneaking jugs of bellinis to us and dancing with the girls!

As a group of seven we were the largest group in the ballroom and we were obviously having a ball of a time as people were constantly coming over to join us, talk to us and comment on how stylishly we moved after we performed a group moon walk up to the buffet for desserts….

But seemingly suddenly, the evening was over (it was  actually after 1am), the ballroom was empty except for our group, the DJ and the waiters clearing up the tables, so we headed off home, exhausted, happy and wonderfully over dressed!