There are basically two ways to get to Bordeaux. You can fly to Bordeaux International Airport. Or you can take the train. Both are good but I prefer taking the train. Even if you live outside of France taking a train is a good choice. It only takes some three hours on the train from Paris and there are even trains directly from the Charles de Gaulle Airport. Three comfortable hours on the train, or lugging your bags around airports. Easy choice.
The train also takes you directly into the centre of the city of Bordeaux. Arrived in Bordeaux I hop on a tram and go to my hotel. Usually when I go wine touring in Bordeaux I stay in the city centre and make day excursions to the wine districts.
Bordeaux is such a beautiful city that it is absolutely worth exploring it when one comes to Bordeaux. It is one of France’s most elegant cities. I usually stay in one of the hotels close to the Opera, either by the Place de Quinconces or close to the Place Gambetta. Between the two you have the Old Town as well as the main shopping district.
My first day in Bordeaux I go north, to the Médoc. The Route des Chateaux, more mundanely route départementale 2, certainly deserves its name. I cannot think of any other place – anywhere – with so many beautiful and magnificent chateaux. Everyone who has read a wine book or even just a magazine article on Bordeaux will recognise the wineries.
On my way north I pass many famous names. It starts with Margaux, with of course, Chateau Margaux. A small detour off the main road takes me in front of the main gate, gilded. It almost feels incongruous when, while I am standing admiring the building, in the same style as the Opera in the city, an old vineyard tractor drives past the gate and to the winery building to the left.
Chateau Palmer, Chateaux Cos d’Estournel, Chateau Lascombes, on the right Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and just in front, on the left, Château Pichon Baron (that recently shed the “Longueville” in its name), Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Cantenac Brown, etc, etc. Almost the only one missing is Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. But Mouton actually does not have a proper chateau. There is a villa, not quite on par with a chateau, and it is hidden away behind bushes.
I am heading towards the very end of the main part of the Medoc, to Chateau Phélan Ségur. Had it been not so remote from the city, it is likely that it would have been high on the list of chateaux ranked in the famous 1855 classification. It is said that the then owner thought it was too far to travel when the 1855 classification was being prepared so that he did not bother to participate. The current owners no doubt regret his laziness.
We start with a tasting of four different vintages. It is interesting to compare the vintages. In a tasting like this, with relatively young wines, the so-called lesser vintages often show very, very well; fruity, charming, balanced, expressive and delicious. Perhaps they won’t keep for 30 or 40 years like a “great” vintage. But who wants to wait for 30 years to drink the wine anyway?
The chateau has also invited us to lunch so we continue to the dining room. It is with great anticipation that I sit down to the meal since the chateau owners also own two Michelin-starred restaurants, so the chef at the chateau is well trained! Indeed delicious, with a few more vintages. Older. From magnums.
Next day takes me in the other direction, to the region between the rivers, Entre deux Mers. As an appellation Entre deux Mers always signifies a white wine. In reality they also make a lot of reds, but then it is called Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur. I have an appointment with Estelle Roumage.
Like quite a few other winemakers here in the Entre deux Mers, Estelle is young and ambitious. And has recently taken over the running of the family vineyards. The wineries in the E2M are more often family run businesses than in the prestigious Medoc. That, in a way, makes it much more interesting to come and visit the E2M. You meet the winemaker and often even the owner. That rarely happens in the Médoc.
Estelle has promised us an exciting morning. We will do a “blending workshop”, blend our own wines from three different grape varieties, merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon aged in oak barrels. It is surprising how big difference small changes in the blend can make.
My third day in the Bordeaux vineyards is on the “Right Bank”, Rive Droite. Saint Emilion and Pomerol are the most famous names here.
The one thing I make sure not to miss is a walk in the medieval town of Saint Emilion. It is best to avoid it in top tourism season (August), but now in October it is charming. They have a very strange underground church (l’Eglise Monolithe). Worth a quick look, of course, but the restaurants, cafés, and wine bars look much more interesting… But I end my day with that, after a few winery visits.
My first Saint Emilion winery visit is at Chateau Franc Mayne. Jacques Guillot takes us around the wine cellar. It includes a tour of their impressive underground caves that were once a lime-stone quarry and is now a sound-and-light display on the region. It comes as a surprise when we emerge from the underground grotto and come straight into the tasting room. Jacques has lined up several different chateaux for us to taste, one of the benefits of visiting a wine estate where the owners have more than one chateau!
The Bordeaux wine tour is over. It is only too soon time to go back to Paris. Once again, by train.
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