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Wine and Words in Bordeaux

April 4, 2017

Roadside walk near the village of Cars

For years while living in southern California I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books each spring. Held on the University of California Los Angeles campus for several days (this year it will be later in April), this event is a gift.

I listened to dozens of authors—including Michael Crichton, Pico Iyer, Jared Diamond, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, A. Scott Berg, Gore Vidal, Dava Sobel and even Kirk Douglas (more actor than author, but an engaging speaker). These authors who produced captivating books were available to listen to for free. Held for a few days each year, the event is inspiring.

Now in France I attend L’Escale du Livre each year in the city of Bordeaux, close to home. In comparison to the LA festival, it is small and with fewer sessions to attend. But the architecture around the location is inspiring, and enjoying lunch on a cobbled place with a few glasses of wine? Beyond perfect.

Stalls at the foot of Église Saint-Croix de Bordeaux

This event is a micro-world tour. In one stall there is French literature; the next stall includes books about travels in the Gobi desert and Patagonia, while a few feet further on are collections of recipes from the Pyrenees. There are books on travel, wine, taste, geography, romance and cooking. There are picture books and copies of ancient monograms, detective novels and surfing chronicles. This is a place to enjoy the tactile touch of paper and to appreciate opinion, intelligence and art distilled into paragraphs and onto pages.

Several stalls include books relating food and wine.

The subject of taste is a common book theme

The pleasures of wine

Last year at this event I met Gilles Berdin, author of several books of interviews with winemakers. From under the counter he pulled out an English translation of interviews with oenologist Denis Dubourdieu. Unfortunately  winemaker Dubourdieu passed away months later. This January, Gilles invited a group of us to listen to biodynamic wine guru Nicolas Joly from the Loire Valley.

This year, Gilles pulled out an English translation of another of his books published by Elytis in Bordeaux: Sharing a Bottle with Henri Duboscq (of Chateau Haut-Marbuzet). This time, together with books displayed on the table, Gilles also displayed a bottle of wine.  When we noticed it was past 11.00 a.m., he poured us une petite dégustation of this beautiful white Bordeaux blend–including Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Author Berdin (right) and editor from Elytis

I placed the book in a daypack and walked outside to Place Pierre Renaudel to sit at a covered table over a cobbled square. There with an aperitif of vin blanc I waited for tabouli followed by a lamb, eggplant and tomato sauce moussaka. Meanwhile I flipped open the book and read what Monsieur Duboscq said about tasting a good wine.

“Inhaling such a wine gets one ready for tasting, tidies up memories, invites meditation and anticipates palatal delights. Such aromas lead to spiritual ecstasy. Now, take a generous mouthful.”

Wine tidying up memories? Love it. On the next page:

“Indeed, with wine, as with love, there is no such thing as a definite truth. At best there are truths on the spur of the moment.”

Four pages into this book and I was already exposed to jewels of wisdom.

Basilique Saint-Michel

Then the next page:

“No mouthful, no bottle is ever exactly identical to the previous one. I always find this mathematical need to define wine amusing. How could one possibly define the paroxysm of pleasure?”

“For 50 years I have endeavoured to be a supplier of dreams through my wine and, if possible, a generator of voluptuousness.”

I sipped noon wine in the sunny square and then flipped to another page. Again, life and insight:

“In the glass of wine, you will thus find the miracle that thousands of rootlets extracted from the gravel, you will find faith, passion, winemaker madness, you will find this divine essence, life itself.”

This book event in a quiet portion of the city is where wine meets paper, vintages meld with literature and there may even be the coincidence of patio sunshine with a decent lunchtime vintage.

Worlds between covers

Another of Gille’s books is about ‘garage wine’ (Le Vin de Garage) produced in St. Émilion by Murielle Andraud and Jean-Luc Thunevin at Château Valandraud. Tomorrow we’ll visit there (as well as Château Angelus) to taste their 2016 wines. Also, this coming weekend will be the magnificent Printemps des Vins wine festival here in Blaye, when some 80 winemakers on 80 acres of land will uncork their latest wares for sampling within an ancient fortress. I wrote a piece for Forbes about this event.

Other recent Forbes pieces have been more about travel than wineincluding pre-history and food in the Dordogne. One piece includes a random sample of meals from 21 (out of the dozens) of winemakers in the forthcoming book The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion. Incidentally the text has been compiled. After one more day of work with the photo editor we’ll produce a draft pdf to send publishers.

Will keep you informed. As always, thanks for tuning in.

Colorful Bordeaux alleyways

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