Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Tips for Visiting Bordeaux

Tips for Visiting Bordeaux
Mike Lynam's Tips for French Travel

Mike Lynam and his wife spent a month in France. After some meticulous research, they rented an apartment in Paris for three weeks then went to Bordeaux for a week before returning home.

Last week a customer who was on her way to Bordeaux asked for some ideas, and he put together these tips, and we decided that they would be perfect for the newsletter. And, just remember while Bordeaux is very welcoming, it's not Napa and most Châteaus don't have a "Hospitality Staff."


Getting to Bordeaux from Paris:

The best way is to take the train (by TGV its only a couple of hours), but you can rent a car and drive if you have the time and are adventurous. For our travels in France, we found the rail travel to be excellent, and we have booked through to avoid having to buy our tickets at the train station. The best advice I have is to travel light…some of the train stations do not have convenient elevators or escalators, and dragging heavy suitcases up and down stairs is a pain. Also, baggage space is limited on trains, and you have to handle your own bags.  

Accommodations in Bordeaux:

We used the typical search engines to look for a hotel in Bordeaux and found a small boutique one located right in the city center through Expedia. I can recommend the Best Western Premier Hotel Etche Ona. We were pleasantly surprised…nothing like the typical Best Western, and location, location, location!

The city of Bordeaux is a beautiful place, especially the city center and along the Place de la Bourse. There are numerous cafes, especially around La Place de la Comédie and the Grand Théâtre. Beautiful at night, good for walking. City center parking is a problem, but the tram is very convenient, and you can get an Uber or taxi.

Unfortunately, our itinerary didn’t allow time for us to over-night in Saint-Émilion, so I can’t recommend a hotel there. And I didn’t get to spend much time in the town, but what I saw was really special—like the cloisters and abbey church, the bell tower and place de l’Eglise. Both the upper and lower parts of the town are so beautiful! There is a wonderful tourist office there with all kinds of information about the town and region, and I think they may even have walking tour maps.    

Figuring out which Châteaus to visit:

Chances are you already have a list of all the famous Premier Crus places you want to visit. As they say in France "Bonne Chance!" If there are specific ones you want to visit, I would begin by contacting them through their websites.... or hire a driver with connections. It’s great to be able to say you visited Château Margaux (and you should); but there are so many smaller, lesser-known Châteaus that will welcome you with a much more intimate and memorable experience. I would recommend contacting your hotel to see if they can recommend and connect you with Châteaus they know will provide a great visit. Many will not only do tastings but can provide lunch or dinner. Some even provide accommodations. I would also recommend checking the Cité du Vin website and visiting the museum.

I have to be honest: I didn’t have to worry about which Châteaus to visit. My visit was not as a general wine enthusiast, it was an educational program through a négociant that sells wines to one of our suppliers, and they scheduled the visits and tastings to present the Chateaus they represent.    

Getting around:

Châteaus in Bordeaux are spread out. Bordeaux, the city, is beautiful; but you have to get out of the city to visit Chateaus. Renting a car is the least expensive way to go, or you can hire a driver. Just be aware that many of the roads are small and winding, and not all that well marked; so if you rent, get a good GPS. Also, the legal limit in France is .05. Since we were there to taste wine, I didn’t want to worry about driving or trying to figure out how long to allow to find my way from one Château to my next appointment.

So, we opted to hire a driver. It is expensive…but how many times will you ever be in Bordeaux tasting some of the best wine in the world; and do you want to say “no thanks, I’m driving” when the Château owner offers you one more taste? Costs for drivers vary depending on what you want to do, and how much service you want; but it can be up to 400-500 Euro/day. Hiring a driver will really help if you don’t know which Châteaus you want to visit, or want to get access to the most prestigious ones. I can highly recommend Paul is the owner; and Radouane, our driver was fantastic. He was extremely knowledgeable and provided so much information about the region as he chauffeured us all over Bordeaux and down to Cahors.
The Chateaus

Here's a list of the Châteaus I visited…and you may be able to contact them via the internet if you are interested in any of them. I honestly don’t have any personal “pull” that would help with any of them, but feel free to mention that your Wine Guy from Grapevine Cottage in Indiana visited them last June with Aquitane Wine Company (they are the négociant that supplies us with these wines) and he was impressed enough to recommend them to you. Who knows? It might help!:

1) Château Laribotte…in Sauternes. A fairly small producer of sweet (and some dry) Sauternes wine. It is a family estate dating to 1855, located at the edge of the town of Preignac (40km south of Bordeaux). We have their wine in the shop. The classic pairing is Sauternes and Foie-gras.  The best foie-gras is supposed to be from the Dordogne Region, so Bordeaux is a great place to have it.

2) Château Margaux is a Classified First Growth Margaux, very beautiful and prestigious. Worth a visit if you can get a time scheduled.

3) Château Meyney Saint-Estèphe. Ann and I had dinner there and spent the night. It is one of the oldest estates in the Médoc and was a monastery constructed in 1662. It is not a classified growth, but there’s a long story about why they were not classified in 1855, even though flanked by Château Montrose (2nd Growth) and Calon Segur (3rd Growth). They produce several different wines, but all are Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blends and have earned 91-93 points in Wine Advocate, Spectator, etc. I don’t know if they do public tours or tastings.

4) Château Mongravey Margaux Cru Bourgeoise. About 22km south of Bordeaux city. I don’t necessarily recommend a visit here—there isn’t much historic to see, but the Château Mongravey Margaux wine is excellent. The winemaker is Karin Bernaleau, and she really knows her stuff!

5) Château Lalande. Appellation Saint Julien Contrôlée, near the village of Saint-Julien-Beychevelle. Usual blend is 55% Cabernet  45%Merlot. The same family owns Château du Glana and they share the same winemaking facility at Lalande. It’s a nice estate with a huge barrel room; but not particularly “quaint”.

6)  Château Angelus, First Growth Class A, Premier Grand Cru Classe B, Saint-Émilion. I would highly recommend a visit to this Château. Here you can even hear the angelus, rung at dawn, midday and sunset from all three of Saint-Émilion’s churches. It’s a beautiful winery and makes two highly sought after labels: Angelus and Le Carillon.

7)  Château Saint-Andre Corbin, Appellation Saint-Georges Saint-Émilion. Located in Bordeaux’s smallest appellation just north of the village of Saint-Émilion, it dates back to Gallo-Roman times. Owned by the Saby family, now 9th generation winemaker brothers manage it and several other Saint-Émilion properties. Award-winning wines; usually 70% Merlot 30% Cabernet Franc. Their website outlines their various properties and tour/tasting options.

8)  Château Tournefeuille, Appellation Lalande de Pomerol. Lovely estate from the mid-18th century. In the commune of Neac, close to Château Petrus. Usually 90% Merlot 10% Cabernet Franc. They use cement tanks for vinification and then age 12 months in French oak. Owned by Emeric Petit, who also owns Château L’Ecuyer in Pomerol and Château La Reverence (Grand Cru Appellation Saint-Émilion). I believe they do tastings/lunches/dinners and have accommodations.

9)  Château Coutet, Appellation Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. Owned by the same family since 1537, now in its 14th generation. Totally organic, and totally devoted to the biodiversity of the Château. It was one of the most interesting Châteaus we visited….I believe they do tours 10 Euro for 1hr 45min, or 5 Euro for 45min. Both include cellar tasting.