Fancy visiting the vineyards of Bordeaux? Here are a few tips of where best to go and what not to miss out on from Nicolle Croft, food and wine guide for over 25 years in Bordeaux. Slow to start there is a wealth of wine experiences to join in now on offer in and around the wine capital of the world.
When best to go? The châteaux are open all year (except between Christmas and the New Year). May, June and September are the most popular months to visit. Most châteaux stay open in the summer months of July and August but are worth checking.
- To Avoid: the first week of April (when most châteaux are closed due to the future’s tastings ‘primeurs’).
- Mid June in odd years as the giant wine trade fair ‘Vinexpo’ is on and the châteaux are busy with that.
Is it possible to visit at the weekends? Yes there are some great châteaux open at the weekends on both the Right and Left Banks but obviously the choice is more limited than in the weeks. Right Bank: Châteaux Siaurac (near St Emilion), Guadet, Beausejour Bécot (Saturdays only in season) Left Bank; Châteaux Pontet Canet, le Tertre, Giscours, Lynch Bages, Lanessan
How to organise the visits? Visits are organised in advance in Bordeaux. Contact the châteaux email (on their website) giving the number of people the day and the language required. www.winetourbooking.com is also a good site which makes it easy to book.
The Tourist Information in Bordeaux has a great map of the wine region and brochures with lists of châteaux that are open for visits. Each wine region has its own tourist information and Maison du Vin.
Or you can hire a private guide like me! (Nicolle Croft see Tripadvisor) for the low-down on the background information, gossip, politics, more personal behind the scenes view and how to get off the beaten path!
Visits include the vineyard usually, the winery, barrel cellar and tasting is at the end of usually one or two wines. They will also give an account of the history of the property and philosophy of the current owners. (The tour does not usually include the inside of the château building itself). Cost of visits range from 8€ to 25€ for a private visit. Stipulate if you would like a private visit, not all châteaux offer this option and only do group visits (around 8 people maximum). They last one to one hour and a half.
The GPS coordinates and full address with contact number can be found on the property site. Make sure that you are on time. Make sure that you allow plenty of time to get from one property to another. Visit no more than three châteaux per day and plan a place for lunch.
Recommended wine restaurants in the vineyard regions – Left Bank: Café Lavinal, near to Pauillac, Restaurant les Bons Temps, near to St Julien Right Bank: La Terrasse Rouge Brasserie at Château la Dominique near to Pomerol/St Emilion, L’Envers de Decor in St Emilion, La Table de Château Siaurac, Néac near to Pomerol/St Emilion
Is it possible to buy wines at the châteaux? Some offer sales of their wines but this is rare and you need to ask. They tend to be more expensive than wine shops but if they do sell they offer a good range of vintages difficult to find elsewhere. Wine shops (avoid those inside the village of St Emilion) will organise shipping around the world and there is a 20% reduction on the price of the wine if you ship outside the EU (as you do not pay the French VAT).
Best shops at châteaux (wines and wine accessories); Château Prieuré Lichine, Margaux, Château Haut Bailly, Pessac Leognan, Château Léoville Poyferré, St Julien, Château Lynch Bages, Pauillac (in Bages Bazaar)
What to wear? Comfortable flat shoes and smart casual. In the summer months remember a shawl/pashmina as the difference in temperature with the outside and the cellars (often underground in St Emilion) can be large.
Other fun ways to get around the Vineyards of St Emilion; By Bike!The St Emilion Tourist information will provide you with detailed maps and planned cycle routes. Or Segways! (Château la Renomée). Get a bird’s view of St Emilion’s vineyards in Hot Air Balloon (la Ferme du Ciel) Get close to the vines on Horseback (à Terre à Cheval, Néac)
Where best to go? There are two main areas to visit in Bordeaux which both produce a different style of wine. Both are around 45 minutes from the city of Bordeaux. They take a day each to visit. They are two very different styles of wine and area to visit.
- RIGHT BANK – (Pomerol & St Emilion)
Landscape – pretty region of undulating hills around the medieval village of St Emilion
Style of Wine – red soft fruity style with mostly Merlot (80% with 20% Cabernet Franc)
Soils – clay and limestone mostly History – dates back to pre-Romans nearly 2000 years ago, medieval village founded in 8th century Style of Property – small family-owned, châteaux are lived in by the family, few grand buildings Average Size of Property – 8 hectares Off the beaten track – Fronsac, Castillon, Côtes de Bourg, Blaye, Côtes de Franc
Accommodation at the Châteaux – Siaurac, Richelieu (Fronsac), Franc Mayne, Troplong Mondot
Recommended Châteaux to visit : Pomerol – Beauregard, Petit Village St Emilion – Coutet, Beausejour Bécot, Canon la Gaffelière, Figeac, Pressac, Guadet Special Mention : Château Siaurac offers a fabulous meal in the château itself prepared by their star chef from local produce accompanied by three wines of the family a top Pomerol, St Emilion and lalande de Pomerol. Upmarket Bed & Breakfast rooms. Cooking classes.
- LEFT BANK – Haut Medoc (Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac, St Estephe)
Landscape – very flat peninsular with ‘water on both sides’ (Garonne River/Gironde Estuary and Atlantic Ocean) but has its own charm. 60km from Bordeaux up to Pauillac (passing through Margaux and St Julien) along the D2 route de châteaux
Style of Wine – red more powerful style with more Cabernet Sauvignon (on average 65% with 30% Merlot and dash of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot)
Soils – shallow gravel hills History – relatively recent as it was swamp and was only drained in the late 1600s by the Dutch Style of Property – large 18th century grand châteaux that are not lived in, many now owned by institutions Average Size of Property – 35 hectares (but the famous are more like 100 hectares). Off the beaten track – Haut Medoc, Moulis, Listrac
Accommodation at the Châteaux : la Tour Haut Carnet, Beychevelle, le Tertre
Recommended Châteaux to visit : Margaux – le Tertre, Lascombes, Marquis de Terme, Brane Cantenac, Palmer St Julien – Branaire Ducru, Gruaud Larose, Lagrange, Leoville Poyferré Pauillac – Pontet Canet (biodynamic), Lynch Bages, Mouton Rothschild St Estephe – Lafon Rochet, Phelan Segur Haut Medoc – Sociando Mallet, Agassac, Paloumey Special Mention : At Château Paloumey you can blend your own wine and do a barrel tasting of the same wine from different oak casks from several French oak forests
Other Regions to Visit on the Left Bank:
The Graves: historic region to the south of Bordeaux with a superior sub-area of Pessac Leognan close to Bordeaux. Undulating landscape and grand historic châteaux. Red wine with half Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in its gravel soils. Also white wine with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Recommended Châteaux to visit : Haut Bailly, Carbonnieux, Smith Hauty Lafitte, Chantegrive
The Sauternes: this is the most famous sweet wine region, an hour to the south of Bordeaux. If you like more freshness look for Barsac. There are many less known but excellent value alternatives; Loupiac, Cerons, St Croix du Mont, Cadillac.
Recommended Châteaux to visit: de Malle, Rayne Vigneau, Barsac – Climens, Coutet Cérons – de Cérons