If you’re looking for tour guides in the wine regions of Bordeaux, chances are you will run across the name Dewey Markham, Jr. The expat from New York who has lived in Bordeaux for the past 23 years literally wrote the book on wine in the region. His 1855: A History of the Bordeaux Classification is an award-winning treatise, and his Wine Basics has been a standard for beginners since it was first published in 1993.
When I saw that our Crystal Symphony cruise ship was offering a tour with Dewey Markham, Jr. I quickly and excitedly booked it. The tour would leave from the port in Bordeaux and wind its way north through the Médoc region. The Symphony would follow a similar route, traveling along the Gironde Estuary, picking us up in Le Verdon before heading out to the Bay of Biscay.
As soon as we stepped onto the tour bus, I knew we were in for a treat. Dapper, delightful and distinguished, Dewey greeted us with a warm smile and an air of confidence that immediately made me feel like it was going to be a special day. As the bus pulled out of the parking lot, he turned around to face our group, microphone in hand, and began a fascinating commentary that lasted all the way to our first stop. He talked about his journey from New York to France and his days as a culinary student. He talked about the history of Bordeaux and its regions and the changes he has seen. And he talked about wine. With incredible passion.
All About Bordeaux
Dewey said there are three characteristics to look for when tasting wine: Sweetness, acidity and tannins. He said that trying to identify all of the flavors in a wine may be fun, but that the only thing that really matters is whether or not you like the taste:
“Watch how long the aftertaste lasts. That’s a good wine.”
He explained that a typical Bordeaux wine visit includes a walk through the vineyards – weather permitting – followed by a tour of the vat house and barrel cellars before the actual tasting. Growers are extremely proud of their vineyards, he told us, and they want guests to see where the grapes are grown and how they are vinified. Dewey also recommended booking an appointment and hiring a guide, especially if there are châteaux you specifically want to visit. I definitely got the impression that Bordeaux is not a pop-in kind of place!
Before long we were on the main “wine road” in Médoc called D2. Bordered on the east by the Gironde Estuary and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, the Médoc is a peninsula with flat land and gravelly soil that creates a natural drainage system critical for growing grapes.
Our first stop was Château Dauzac, an estate of almost 300 acres in the Margaux appellation – the geographical indication used to identify where grapes for a wine were grown. Château Dauzac traces its winemaking history to the mid-1500s, with its elegant mansion built in the 18th century.
We were greeted by sommelier Caroline, who – just as Dewey had said – began our tour outside. It had been raining off and on, and the sky was threatening once again as we walked by the beautiful vineyards.
We toured the Chateâu Dauzac vat and barrel rooms before tasting three wines of different ages and blends.
Next on the itinerary was a photo stop. Even if the name escapes you, nineteenth century villa and wine estate Château Margaux is instantly recognizable. Our bus parked along the main road, giving us a chance to enter the grounds on a lovely tree-lined path. The trees seemed to have been planted in perfect symmetry, acting like a receiving line for the stunning mansion. We were the only group there, and I was thrilled we had taken the time to stop.
As we continued our journey through Médoc, Dewey continued his commentary. He went into great detail about the wine business, soil conditions, appellations and vintages, punctuating the end of each lesson with, “Make sense?” He was so earnest in his desire for us to understand Bordeaux wines that I found myself taking more notes than I ever had on a travel excursion! But what I loved most was that at the heart of all his wine expertise was a simple message: It’s all really pretty good. You have to find what you like, what you enjoy.
“There are really no bad vintages. There are good vintages and great vintages. The Vintage of the Century is the phenomenal one. The stars lined up, the sun shone, the rain fell.”
Our final stop was Château Loudenne, a 154-acre, 17th century pink chateau that sits along the banks of the Gironde in the Haut Médoc appellation. Château Loudenne has an almost magical, old-world feel, with vineyards that seem to spill down to the river and roses and poplar trees mixing with rustically charming architecture.
After the tour, we were taken to a lovely reception room that seemed more like a French country home than a tasting facility. At one end was a blue-tiled cooking area and dining table that must have seated at least a dozen people. At the other was a tasting table in front of a stone fireplace. And in the middle was another table, filled with platters of local meats, cheeses and breads for our group to enjoy with the tasting.
The informal tasting offered time to linger and explore the grounds on our own. The setting along the river was serene and picturesque and a wonderful way to end our visit to Médoc. It would soon be time to meet our ship in Le Verdon, but for the moment we were immersed in the backdrop of a pink chateau and rich green vineyards and the taste of delicious French wines and cheeses.
* * * * *
Sadly, Dewey Markham, Jr. passed away on November 3, 2021. (See Comment below). It is my hope that this post will serve as a small tribute to this wonderful person who had a profound impact on so many of us who were lucky enough to have crossed his path.