Bordeaux, Cognac, and Viking Forseti
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
The sun was shining this morning in Bordeaux as we were given the chance to sample Viking River Cruises brand-new Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary.
One week in duration, the Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary sails both the Gironde and Garonne rivers and includes port calls in Pauillac, Blaye, Libourne, Cadillac, and extended time in Bordeaux at the end of the itinerary.
Today, guests could participate in a vineyard tour to learn about Bordeaux wines, or choose to take part in an overland journey to Cognac to learn about the region’s eponymous drink. Talk about being given a tough choice!
I chose to celebrate the joie de vivre with a visit to Cognac. That I am a huge fan of the spirit didn’t hurt, either, but our 1.5-hour motorcoach journey across the French countryside was an unexpected bonus. Picturesque and ever-changing, it’s worth it to take excursions on this itinerary that involve a long coach ride just to admire the scenery.
Our entire nine-hour excursion revolved around CAMUS (pronounced cam-ooo), the family-owned company that has been making Cognacs since 1863. Today, we’d get to meet two generations of Camus men: Jean-Paul Camus, who became a Master Blender in 1977; and his son, Cyril Camus, who has served as President of the House of CAMUS since 2003.
Making a great Cognac is easy. All you need is a great-grandfather, a grandfather, and a father who have done it before you.
We began first with a tour of the House of Camus, which Jean-Paul expertly guided us around. It’s a picturesque property that was constructed in three stages spanning two centuries, and its elegance and grandeur have been kept up to this day. It also functions as a luxury boutique property as well for those interested in Cognac retreats.
Aside from the grounds – which are inspiring – it is the interior of the house that pays homage to the CAMUS legacy. In fact, the massive stained glass dome is featured on the packaging of some of the company’s fine Cognacs, and the house’s profile pops up frequently in packaging and marketing materials.
From there, we journeyed to Restaurant La Ribaudiere, where Michelin-starred Chef Etoile Thierry Verrat treated us to a four-course lunch paired with different blends of CAMUS Cognac. The delectable menu:
Tasty tart of marinated grilled tuna and crazy relish | Camus Ile de Re Fine Island Cognac Double Matured (served frozen)
Sea Bass with cream of cep mushrooms and Jarnac black truffle puree | CAMUS Ile de Re Fine Island Cognac Double Matured (at room temperature)
Panna cotta dome of orange and passion fruit with Cognac CAMUS Borderies XO granite | Cognac CAMUS Extra Elegance
I’ve had full degustation menus before that have been paired with wine and even Scotch, but a Cognac pairing was a first for me and it was immensely enjoyable (how could it not be?).
The Ile de Re Fine Island Cognac served frozen was a surprising touch. It’s distinctly different from its room temperature counterpart and would actually make a wonderful aperitif in its own right.
Another thing to consider for those who are coming to the region – or even to France – for the first time: indulge in the food. Even if you don’t know what it is, even if you’re not entirely sure about it, dig in. This is how I discovered years ago that I love truffles, and the Jarnac black truffle puree served with our sea bass at lunch was beyond mouth-watering.
All of this took place in the bright and airy dining room of La Ribaudiere, within sight of the beautiful blue skies that bathed the French countryside in sunlight. Also notable was that Cyril Camus came to personally greet the group, despite just having arrived from Shanghai only hours before.
From there, though, we embarked on our most special experience: the chance to become a Master Blender – at least, for an hour or two!
At the Camus Workshop, we were guided through the gorgeous facility to a room filled with cask after cask of crus, bordered by a long table. Here, with four glasses in front of each position, we stood and participated in a tasting of four different crus that we would use to make our blends.
There are six crus, all of which are based on their geographical characteristics. Today, we’d be sampling and using Fin Bois, Boise a Terroirs, Petit Champagne, and Grand Champagne.
The lightest blends – referred to as the most feminine – feature a lighter taste with stronger notes of framboise, or raspberry. At the other end of the scale, Petit Champagne and Grand Champagne are considered to be the most masculine; smoky, dense, and something that pairs nicely with a cup of black coffee or a cigar.
So did I know what I was doing when I made my very own “master blend?” Not really – but under the expert tutelage of our on-site Master Blender, I think I at least have a fighting shot at having a decent cognac in three months’ time, when my very own 50cl bottle will have matured and mixed enough to be able to be poured.
Back onboard, we had another spectacular dinner aboard Viking Forseti. I have always been impressed with Viking’s onboard meals, and none have disappointed. The menu is not enormous – nor should it be. But there is a menu of options that changes daily, accompanied by the customary “Always Available” selections like chicken breast and Caesar salad.
Tonight, we were treated to a wine tasting at 11pm with Susie Barrie, one of the honorary Godmothers of this year’s Viking Longships. Not only was it one of the best wine tastings I’ve ever had onboard a ship, each wine was paired with a selection of cheeses that almost rivaled the wine itself. What’s more, nearly everyone aboard Viking Forseti was in attendance, making for a fun and enjoyable evening. Barrie really, really, knows her stuff.
France is a country that I fell in love with long ago. I like the wine – too much, perhaps. I like the cheese – also too much. But what I am left with whenever I visit this fascinating country is a feeling that people here not only enjoy life, but they know how to enjoy it. In Blaye this evening, there were men sitting out on the terrace of the local café playing cards. Others still were drinking vin rouge and admiring the setting sun. Couples were out walking hand-in-hand.
If you’re reading this from North America, consider this: when was the last time you saw someone playing cards at café? Or reading a book?
When people think of France, Paris probably springs to mind first. But the Bordeaux region should be at the top of everyone’s list, if only for the amazing truffles, wine, cognac and seafood the region has given the world.
Let the Vikings act as your guides. You won’t be disappointed.
Viking Longships Christening 2014
|March 17, 2014||Avignon, France||Arrive Marseille and transfer to Avignon. Embark Viking Heimdal.|
|March 18||Avignon, France||Viking Longship 2014 Christening Ceremonies in Avignon.|
|March 19||Bordeaux, France||Disembark Viking Heimdal & transfer to Bordeaux, France. Embark Viking Forseti.|
|March 20||Bordeaux, France||Scenic cruising & sightseeing in Bordeaux|
|March 21||Porto, Portugal||Fly from Bordeaux to Porto, Portugal. Tour & overnight stay onboard Viking Hemming.|
|March 22||Porto, Portugal||Sightseeing in Porto.|
|March 23, 2014||Porto, Portugal||Onward journey home|