Bordeaux is not only many aristocratic chateaux but also excellent wines and nice people
For a visitor, Bordeaux can give the impression of a very unwelcoming place: few winery tasting rooms, few signs at the big chateaux proclaiming “open for wine tasting”, no winery restaurants… And very aristocratic with all the impressive châteaux. But if you know where to go it can of course be a fabulous place to enjoy both wine and high gastronomy. On our Bordeaux wine tours we can promise you some very special experiences. We have been there a quite few times (we usually have four or five wine tours to Bordeaux each year), and written about Bordeaux both in articles and in our books for many years, so we know which doors to knock on. Here’s a story of one of the chateau we often visit.
Medoc is probably the region where you find the biggest quantity of chateaux per square meter. Surprisingly many of them can be seen from the small country road D2, also called la route des chateaux. You should however make a detour now and then to get a chance to see some others that are hidden away, out of sight from the road, Château Margaux not least.
But many of the other prestige chateaux are lined up along the way: Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pichon Baron (more or less facing each other on different sides of the road), Beychevelle, the “tower” of Château Latour, Palmer, Lafite-Rothschild, Cos d’Estournel, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Branaire-Ducru and others. If you go up and down the D2 a few times you will get a pretty good handle on the most famous chateaux.
It goes without saying that you don’t just walk up to one of these chateaux and ask if you can do a wine tasting. Or perhaps it doesn’t. Bordeaux is very different from many New World wine regions where the wineries have tasting rooms, souvenir shops and even restaurants. You don’t find that in Bordeaux. It is a much more “confidential” wine region. But if you prepare a visit well in advance, closed doors will open for you.
A visit to a beautiful Médoc chateau for a tasting and lunch can be a real experience. Especially if you are lucky enough to have lunch at, for example, Château Phélan-Ségur in Saint Estèphe. It is a prestigious chateau but with easy-going and very welcoming people. On our wine tours to Bordeaux we often plan a morning visit and lunch there.
A visit to Chateau Phélan Ségur is one of our favourite stops on our Bordeaux wine tours. The visit often starts in front of the 18th century chateau. It stands in an enormous garden with a splendid view of the Gironde. Fabrice, the wine maker, will tell you a little bit about the history of the place. In Médoc the history behind a chateau is always interesting. It often involves kings, noblemen, mistresses and bankruptcy. In the case of Phelan-Segur the strong man who built the reputation of the chateau was Frank Phelan and the owners of today, the Gardinier family, honour him by calling their second wine Frank Phélan.
After admiring the chateau, a tour of the cellar will follow. You will have the opportunity to admire the brand new sorting machine that will make it even more difficult for bad grapes to enter the fermentation tanks. There’s a lot of technological innovation going on in the wineries these days!
And then we are off to the tasting room. Everything is prepared for us, glasses, 4 different vintages of Château Phelan-Segur, spittoons (you can drink if you like of course). Fabrice explains the different vintages; we notice the evolution of the wine, see how it changes. A very instructive tasting. The quality is always high but the wine must also express the characteristics of each vintage.
We do not linger too long in the tasting room. Lunch is waiting. We start with the aperitif, a glass of Champagne which is a natural choice here at Phelan-Segur. The Gardinier family has a glorious past in Champagne as former owners of Pommery and Lanson. And the family is also passionate about food. The chateau has its own private chef and, because the family also owns two Michelin-starred restaurants – Taillevent in Paris and Les Crayères in Reims – he has done some high level gastronomic training. During the lunch this is very evident!
The pigeon de Bresse and the ravioles de foie gras are absolutely delicious. We taste Frank Phelan and a few younger vintages of Château Phelan Segur to start with and we finish with a 1995 or 1996. So by the time we reach coffee we have had the occasion to taste une petite dizaine, as they say in French, of wines from Phelan Segur.
It is a very happy and content bunch of people that leave the Chateau Phélan-Ségur after lunch.
This is just one of the things you can experience on a wine tour with BKWine to Bordeaux. You will enjoy many private wine tastings at the chateaux and fantastic meals. Take a look at the Scheduled Tours program or contact us to discuss a custom designed tour.
NB: All photographs in this article are from actual BKWine Tours visits at Chateau Phelan Segur (except the one of Chateau Latour of course).