Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Bordeaux Wine Festival

Relaxing in the sun at Fete le Vin

Every two years, Bordeaux plays host to wine lovers from near and far for Fete le Vin, a 4 day celebration of wines throughout the region. Each installation of the festival is co-hosted by another world city, this year being Los Angeles. I didn't travel to Bordeaux specifically for Fete le Vin - it happened that we were there during that time by coincidence, but it's definitely something to consider if you enjoy wine, consider yourself a wine expert or would simply love the opportunity to learn more about French wines.
I was a little intimidated by the idea of a wine festival, simply because I wouldn't ever consider myself to be an expert on the subject, but I must report that Fete le Vin is anything but scary for novices like myself. I have always operated on the idea that one should drink the wines they like and failing that, it's not the worst idea to choose the one you like the look of when none are familiar. It's worked for me in the past and it worked for me at the festival! The people are friendly and enthusiastic about the wines they're representing, many of them being part of the family who produces the wine if not an employee of the winery. I was brave enough to ask my questions, no matter how stupid they might've been and was greeted with warm, smiling faces and clear, helpful answers. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about the Bordeaux wine region. 

Fete le Vin is a great way to spend the day, although you may not opt to spend the whole day there. For €20, you are given a passbook with wine tasting tickets, a wine glass and carrier, a public transport ticket for the day and several discount vouchers. The festival goes on over the course of 4 days so we actually bought 4 passbooks for the two of us to use over the course of the festival… We weren't able to use all of the vouchers, but it did allow us to go back and enjoy the wines we'd loved from the day before. The wine tasting tickets are specific about which wines you can taste, however you're also given a few wild card tickets that allow you to taste another wine in a tent you've tried already or go back and try your favorites again. It's hot in Bordeaux in the summer, so hydration and sunscreen are key if you're attending the festival during the day. I recommend spending a few hours during the day at the festival, finding shade where you can and then heading away from it to one of the many restaurants for a dinner break. You can then head back towards the Palais de Bourse for the light show and fireworks after a good meal. Alternatively, if you're busy during the day, I recommend perhaps visiting after the mid-day sun has softened, say around 3pm and staying for the evening.

Hollywood Walk of Fame Replica

Entertainment is a big part of Fete le Vin with a mini-music festival featuring outdoor concerts on in the evenings at an additional cost. Tickets to the concerts are sold separately. With LA being the co-sponsor this year, there was also a small film festival showing an on-going schedule of classic Hollywood films for free outside. This year's films included The Artist, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Sunset Boulevard and Grease. Also for entertainment is the light show every evening at the Palais de Bourse followed by an incredible fireworks presentation over the river. The light show features music and projections across the Palais de Bourse telling the story of Bordeaux, the wine industry and the relationship between the city and its sister city co-host. At the wine festival during the day there was some live music, barrel rolling, an exhibition, a literary exhibit featuring works about local wines alongside works by local authors and more. Classes and tastings as well as tours to vineyards are available to book at additional cost for festival goers as well. In short, there's plenty to enjoy whether you're a wine enthusiast or not.

Want some cheese with that wine? Why yes, I do!

There's no shortage of food available at Fete le Vin. Vendors come from far and wide to sell their delicious treats such as oysters, charcuterie, cheese, sausages, gelato, foie gras, burgers, steak frites and more! A restaurant was also on the premises, though I didn't try it and it seemed that everywhere you turned there was something delicious and new to try. My favorite culinary treat was a van that sold little paper cones full of cheese slices and Iberico ham slices. Who doesn't love charcuterie and cheese with wine? I found both the method of serving and the quality unbeatable. I also ate gelato or sorbet on both days I visited the wine festival to cool down properly in the heat of the French sun!

Favorite wines!

Of all the wonderful wines we tasted at Fete le Vin, our favorites were Blaissac and Malesan, fondly enough both from the same tent. Blaissac was my absolute favorite because of its subtle smooth flavor and strawberry sweet aromas. I've been trying to get my hands on a bottle since I got back to London, so if anyone has any tips, do let me know.

Sculpture made from wine corks with one image visible up close and a larger picture visible from afar.

The overall atmosphere of Fete le Vin is very welcoming and enjoyable. Not far from where the main action takes place is the Water Mirror, where kids can splash and paddle. The whole festival is rather family-friendly and many people brought their children along. Though the restrooms are sort of far apart from each other, there are plenty to handle the crowd and leave very little in the way of waiting. They're also free. Souvenir shops are available and if you spill wine on your shirt, the t-shirt stand is never too far away. You'll also find plenty of information booths filled with friendly, hospitable people eager to help you enjoy your experience as much as possible. I highly recommend a trip to Bordeaux any time of year, but the Fete le Vin is special. It won't be on again until 2016, so mark your calendars… It's not to be missed!
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