Friday, June 17, 2016

Experiencing Bordeaux in Books and Movies

When I travel, I like to learn as much as I can about the place I'm visiting before I go. A fun way to do that is through books and movies. Here's a collection of fiction and non-fiction books and movies I'm interested in reading and watching before I visit Bordeaux in 2017. (I'm assembling a group to go on a tour, and we still have spaces available. Email me if you're interested!)

I've marked the ones I've read or seen (*) and added a personal review, and I'll update this post as I make progress on the list.

Non-fiction books (wine, travel, and history)

Intoxicating Southern France: Bordeaux & Dordogne Spotlight, by PJ Adams
Part travel guide, part history, part memoir.

The Road from the Past, Traveling through History in France, by Ina Caro
A driving tour of France from Provence to the Loire Valley, passing through Bordeaux. Focuses on historical sites.

*The Billionaire’s Vinegar, by Benjamin Wallace
The story of several now-infamous bottles of Bordeaux which may or may not have been owned by Thomas Jefferson.  The investigation uncovers massive levels of wine fraud of old bottles at the highest levels of wine collecting.  Suspenseful, fun to read, and covers many areas of the wine world – from history, to auctions and collecting, to storing and tasting.  I loved reading it, and a film version is in pre-production.

Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, by Donald Kladstrup
The story of how winemakers partnered with the French Resistance to protect France’s vineyards and wine from pillaging by the Germans. Hailed as a “non-fiction historical thriller” that’s accessible and fun to read while covering lots of information about World War II.

Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution, by William Echikson
The story of the modernization of the production and marketing of Bordeaux wine in the last few decades and the impact of global economics.  (Noble rot refers to a fungus involved in the making of Bordeaux’s finest dessert wines.)

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, by Alison Weir
Biography of a woman “renowned in her time for being the most beautiful woman in Europe, the wife of two kings … [and] one of the great heroines of the Middle Ages.” Mother of Richard “the Lion-Hearted,” she was at the center of the battle between England and France for the region of Aquitaine, which includes Bordeaux.


Adventures on the Wine Route, A Wine Buyer's Tour of France, by Kermit Lynch
Described as “colorful” and “irreverent” and recognized for its descriptions of cuisine and countryside.

A Vineyard in the Dordogne: How an English Family Made Their Dream of Wine, Good Food and Sunshine Come True, by Jeremy Josephs
The story of the challenges an English family faces when they buy an old chateau and vineyard outside of Bordeaux and attempt to begin a new life and run a successful winery.

Bordeaux wine reference books

The Essential Guide to Bordeaux Wines, by the Bordeaux Wine School
Covers the essential information about Bordeaux’s history, chateaux, wine trade, grape blends, and food pairings.

*The Finest Wines of Bordeaux, A Regional Guide to the Best Chateaux and Their Wines, by James Lawther
This super reference book and overall handbook for Bordeaux covers history, winemaking, and vintages, but the bulk of the guide is made up of profiles of Bordeaux producers and descriptions of their wines. It's also a great buying guide and includes value-priced recommendations.

Fiction:  Novels

A Bordeaux Dynasty, by Francoise Bourdin
A family saga revolving around the family’s vineyard in Bordeaux.

The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce (aka Bordeaux), by Paul Torday
By the author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.  Novel about a rich young man who falls in love with Bordeaux and the world of wine.

Fiction:  Mystery/Thriller

*Treachery in Bordeaux, by Jean-Pierre Alaux
A novella, first of the “winemaker detective” book series which inspired a French TV series. I found it thin on mystery, but it includes some good descriptions of Bordeaux and the surrounding countryside, along with plenty of interesting technical information about winemaking. The TV show is better than the book…see Blood of the Vine below.

*The Vintage Caper, by Peter Mayle
By the author of the bestseller A Year in Provence and A Good Year. This wine heist mystery travels from Los Angeles to Bordeaux to Provence. Don't expect a thriller, but do expect a well-written story with good descriptions of French cities, French food, and French wine. This is a quick an enjoyable read.

*Deadly Slipper:  A Novel of Death in the Dordogne, by Michelle Wan
First in a series of mysteries set in the small towns and countryside to the east of Bordeaux. The main characters are an orchidologist and an interior designer who are thrown together to solve the mystery of a missing sister, and orchids are a clue. This novel has an intriguing mystery and well-drawn characters. It also gives you a feeling for the landscape, food, and communities in this region. I enjoyed reading it, and I may read the subsequent books in the series (there are 3 more).

Death in Bordeaux, by Allan Massie
Crime novel set in the 1940s, starring a police detective and depicting the impact of World War II on Bordeaux.

The Bordeaux Connection, by John Paul Davis
Modern-day thriller set in the UK and France.

Bordeaux: The Bitter Finish, by Janet Hubbard
Second in the series, the first being Champagne: The Farewell. Mystery starring a female bodyguard who is protecting a famous wine critic. Depicts Bordeaux society and has lots of discussions of fine wine. (I read Champagne and found it to have a serviceable mystery plot, but it was not particularly well written. I'm still planning to read Bordeaux though.)

Fiction:  Mythology

Huon of the Horn, by Andre Norton
A 1950s adaptation of a very old Charlemagne legend, originally translated into English in 1534. It has been described as a lesser medieval adventure in the vein of the Arthurian legends or the Song of Roland. "A tale of that Duke of Bordeaux who came to sorrow at the hands of Charlemagne and yet won the favor of Oberon, the elf king, to his lasting fame and great glory."

Fiction:  Historical Romance

*Practical Widow to Passionate Mistress, by Louise Allen
Historical romance set in the 1820s(-ish) in Bordeaux. -- Now that I've read this, I know that it really doesn't deserve to be on this list. It begins in Bordeaux, but the main characters leave for England right away, and the rest of the book takes place there.

Documentary Films

*Red Obsession (2013)
Examines the Chinese love for Bordeaux wine, which has had a huge impact on the global wine market. I really enjoyed the film and wrote a full review here. It's currently available to stream on Netflix.

Movies about or set in Bordeaux

You Will Be My Son (Tu seras mon fils) (2011)
Set and filmed at an actual working chateau in St. Emilion (right bank of Bordeaux), this drama is about a chateau owner who decides his son should not succeed him in running the business. The actual vineyard workers appear in the film. This article has more information about the filming. Available to stream on Netflix.

*Blood of the Vine (2013)
French TV series based on the "Winemaker Detective" series of books mentioned above. In French with English subtitles. I've only seen the first episode so far, but I really liked it. The oenologist uses clues in the wine to help the police solve the case, and you get to see quite a bit of the city of Bordeaux and the surrounding countryside and vineyards. I will watch more of this! It's currently available to stream on Amazon.

*He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not (2002)
A dark romantic comedy starring Audrey Tautou. In French with English subtitles. I don't want to talk abut the plot because of possible spoilers, so I'll just say that this film has an intriguing twist that makes it unpredictable, and I liked it. It is set and shot in Bordeaux, but it doesn't showcase the area aside from a few street scenes.

Goya in Bordeaux (1999)
A biopic of the artist Goya told from the perspective of his last years when he lived in Bordeaux.

*The Lion in Winter (1968)
King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), "engage in a battle of royal wits that pits elder son Richard (Anthony Hopkins) against his brothers, while the cunning King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton) takes advantage of the internal fracturing in his bid to destroy their kingdom." Set in 12th century Britain, a key point of negotiation is Eleanor’s land holdings in Aquitaine, the French province that includes Bordeaux. The film won an Oscar for Hepburn's performance and for the screenplay.

I really enjoyed watching this. It gives you a snapshot of history from the personal perspective of the characters. It's based on a play, which you can tell from the verbal sparring. And if you like verbal sparring and wit, you will love this, because sharp dialogue is the defining feature of the film. It is dizzying. Of course the acting is also superb.

Movies set elsewhere, but filmed in Bordeaux

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
Most of the film was shot in Germany, but Bordeaux was used for some of the city scenes of early 19th century Europe.

*Queen Margot (1994)
"The film’s famous St. Bartholomew Day massacre scene was filmed in Saint Michel and Saint Pierre, the city’s oldest districts, whose narrow, winding streets and medieval buildings are perfectly reminiscent of 16th century Paris, where the real massacre occurred."

Vidocq (2001)
An action/crime/fantasy film where Bordeaux stands in for early 19th century Paris.

*Valmont (1989)
Bordeaux also stands in for Paris in this romantic drama directed by Milos Forman and based on the same novel that inspired Dangerous Liaisons and Cruel Intentions. Features a young Colin Firth!

Second Chances (Nos Retrouvailles) (2012)
Uses Bordeaux in a contemporary setting. (I can't find any region 1 DVDs or streaming sources for this one...)

Thérèse (2012)
A drama starring Audrey Tautou which was filmed almost entirely in the Gironde region of France, near Bordeaux. Tells the story of a provincial housewife in the 1920s who wants to escape her marriage.

La Révolution Française (1989)
A 2-part history of the French Revolution filmed in Bordeaux.

*Highlander (1992-1998)
In this TV series, Bordeaux stands in for Paris, where Duncan MacLeod lives on a houseboat in the Seine.

This article adds some perspective to Bordeaux as a filming location.

You may also be interested in:
Tour Bordeaux with a French Wine Scholar
Sorting Out the Names: A Brief History of Bordeaux
Wine Infographic: French Wine Cheat Sheet

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