Bordeaux is the oldest and largest wine growing region in France. From the charming city of Bordeaux itself to the famous vines and wines of both the left and right bank, there is plenty to see, do, taste and savor in Bordeaux wine country. The appellation covers over 300,000 acres of land and hosts over 10,000 producers. However, the region is not designed to accommodate throngs of walk-in visitors at various wineries day in and day out. Instead, appointments are recommended, with the most popular chateaus requiring several weeks advance notice. The Bordeaux Tourism Office is probably the easiest way to set up an itinerary for estate tours and wine tastings, serving as the primary contact between tourists and the various chateaus. From the charming city of Bordeaux itself to the draw of the region's world class wineries, there are plenty of sites to see, wines to taste and opportunities to get your hands-on the best of Bordeaux.
The city of Bordeaux enjoys the status of being an UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a spotlight on the city's classical and neoclassical architecture. Hosting a myriad of wine related events throughout the year, the city also boasts over 20 golf courses, museums, spas, a vibrant city scene and is only an hour from the ocean. As the hub for Bordeaux's winery excursions, Bordeaux's C.I.V.B. (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux) houses a regionally-focused wine school, wine bar and can coordinate wine tastings at preferred chateau. Bordeaux Tourism telephone: +33 (0)5 56 00 66 00
The Medocaines represent one of the most interactive opportunities for visitors to Bordeaux's wine country. Comprised of four chateaus, all run by lively ladies on the left bank, that have teamed up to share a love of the region with wine travelers near and far, the Medocaines (as they are collectively called) host tourists for various wine-themed activities, workshops or seasonal harvest events. Tourists will visit two of the four chateaus and participate in everchanging, interactive workshops that might include blending sessions, hands-on harvest outings, wine and food pairing seminars or a winemaker's lunch at a one of the estates. Designed to be fun and educational, intended to demystify Bordeaux and encourage active participation in one of the world's greatest wine regions, the Medocaines have carved a unique niche in the region's wine tourism attractions. To find out more, schedule a session or see what they have up and coming, check out the Medocaines website or touch base with the Bordeaux Tourist Office. (Les Medocaines telephone: +33 556 73 17 88)
The Bordeaux wine school is conveniently located in the heart of the city, right across from the Bordeaux tourism office. Classes are offered for all levels of wine lovers, from the basics of Bordeaux's AOCs to the Grand Crus and beyond. From two hour summer classes to intensive, extended wine education programs, the Bordeaux wine school can customize courses to suit your needs, answer your most pressing Bordeaux wine questions and even get your feet in the vineyard of some of the world's most celebrated vineyards during afternoon field trips. The Bordeaux wine school promises to educate your mind and palate equipping you to navigate the region's AOC regulations, districts and various vineyards with confidence.
Located in the heart of the city, the Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery is Bordeaux's ultimate tasting bar, with personal pours from the region's top tier chateaus. Who doesn't want to taste the big names, the Classified Growths of this fabled French wine region? Showcasing the region's top wines by the ounce (in increments of 1, 2 or 3 oz. pours), visitors have the elusive opportunity to get their hands and palates around some of the world's most acclaimed wines. It's like a high-tech, wine lover's Disney World, complete with refillable tasting cards. Essentially, the tasting gallery is lined with state-of-the-art enomatic wine dispensers, designed to store and serve wines at optimum conditions. Visitors choose their wine, pop their glass under the dispenser, pay by card, press the magic button and voilà out comes a high-end wine that's bolstered the region's unsurpassed wine reputation. My most intriguing First Growth taste? An ounce of 2004 Chateau Lafite Rothschild for 35 euros. A splurge for sure!
5. St. Emilion
St. Emilion on Bordeaux's right bank is precisely what people picture Bordeaux wine country to be like. A picturesque medieval town clustered around the imposing structure of the church's belltower, surrounded by world-class vineyards, hiding a 13th century castle keep, specializing in stunning landscapes, quiet charm and unbelievable wines, St. Emilion is a must-see, must-taste Grand Cru wine region, the heartbeat of Bordeaux's Merlot-based blends. There's a saying in St. Emilion that chimes, "If your vineyard can see St. Emilion's bell tower, then you can make good wine." The majority of St. Emilion's vineyards can in fact "see" the tower and so can you with a tour of the town via the St. Emilion Tourist Information Center (telephone: +33 (0)5 57 55 28 28).
This fairy-tale chateau is owned by a husband and wife team that made an enthusiastic career change later in life. The estate is one of the largest in St. Emilion with over 80 acres, much of it planted to the traditional varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc with some fun varieties like Carmenere and Malbec in the mix. The chateau's castle was built in the 1800s with components of the wall and gate structure dating back to the 1500s. The hilltop hideaway that hosts the main buildings was also privy to the Battle of Castillon in 1453, which finally ended the Hundred Year's War. The estate crafts two labels their first wine, the Chateau Pressac, is classified as a Grand Cru and sells for $35, while their second label, Tour de Pressac sells for around $20. Hosting 4,000 visitors a year, Chateau Pressac is a stunning stop on the Bordeaux wine trail, call in advance for tours and tastings (telephone: 33 (0) 5 57 40 18 02).