Friday, October 2, 2009

Bordeaux and Cognac

We arrived in Bordeaux at about 7pm and decided to find a place to stay for the night. We were booking some time in advance (several days) for the first few cities, but found that most places were pretty empty. It was later September, not August the big travel month. We sat on some steps in front of a café and checked the guide book and the internet. In the book, it told of a hotel across from the station. Sure enough, we could see it from where we were sitting so we headed to it and got a room. We then set out for dinner, but like La Rochelle, most places for closed. We found a sandwich shop and had a couple sandwiches. Then we headed back to the hotel and went to bed.

The next day we decided to head to Cognac, the city of the famous liquor. We got into town and decided to head to the Hennessey Distillery for a tour. We stopped at Larson, a Norwegian distillery, and looked at their cognac in impressive Viking ship bottles and got a couple small bottles to try. We strolled through town, looking at shops, and then made it to our destination. The tour was not for another couple hours so we explored some more. We found a local distillery and got to sample some of their fine cognac from 35 years, 50 years, and 70 years. Then we went on a mission to find Remi Martin and failed miserably (the signs were not helpful). We stumbled in Martell and had a look around. Then it was time for the tour.

Hennessey was an impressive distillery; very rich. The tour was amazing though. They took us across a river by boat and we went inside a room where they gave us some background on Cognac. All the grapes that go into a Cognac come from 6 small regions surrounding the town. These regions have a special climate and soil that makes the best grapes for this liquor. Then we head about how it was made. The grapes from each region are made into wine (white only) and then distilled twice. The result is a 140 proof liquid called eau de vie. This liquid is then put in handmade oak barrels where it is left to age; carefully checked by the Cellar Master. The Cellar Master is a difficult and prestigious job. There is only ONE Cellar Master for any distillery. The Cellar Master's job is to check on the eau de vie as they age, indicating when they are ready to be made into a drink, transferred to another barrel, or kept, some for centuries as they become better and better. The Cellar Master must also combine the eau de vie, from a small number to hundreds to make a Cognac. The Cellar Master tastes, on average, 56 eau de vie per day. This is a 70% alcoholic liquid. This job runs in the family for generations, passing from father to son, or uncle to nephew. The Hennessey distillery has had 7 generations of Cellar Masters, all from the same family. Training takes about 15 years, and the job lasts a lifetime.

Once the eau de vie are combined, they are put in a gigantic barrel where they are married for several days. Then the drink is bottled. There is the house Cognac which is made with the same taste for ages, then there are the new or limited editions. On the tour we got to see some of the stills. We saw the modern, current ones as well as some they used back in the day. We also got to go inside a real aging warehouse. It smelled amazing. We saw some barrels in there with eau de vie made in the 1800s. After the tour they took us back to the shop were we got to see some of their bottles and sample some of the younger cognacs.

After this we headed back to the train station where we hunted for food, but it was that time between lunch and dinner so nothing was open. We found a small restaurant near the train station that was closed, but they were very kind and made us these wonderful sandwiches for €2.40. That is one of the wonderful things about France. It's very easy to eat on the cheap. We have been eating croissants for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. Comes out to about €3 each for everything. It's very nice.

After finishing our sandwiches, we hopped on the train back to Bordeaux and fell asleep. The next morning, we took the tram into the city center and explored a bit before it was time to once again go back to the train station. The whole time we'd been in Bordeaux, we hadn't been to the city center so it was nice to see the town. We bought a nice regional wine and some more of those sandwiches and headed to the train and took off.

The wine in France is amazing, especially if you are in a region that produces it. We have found that a nice bottle can be bought for about €4-5 and if you spend €10-15, you can buy an absolutely amazing bottle. Something that would sell for $60-80 or even more in the States. We had gotten into the habit of getting cheap sandwiches and a bottle of wine and having a nice lunch on the train. It really helps the hours blow by and it's much cheaper than buying things at the train stations or on the train.

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