Bordeaux Wine Trip
At 112,000 hectares of vineyard, Bordeaux is the largest AOC vineyard in France. The creation of the 6 wine routes means its easier to explore than ever
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ONE OF THE FIRST SIGHTS TO GREET A VISITOR TO THE PERMANENT EXHIBITION at La Cité du Vin is the aerial footage of some of the world’s greatest vineyards and whether you are watching Stellenbosch with the majestic Table Mountain, the Douro Valley with its precipitous terraces or Tuscany with its rolling hills, it is difficult not to get too carried away. Fortunately for those seeking to extend their vinous experience following a visit to the museum, a wine tour information desk is situated on the ground floor, offering the possibility of discovering the most emblematic parts of Bordeaux’s wine region. Managed in partnership with the city’s tourist office and Gironde Tourisme, the service includes a dedicated website for those who would like to plan their own tour. Free to browse on onsite tablets, www.bordeauxwinetrip.com highlights six wine routes which encompass key vineyards but also feature local gastronomy and heritage and suggestions on transport and accommodation. Dedicated counselors are available for advice and to book excursions which depart from the museum, maybe even one day to the regions shown in the film!
1 Bordeaux: gateway to the vineyards
No need to worry for those whose stay will not extend beyond the city; there are enough wine related activities in Bordeaux to occupy most oenophiles. To demystify what can seem a complicated subject, start with a tasting class at the Ecole du Vin or at the very least stop by its Bar à Vin which serves wine from some of the lesser known appellations including Clairet and Crémant. Part of the Urban Wine Trail, it is one of 20 wine bars dotted throughout the city, pinpointing where to taste amongst others, the wines of Bordeaux’s famous châteaux. Also included on this list is Verre Ô Vin, next-door to the Wine and Trade Museum. Both are worth a detour with the latter detailing the history of the wine trade in the Chartrons and the important role of merchants. The city’s heritage is also on the agenda during the evening port cruises departing from La Cité du Vin; the ideal way to appreciate the history and architecture of Bordeaux, washed down with local wine and oysters.
As perhaps the most famous part of the Bordeaux region, the peninsula to the north of the city known as the Médoc often tops a wine lovers list of places to visit. Home to almost all of the classified growths from 1855, most are visible whilst travelling along the D2 route de châteaux and some, such as Du Tertre and Lagrange are open for visits. Estates using the Cru Bourgeois classification are also based here, over 200 of which welcome visitors. Of the afternoon tours which depart from Bordeaux, one on Wednesdays culminates with a river cruise down the Gironde estuary and includes a wine tasting on board and at a Médocain estate before the return journey by bus. Another features visits of classified châteaux and finishes with an art de vivre experience of a leisurely aperitif.
2 Saint-emilion, Pomerol & Fronsac
Focused on the vineyards around the town of Libourne, this route includes bastide towns, medieval villages and a lot of Merlot! The limestone and clay vineyards around Saint-emilion provide a perfect expression of this grape which is synonymous with the region. Visits of the village organized by the local tourist office are a great way to appreciate the viticultural history and importance of wine and can be adapted for a younger audience. Tours of the vineyards can also be fun for children, especially if the chosen mode of transport is horse drawn carriage, tuk tuk or even hot air balloon and some châteaux, such as Soutard organize treasure hunts. Departing from the Bordeaux Tourist Office which incorporate a combination of family-owned estates and classified growths.
The rivers Garonne and Dordogne play an important part here, not least in giving the region its name. Marking the borders to the north and west, the undulating hills and vineyards slopes contribute to the Entre-deux-mers being one of the most picturesque parts of the region. Despite the hilly terrain, cyclists are regularly found amongst the vines and fortified towns, attracted by in part, a converted railway track. Many tours are self-guided advocating stopping at the Sauve-majeure Abbey and some small family estates along the way to taste the dry white wine for which the appelation is known. The sweet, golden wines of Cadillac are one of the attractions on another half-day tour featuring a visit to the château of the same name.
6 Graves & Sauternes
Credited as the birthplace of Bordeaux viticulture, the vineyards of Pessac-léognan are also the closest to the city. Visitors do not have to travel far to see vines, with Pape Clément and Les Carmes Haut-brion both located less than 30 minutes from the centre and accessible by public transport. Deeper into the appellation, estates such as châteaux Léognan and Smith Haut Lafitte have on-site restaurant meaning there is no rush to leave after a visit and almost guaranteeing they remain open on weekends. Many of the classified growth estates of Graves, such as châteaux Haut-bailly and Carbonnieux welcome visitors for a tasting of red and white wine while further south, amongst the 27 classified growths of Sauternes and Barsac, showcasing the famed sweet wine to tourists is gainingin popularity. A visit to some of these latter estates forms the basis of an afternoon excursion to the area from La Cité du Vin. Lovers of Lillet cannot forgo a stop by the distillery in Podensac.
5 Blaye & Bourg
Often referred to as the côtes, the vineyards of these areas north east of the city are on the banks of the estuary, facing the Médoc. While Blaye is well known for its 17th-century citadel, Bourg has a number of 12th-century Romanesque churches and both are associated with easy-drinking, red wines produced from a majority of family-owned estates. A tour of the walled town of Blaye completes this excursion before the return trip to La Cité du vin by boat. Those wanting to discover Bourg can enjoy a cruise up the estuary with its traditional carrelet fishing huts before disembarking for a tutored tasting at the glassfronted Maison du Vin, perched at the top of the town. Touring both areas by electric bike is also a popular activity as is being a harvester for a day.
Sunny day at Saint-emillion.
Wine bar La Ligne rouge.
Walk near Fronsac.
Remains of the Sauve-majeure Abbey.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Martillac.
Blaye and Bourg-sur-gironde by the paths.