How to Prioritize Your Bordeaux Wine Experience
Bordeaux is France’s largest and arguably most famous wine region. Winemaking dates back to the ancient Romans, and there are a number of excellent wine-producing areas, all easily accessible from the city of Bordeaux. Four of them are particularly popular, with private and nonprivate tours available.
We strongly recommend taking a tour, since driving can be confusing and most of the chateaux require reservations, sometimes way in advance. Try to avoid the big bus tours; several tour operators offer private or small group tours, which will be a more intimate experience.
How you prioritize which wine region(s) to visit depends on the time you have. Many visitors to Bordeaux only stay a day or two, which isn’t sufficient to explore all of the wine regions.
Here is how we recommend you prioritize your Bordeaux wine experience. It’s a little different from what you may expect, but our wine tour guides corroborated our ranking.
Bordeaux Wine Area Background
About 85 percent of the wines grown in Bordeaux are red wines, which are then blended. The predominant grapes are Merlot (66 percent of production), Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, but Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Carménère are also used. The major white wine varietals are Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. A few chateaux (wine estates) produce rosé and sparkling wine. The wines on the left bank of the Gironde Estuary are mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, and on the Right Bank they’re Merlot, since the soils are so different. Some Bordeaux wines can age for many years. Wines from Bordeaux are some of the most expensive in the world.
In 1855 the chateaux of Bordeaux were classified into different categories at the request of Emperor Napoleon. The region has strict, somewhat confusing rules about classification.
There are about 5,500 wine growers in the region, 65 percent of which are family-run affairs with an average size of 49 acres. Many of the big, elite chateaux are in Medoc, on the Left Bank. Origin is very important; a chateau may be producing great wine, but if it’s not perfectly located its wines may have a lower classification (and cost considerably less).
Where to go if you have only one day: Saint-Emilion
About 25 miles east of the city of Bordeaux, the Saint-Emilion wine region is a popular day trip wine destination. The wines are wonderful, and many of the tours also offer a chance to explore the charming village of Saint-Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The chateaux in this region vary from Chateau de la Dauphine (just outside the actual Saint-Emilion appellation, so it’s one of those places where the wines are great but cost less), to 16-hectare Chateau Coutet, which has been in the same family since 1784, to Chateau Rol Valentin, another “value” chateau which operates five different vineyards in different appellations.
We had a very nice small group tour of the Saint-Emilion region with Rudolphe of Ophorus Tours.
If you have another day: Graves and Sauternes
For a different Bordeaux wine experience, head over to Graves and Sauternes on the Right Bank for white wine. Sauternes is a subregion within Graves; its microclimate produces sweet wines, with humidity perfect for the fungus Noble rot, which concentrates the amount of sugar in the grapes.
Some of the chateaux in Graves and Sauternes are very old, such as Chateau Suduiraut, which dates back to 1580, Chateau Cerons, whose building dates from the 17th Century, and the world-renowned Chateau d’Yquem, which dates back to the 1400s and whose sauternes were enjoyed by Thomas Jefferson.
We had a great private tour with Xavier of 33Tour Bordeaux & Chateaux.
If you have a third day: Cognac
While technically Cognac is a type of brandy, I’m ranking this region third since it’s very interesting and different. A little more than an hour north of Bordeaux, There are over 200 Cognac producers in the region, such as Rémy Martin, one of the oldest and largest Cognac producers, and family-owned Tesseron, which has several eaux-de-vie for blending dating back to the 19th Century. Xavier was also our guide on this wonderful tour.
If you have one more day: Medoc
I know that some would disagree with me and say you should visit Medoc first or second because it’s home to so many elite chateaux and less than an hour from Bordeaux. But honestly a lot of the elite chateaux in Medoc are not open to the public; at most you can swing by for a photo op.
That being said, it’s still an interesting Bordeaux wine region and worth the trip, and of course the wines are very good. Some of the chateaux that offer wine tastings include the innovative Chateau Dauzac, Chateau La Tour Carnet, whose first harvest was in 1409 (and where one can stay overnight), and Chateau Siran, family owned since 1859, but whose history is much older.
We had a great tour with Luigi, also from Ophorus.
We hope you find these suggestions helpful on how to prioritize your Bordeaux wine experience! Keep an eye out; we’ll be delving deeper into each of these regions in future posts. Please feel free to contact us and share your own Bordeaux wine experience.
Have any suggestions or feedback? Don’t hesitate to send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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