Four weeks ago I boarded a plane to Bordeaux to spend four days with Sally The Cafe Cat and a team of wine specialists from Lay & Wheeler.

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As expected, I was incredibly excited to be asked to join them! A trip to France, woohoo! I had never been to Bordeaux and I had this idea in my mind of old patissiers, cobbled streets, pretty cafes and old churches, sunshine, food markets and ripe red wines at every corner. I admit it, my imaginary Bordeaux was a mix of Pinterest pictures and memories of Tuscany and Cote d’Azur.

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As it turns out, the real Bordeaux was different from what I imagined! Well for a start it’s not a small old town and it’s not always sunny and bright. It was actually quite dreary and grey for most of the time I was there, but when the sun did shine, woah it was glorious!

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Bordeaux is a big city with a large metropolitan area surrounding it. We stayed at La Tour Intendance, a small but lovely hotel right in the centre, so I could get a glimpse of city’s lifestyle.

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As well as tasting the famous Bordeaux canelés from Baillardran!

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I didn’t get to explore the city thought, as every morning we would leave by car to visit different chateaux for the En Primeur wine tastings. We drove for hours every day exploring the wine regions around Bordeaux, focusing in particular on the Médoc area: St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St. Julien, Margaux, Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes.

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One thing I learnt during this trip is that the wine regions of Bordeaux have their own appellation (which determines quality and price) and laws dictating the permitted grape varieties, alcohol levels, production methods.

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The Bordeaux wine regions cover a total vineyard area of over 120,000 hectares, which around 900 million bottles produced every year (including low and superior appellations). Overall, Bordeaux wine is made by more than 8,500 producers and there are 54 appellations of Bordeaux wine.

The finest wine estates, usually called châteaux, produce large quantities of exceptionally good and long-lasting wines. These wines are purchased as investments, since their value and price grows with age.

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Bordeaux vintage wines are ranked in importance (red wine at the top, followed by white). The top five producers are known as “first growths” (Grand Crus) based on the official classification of 1855  and they are: Châteaux Lafite, Mouton Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Haut-Brion. Various châteaux are ranked within each category in order of quality.

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Bordeaux is famous for its legendary reds – the most sought-after being produced in left-bank appellations of Pauillac and Margaux and the right-bank appellations of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. Whilst red wine represents the majority of the wine produced in this region, there are a plethora of equally high-quality white wines, from the dry styles of Pessac-Léognan to the luscious, sweet Sauternes. [Lay & Wheeler]

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During my trip with Lay & Wheeler I had the opportunity to visit some of the most prestigious châteaux of Bordeaux, places which combine tradition and history.

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Every year in the spring these wine producers open the doors of their “castles” and offer samples of the previous wine harvest (September / October 2014). They are very generous in offering wine tastings as well as lunches throughout the week, but for them it’s an investment of money they will surely get back in future purchases.

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As you can imagine, it’s a very exclusive environment and only members of the wine industry are invited to attend.

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The Lay & Wheeler team at Domaine de Chevalier (Leognan, France)

Given the large area covered by the Bordeaux wine regions, buyers who come from all over the world for a few days can’t possibly visit all the châteaux. Therefore some of the  producers get together and present their wines at big UGC tastings (Union des Grand Crus).

I have the utmost respect for wine traders now, as just the thought of tasting more 200 wines from 30 different producers – in one afternoon – gives me headache! Let alone evaluating them, taking notes and later decided which wines are worth investing on and adding to your portfolio.

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What I learnt in Bordeaux is how much of an art (or skill, if you want) wine tasting is (especially when it comes to En Primeur wines).

I know from my experience with coffee tasting that drinks have can offer a wide range of flavours and only a fine palate can distinguish between them. While  the characteristics of the a certain grape and wine are somewhat objective, taste is something subjective which varies from person to person. While we may appreciate wines differently, there are guidelines in place to define what’s good and what’s bad. The job of a wine buyer is to understand these guidelines and to be able to recognize the best wines produced every year in different regions.

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Why is choosing the best wines more difficult when it comes to En Primeur?

En Primeur is a method of purchasing wines while they are still in the barrels and haven’t matured yet. This gives an opportunity to the investors to purchase vintage wines before they are bottled (generally a year or 18 months in advance), making them considerably cheaper.

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The difficulties for the wine buyers and investors are in choosing at this early stage which wines will taste better (and sell at a higher price) in the future. For customers it’s like investing in the stock market and wine buyers are like financial advisors helping customers to invest in the most profitable products.

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Having spent three days experiencing the En Primeur week in Bordeaux, I have learnt so much about the wine industry and the important role played by wine specialists such as Lay & Wheeler. With their 160 years of experience, Lay & Wheeler are able to source the finest wines from the very best producers from classic French regions such as Bordeaux as well as Spain, Italy, Germany and New World. As they specialise in En Primeur, they can give customers access to great vintages and rare wines at the earliest opportunity, therefore at the best prices.

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Whilst I am neither someone who has money to invest in vintage wines nor someone with a fine palate for wine tasting, I am fascinated by the world of fine wines and admire the skills of wine tasters. I loved my experience in Bordeaux with Lay & Wheeler as I have gathered insights into a completely new (and exciting) world.

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I will leave you with a short film I shot during my trip to Bordeaux. It’s my first YouTube video so I hope you will like it!

For more information about Lay & Wheeler, you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Look for the hashtag #lwbordeaux to see more photos and updates from our trip. Don’t forget to read Sally’s experience on her blog: 5 Things I Learned About Bordeaux.

For travel information about Bordeaux I recommend reading Bordeaux uncorked on The Guardian.

Disclaimer: I attended the trip as a guest of Lay & Wheeler and 4PS Marketing. All opinions are my own.

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