It took a whole class devoted to one of the most celebrated and controversial fine wine-producing regions in the world. It took a Google Earth satellite view of the myriad territorial delineations of départements and côtes. It took a really friggin' expensive bottle of wine. But I finally got it.
I'd been waiting for this moment. I've tried Bordeaux before, but couldn't quite understand the hype. I felt like the odd one out - yeah, it's a Bordeaux. So what? Why were people willing to mortgage the farm or offer up their first-born children for a mere soupçon of the stuff?
Quelle dommage - clearly I wasn't drinking the right Bordeaux.
When my nose probed the depths of the Martialis de Fourtet 1998 AC Saint-Emilion Grand Cru before me, I got a hint that this was what everyone was talking about. 'Complex' doesn't even begin to justify the layers of aromas that issued forth. Every drop was dark chocolate, plums and nutmeg, with a sensual, cozy-fireside warmth from the inside out. Soft, well-rounded tannins, with a long, silk finish.
As if the reds weren't enough, we got to try a Sauternes, too, that nectar of the gods, my kryptonite when it comes to sweet wines. The Château Lamothe 2005 AC Sauternes had a burnished gold colour and leggy thickness, overflowing with mouthwatering aromas of apricot and clover honey. Creamy, slightly oily texture, with hints of ginger on the tongue and a succulent, syrupy finish. Fantastique.
In between the sighs of ecstasy, there was a lot of learning going on. There are 57 appellations in Bordeaux alone. FIFTY-SEVEN. (Mercifully, we don't have to memorize all of them.) The geography lends itself to the name: "bord de l'eau" - by the water. Flanked by the Garonne, Dordogne and Ciron rivers, and the mighty Gironde estuary. The history is wrought with revolution, tyranny, scandal and elitism. The complicated AOC system and social politics of ranking wines has caused its share of uprisings, blackballing and temper tantrums. And that's before the wine has even left the country.
So much to know ... so little wine ...