Tips for Visiting France's Bordeaux Wine Region

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Our guide Nicolle knows a thing or two about wine. When you live in Bordeaux, it’s almost a prerequisite to have at least a little savoir faire about grapes, but Nicolle’s knowledge extends to a diploma from the Faculty of Oenology at Bordeaux University and authoring a best-selling book about wine tasting. She’s joining us today to offer some well-thought out tips on how to get the most out of your time in the Bordeaux region.

Bordeaux, UNESCO registered since 2007, is undoubtedly the world’s wine capital. It is well worth visiting along with its vineyards which are France’s largest with 60 different appellations and around 10,000 châteaux. The best way to visit is with a local wine expert to show you around ‘the best of Bordeaux’, peeking behind the scenes and to make it a trip of a lifetime.

Here are some tips from a local wine lover guide to set you on your way and give you a taste of this wonderful region.

What do you need to know? There is not a prerequisite ‘savoir-faire’ before visiting the vineyards of Bordeaux, just an interest in wines and a desire to learn more. Not only will your guide be able to give you the background behind winetasting itself, the vineyards, the different wine villages, the Bordeaux wine trade and the process of winemaking which will help to make your château visits come alive, they will also take you behind the scenes to see what it is hard to see on your own or on an average tour. Wine is about people and meeting those that make the wine gives a visit an unforgettable dimension.

How long to stay? If you can, try and stay at least 3 days; one day for the Médoc, one for St Emilion and one to spend in the beautiful Bordeaux city centre.

What to wear? Visiting the vineyards and cellars of wine properties is not a fashion show. Wine is an agricultural product and you are there to understand how it is made. Cellars are around 16°C throughout the year so make sure to bring along a light pashmina, jacket or cardigan, however hot it is. Wear comfortable shoes without high heels so you can get around without tripping.

With 60 appellations in Bordeaux which are the best to visit?
If you had to choose one, the best area to visit are the rolling vineyards of St Emilion with its beautiful medieval village founded in the 8th century by the hermit monk Emilion with its cobbled streets, steeped full of history. There are a host of attractive châteaux to visit in one of Bordeaux’s prettiest and most welcoming wine regions.

Le Bar l’Envers du Decor (www.envers-dudecor.com) is a good restaurant here, and there are many that offer simpler dishes. There is a good tour of the underground monolithic church too if you are into that sort of thing.

The other not-to-be-missed wine region is the Médoc with its magical Route de Vin up the D2 past some of the world’s most well-known wine villages such as Margaux, St Julien and Pauillac, home to some of the most famous châteaux in the world; the neoclassical Château Margaux, the fairy tale castle of Pichon Longueville and the dumpy tower of Château Latour. These are members of a prestigious club, the 60 or so Grand Cru Classé elite.

The region of Péssac-Léognan has it all (particularly if you arrive at the airport). Beautiful châteaux, rolling vineyards and the most elegant of wines. Château Haut Bailly (www.chateau-haut-bailly.com) offers a range of activities including cooking courses, a shop and an exquisite setting.

When Best to Visit?
Temperatures start warming up at the beginning of April. Avoid the ‘Primeurs’ (1st week April) and mid-June in odd years to avoid the 400,000 members of the world wine trade that descend on Bordeaux city centre.

The best time in the Spring/Summer is from around the flowering of the vine mid-May to mid-July. August is hot and it is holiday time for many though châteaux geared up for wine tourism will stay open. Most people are on holiday in the first week of August.

The first week of September is the ‘rentrée’ of the children to school and life restarts again. It is a very busy time and producers start to prepare for the harvest (dry white harvest is around this time – Péssac-Léognan, Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux Blanc). The month of September is a good time to visit as temperatures are less hot and there is a buildup of excitement before harvest.

Harvest is around start October. Producers will be very busy but it is a very interesting time to visit if you can. Many properties will not receive visitors during this time so it is best to check. It starts getting cold around mid-November so visiting cold cellars is not that much fun, but do-able if you are really into wine. While some times are better than others, it is possible to visit all through the year.

Nicolle has much more information to share – in particular about hotel and restaurant recommendations – but we’re going to save that article for another day. In the meantime, if you’re hoping to meet some of the local wine growers and design a fantastic itinerary for your time in Bordeaux, you can reach Nicolle through her guide profile page.
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