Bordeaux; is there a wine region more famous anywhere in the whole world? Drained by the Dutch and then ruled by both the English and the French, Bordeaux now stands alone in the world of fine wine; you only need to look around at the number of 'Bordeaux Blends' in the world to see the impact this region has had on other wine-makers! The largest producer of quality wine in the entire of France, trying to get to grips with the region is a life's work, with over 60 different sub-regions and over 6,500 individual producers! Yet for all the glamour and pomp of the major Chateaux and their gorgeous imagery and historical buildings, there's a lot of value here, and a lot of wines that need to be dug out of niche shops if you're ever to find them.
As always, there's nothing quite like visiting the region to get a real grip on it, and in the case of Bordeaux, to see beyond the points scores and famous names. Namely, the city itself! Stunning architecture, restaurants galore and a few very special little wine bars and wine shops, a touch off the well-trodden path... Whilst Bordeaux has made a special name for itself in the world of wine, there's a lot to do here for everyone. On a recent trip we got to know the city well, and we've put together a quick guide for future wine lovers visiting the area, as well as some more general travel tips!
Needless to say, you're going to be a little bit spoilt when considering where to visit in Bordeaux! Home to literally thousands of producers, you could spend every single holiday here for the rest of your life and never get to them all. So, rather than point out the obvious, we thought we'd give you some hints about top quality producers you've never heard of before, in some of the lesser known sub-regions. After all, you can buy classed-growth Bordeaux anywhere in the world!
The Region – Listrac
On the left-bank of Bordeaux, surrounded by some of the regions most coveted and famous names, lies Listrac. Further away from the Gironde River and elevated by some 40m, this under-appreciated appellation is home to some outstanding value, with a little more Merlot planted than customary on these cool, clay soils. The names of the Chateaux here are unlikely to be blazoned across the front covers of the Wine Spectator anytime soon, yet we found ourselves constantly drawn to the cool-fruited, rustic nature of the young wines and the savoury completeness of older vintages. One producer in particular, stood out...
The Winery – Chateau Fonreaud
This charming chateau dates back to the 17th century, although the current buildings were reconstructed in the 1850s. Currently ran by the Chanreau family, the focus here is entirely on quality, with a level of detail in the winery that you wouldn't normally expect to see outside of one of the great estates. Better yet, unlike so many of the grand producers in Bordeaux, Chateau Fonreaud is a family home and it was lovely to see daily life going on around our visit; as it should be!
The Wine – Chateau Fonreaud Gran Vin
Whilst Chateau Fonreaud produce a broad selection of wines, including an unexpectedly engaging white, their flagship wine is the pride and joy of the estate, and rightly so! An almost equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with just a touch of Petit Verdot, the younger wines are full of ripe blackberry fruits, green bell pepper and toast, whilst the older vintages have all the leather, tobacco and graphite that immediately transports wine lovers to this one part of the world. The 1996 was superb and better yet? These wines are supremely affordable. Get to know one of Bordeaux's lesser known gems and pay them a visit! Make sure to contact them in advance through their contact page
The Region – Entre-Deux-Mers
Quite literally 'Between Two Seas' or rivers as is the reality, this pretty, green region accounts for the majority of production in Bordeaux. However, without the gravel soils of the left bank or the consistent clay and limestone of the right bank, much of the land here is used for volume production and is home to many of Bordeaux's co-operatives. However, there's also pockets of beauty from a wine perspective amongst the 1000's of producers, and it's been our pleasure to discover just a few of them! One in particular really stood out for us...
The Winery – Chateau Boutillon
Chateau Boutillon is a hidden gem of a producer; 3 generations of vignerons tending the green, sustainably farmed vineyards and processing the wine inside their 18th century family home. Today the estate is ran by Anne-Sophie, the newest generation and already the momentum can be felt, pushing towards greener practices in the vineyards and more freshness in the wines, as well as introducing a particularly special cuvee...
The Wine – Cuvee Luigi
This wine, created by Anne-Sophie in memory of her grandfather Luigi, showcases some of the very best of what Entre-Deux-Mers can offer. 100% Merlot, fleshy, round and yet still full of energy and verve; very different to the structure and tannic bite of the right-bank. Yet for all that, it remains both affordable and, importantly, in excellent balance. One to hold for a few years, but certainly one that doesn't need lots of ageing to show its best. Merlot is back! To contact Anna and Chateau Boutillon, use their contact page.
The Region – Sauternes
South of Bordeaux lies some of the worlds most hallowed grounds for sweet wine-making, in the form of Sauternes and Barsac. The specific meso-climate of Sauternes allows for warm air from the Gironde to meet with the cooler air from the smaller Ciron river, creating remarkably misty mornings. The result? Noble Rot. This fungus pierces the skin of the Semillon grapes and allows the sugars, acids and flavours to concentrate in an utterly unique way.
The Winery – Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey
This famous estate isn't exactly off-the-beaten-path, but is such a remarkable experience that it would be a mistake to leave it out! Dating back as far as the 13th century when it was used as a fortress, Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey couldn't be more different today! Home to some of the regions most highly prized Sauterne, it's also a luxurious resort for wine-lovers looking to splash out and enjoy the finer things in life. High-end hotel? Check. Michelin starred restaurant? Check. They're even investing in a spa and wellness centre, coming soon! Yet, for all this luxury, the wine is still as gorgeous as ever.
The Wine – Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes
Like Chateau Fonreaud, the flagship wine is where it's at for this producer. Only 40% of the final harvest makes it into the wine, with a real focus on selection to improve quality and concentration, so it comes as no surprise to find a treat in store! Rich, apricot and ripe peach fruits are enveloped in sweet spices, honey and orange marmalade flavours, yet the acidity is so fresh and tangy that it never feels cloying. A special wine that will last for decades yet tastes delicious from the get-go. You may even be able to find your birth-year in their impressive library of back-vintages; we did! Get in touch with Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey through their website, here.
If you're a wine lover in Bordeaux, you'll spend a lot of time outside of the town itself, visiting chateaux, tastings and vineyards. However, you'd be missing out if you didn't explore a little more of the town itself, particularly in terms of finding older vintages in gorgeous shops, bars full of the local social scene and, of course, restaurants serving the very best of Bordelaise cuisine. There's a lot to choose from, but here are our top picks!
8 Cours du 30 Juillet, 33000 Bordeaux
A top address in Bordeaux for any keen wine shoppers and right in the heart of the city itself! It may seem unusual to have a wine shop right next to the tourism information centre, but La Vinothèque has been selling wine for a lot longer than most of the newer businesses that have sprung up around it. Whilst you can opt for some truly special, older vintages here, our favourite thing about it was their selection of more affordable wines; something people often overlook in Bordeaux. When you can get a broad selection of wines for less than 20 euros a bottle in Bordeaux, you know you're onto a good thing!
Address: 3 Rue Gobineau, 33000 Bordeaux
If it's high-end, rare Bordeaux you're looking for, Bordeaux Magnum is where you want to be. Ran by the enthusiastic and knowledgable Arnaud, this spacious shop is full of some of the finest wines in Bordeaux, from the top estates all the way down to the lesser known chateaux, but always with very high quality in mind. An excellent addition to the city and a must-visit for wine-lovers looking for that special bottle of Bordeaux!
Le Point Rouge
1 Quai de Paludate, 33800 Bordeaux
Le Point Rouge is one of Bordeaux's best kept secrets; a gorgeous underground bar, full of delicious tapas, cocktails and a fun, vibrant atmosphere. The best part, though? The wine list with over 1,000 references, expanding beyond Bordeaux to cover parts of the rest of the world. Whilst this can seem daunting, the team of sommeliers working here are friendly and helpful, guiding you through some of the lesser known producers and ensuring you get the right bottle or glass for you. A very creative, cool place!
43 Rue Cheverus, 33000 Bordeaux
This hole-in-the-wall wine bar is exactly the sort of place we love to frequent when we visit Bordeaux. Be aware that it's absolutely tiny, so do be sure to call ahead and book a table, particularly if you want to sit down and eat. However, the wine is the real reason people come here, and their small selection is expertly chosen. With names like Jamet, Selosse and Dauvissat gracing their list, it's hard not to get excited even just remembering it! A local drinking spot and one well worth seeking out.
Bordeaux is a surprisingly big place, and even with this guide covering some of the more interesting options, there's still so much to do! In this section, we'll point out some more interesting options for your trip, as well as some general travel advice!
Saint-Emilion – On the other side of the region, on the right-bank, lies the charming town of Saint-Emilion. Tiny in size compared to Bordeaux, this picturesque, steep town is full of medieval architecture, cobbled streets and more wine shops and bars than you could possibly visit in a single trip; really, there's more than 50 in the single town! Despite being a bit of a drive from Bordeaux, this is a highly recommended way to spend your way and hey, why not combine it with a trip to a winery in the region at the same time?
Walking Tours – With a city the size of Bordeaux, with as much history, it pays to get a feel for it from a professional. A short walking tour in the morning is a great way to burn off the excess from the night before, clear your head and engage with a little culture to start your day. We highly recommend Bordeaux Walking Tours to show you around the city!
Cite du Vin – This is a crazy project and something everyone should visit, regardless of whether they're wine lovers or not. Quite literally “The City of Wine”, this incredible 8-floor building is a testament to the culture of wine, full of media, games, interactive activities and even virtual reality. The scale of it is hard to put into writing; it's essentially a giant, modern museum for all things wine, and probably the most incredibly example of its kind that we've ever seen. Go and visit!
Atlantic Weather – Bordeaux is a maritime climate, which is another way to say a wet one. Whilst it can be very hot in the summer, do be sure to bring a water-proof coat at any other time of the year; you won't regret it!
Caneles – We try not to make specific food recommendations in the guides we make, but these lovely little pastries are just too good not to mention! Flavoured with rum, vanilla and cane sugar, these are perfect with your morning coffee and a very Bordelaise way to start your way! Beware, they're somewhat addictive and if you're like us, you'll find yourself heading home with a big box of them!
So concludes our Wine Guide to Bordeaux. Did you find it useful? We hope so! Bordeaux is one of our favourite wine destinations and whilst this guide can't possibly hope to be exhaustive, it should point you in the direction of some of the region's more interesting choices. Travel safely and drink well. Sante!
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