ABOARD AMADOLCE-This is the first full day on my “Taste of Bordeaux” cruise aboard AmaWaterways’ AmaDolce, taking me on the Garonne and Dordogne rivers to some of the greatest wine regions of France—and the world. There would be wine lectures and seminars led by Christopher Silva, CEO of the St. Francis Winery in Sonoma, California. And lots of tastings, of course.
Though the AmaDolce is not a new ship, this is a brand new itinerary, in response, I’m sure, to the increased market interest in culinary and wine travel experiences. (The AmaDolce was built in 2009– the last of the company’s small ships, designed to comfortably navigate the rivers of France.)
To ease some of the aches and pains of traveling for many hours in a plane seat that was surely not designed for my comfort, I visited the small but attractive spa for a relaxing massage. I was pleased to see that the prices were quite moderate compared to those on many/most seagoing vessels: a 60-minute massage was priced at 60 Euro (a half –hour was half that much).
My afternoon tour started with a visit to the Sauternes region, along the Garonne River and its tributary, the Ciron. Our bus passed the legendary Château d’Yquem, where some of the world’s finest and most expensive Sauternes (a bottle of the 1811 recently sold at auction for 85,000 Euro) are made. As we were not invited into château, we continued traveling till we reached the Château Guiraud, where we were warmly welcomed and enjoyed a tasting of the highly sought-after sweet wines produced here.
Next, we traveled to the amazingly preserved Castle of Roquetaillade, a masterpiece of medieval military architecture, originally built by Charlemagne as his army advanced toward the Pyrenees. The castle was later rebuilt in the 14th century by the noble family who still lives there after 700 years. The entire structure was restored and transformed between 1860 and 1870 by architect Viollet-le-Duc, who famously restored Notre Dame de Paris.
One of the highlights of our tour was the castle’s kitchen, which featured a large cooking island that looked remarkable modern and was vented underground, rather than through a chimney. There were scores of copper cooking pots and implements that were dazzlingly shiny. Our guide explained that once a year, the lady of the castle called all her friends, who then spent the day cleaning and polishing everything in the kitchen.
Back on the ship, Christopher Silva led the “ZINTASTIC! Zinfandel Component Blending Seminar.” After tasting and discussing some of Sonoma’s best single-vineyard Zinfandels, we were all invited to blend our own versions of “Old Vines” Zinfandel—just as a real winemaker would do. I tasted the results of my first try at winemaking and decided that my blend was even better than the one produced by the St. Francis Winery. CEO Silva probably didn’t agree.
Dinner was an exercise in gluttony, as future dinners probably would be—but isn’t that part of the fun of a river cruise devoted to food and wine?