There are perhaps two things in particular that will surprise you when you come on a wine tour to Bordeaux. First: All the chateaux that you have heard of are there and they are almost side-by-side like town-houses along the road. Second: That these famous chateaux are only a very small fraction of all that is happening in Bordeaux. There are also lots of delicious wines and very affordable wines, not only exclusive rarities.
Travelling along the route des chateaux, road of the castles, through the Médoc is an experience like few others in the wine world. If you want you can bring a list of all the famous “classified” chateaux and tick them off one by one. After a journey of an hour or two north you will have covered quite a few from your list.
For many wine lovers, this is a dream trip. If you want to realize that dream you can come on our autumn wine tour to Bordeaux.
First you arrive in Margaux. Chateau Margaux will actually require a small detour to see. 500 meters to the right, off the route des chateaux. It is just as it looks on a picture. Behind a gilded gate. Chateau Palmer, Chateau Giscours and many more are located along the road. In the village of Margaux itself there are several.
A few kilometres further north, in Saint Julien, the road makes a sharp bend and squeezes between the Chateau Beychevelle and Chateau Branaire Ducru. One wonders how it was once upon a time when the chateaux were inhabited by families. Did they go up to the gate and wave to each other across the road? Ducru Beaucaillou, Gruaud Larose, Léoville Barton…
It goes on and on all the way up through the Medoc.
Some of the oddest things you will see are probably the two Pichon-chateaux in Pauillac. To the right is the Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (in short Pichon-Lalande) and on the left side of the road lies the Chateau Pichon Baron (formerly known under the more noble name Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron). A long time ago these were a single property, but it was split in two to make room for two sisters.
But why did they build the chateaux 200 feet apart? Pichon Baron is probably the most fairy-tale-like chateau of all in the Médoc. Or is it Pichon Lalande?
There are a few other surprises too. For example: Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, the most famous of the top first growths. It actually does not have a chateau at all. It has a small villa that may be considered a stand-in for a proper chateau. Or Chateau d’Armailhac that is only half. Yes, really. Only the left half of the chateau was built. Did they run out of money?
The story of its name is also remarkable. It has been renamed several times, following the owners’ whims: Château Mouton-d’Armailhacq (1750-1955), Chateau Mouton Baron Philippe (1956-1973), Ch Mouton Baronne (1974-1978) and Chateau Mouton-Baronne- Philippe (1979-1988)… The same chateau, the same wine.
Today some of these chateaux have risen in price so much so that you hardly even dare to think of drinking them. They do have an important role as marketing locomotives and as collectibles for the world’s wealthy. A bottle of one of the top chateaux can cost several thousand dollars today. For one bottle.
But all these famous names, they actually represent no more than a few percent of all the wine made in Bordeaux.
One could say that the “real” Bordeaux, that’s everything else. And the fact is that many of the “other” chateaux, those who are not part of the more than 150 years old classification, they make just as good wines. For less astronomical prices.
This is the second amazing part of Bordeaux, which you also will discover when you come here. There are, for example, a chateau located just north of Pauillac, in Saint-Estèphe, that in the 1800s, when the classification was made, was owned by a man who thought it was too far to travel to the city of Bordeaux and submit papers for the application to the classification, so he ignored it. Therefore the wine is not classified even though today it stands up well in quality against most of the top-rated chateaux. And instead of several hundred euros, a bottle is just over 30 euro. Pretty much on par with a good amarone, and then you get a top chateau from Bordeaux.
What it’s called? Well, I really should not talk about it… But OK, Chateau Phelan Segur, a chateau that we usually have on our itinerary. (Not least because they tend to greet us with one of Bordeaux’ most delicious lunches when we come!)
But “the other Bordeaux” is much more than that.
For example, “the other Bordeaux” makes magnificent white wines, dry white wines, elegant white wines. At one time they made more white than red wine in Bordeaux. Today, white wine production has dropped to around 10%. A great loss. So, on our wine tour we will showcase some brilliant white wines too.
“The other Bordeaux” is also excellent wines in a very modest price range, made by small family estates where often the whole family is involved in wine production. The fact is that Bordeaux is an excellent hunting ground, aka wine region, to find very affordable wines for between 10 and 25 euro. Why you rarely see those abroad? Because production is small, the wineries are small, and then it is difficult have international distribution. But there are exceptions. Sometimes you can also find these treasures in a shop near you.
It is when you meet these people who are the owners of the chateaux or the winemakers that you really understand how it works in Bordeaux. The behind the scenes. Understand a little bit more of the craftsmanship required to make wine. And understand the passion with which all this is made!
(Psst: one more tip that I should really keep to myself: Chateau de France in Graves-Pessac-Léognan that makes exquisite both red and white.)
It is all this and much more that we will show you when you come on a wine tour to Bordeaux with us. Book now!