How to Visit Bordeaux for Wine Tasting

Love wine tasting? Discover the best Bordeaux wines in the Bordeaux wine region of France.
Love wine tasting? Discover the best Bordeaux wines in the Bordeaux wine region of France.

This Discover Wine series focuses on regions of the world that you can visit for wine tasting.

In this edition, we explore the famous wine regions of Bordeaux, France. If you’re like us, you know Bordeaux is a world-renown wine region with great popularity and highly acclaimed wine, but you don’t necessarily know the difference between the appellations or what a first-growth verses a fifth-growth is.

You might know that the predominant grape varietals in Bordeaux are Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but you probably don’t know the nuances between the blends in each specific region.

This is where my knowledge level was regarding Bordeaux wines before beginning to research our wine tasting trip to Bordeaux. And this is also the reason we made Bordeaux a priority in our travel schedule. We’ve always found that traveling ourselves to a wine region is the best way to learn an incredibly amount about its wine and the industry in a short amount of time. And that’s exactly what we did.

If you want to learn more about Bordeaux wines without taking a course, I highly recommend you go on a few Bordeaux vineyard tours. Within a few short hours, you’ll know enough about the best Bordeaux wine that you can speak intelligently about it with anyone.

If you don’t want to build your own self-guided wine tour to the regions of Bordeaux, I suggest booking a Bordeaux wine tour through Viator. They do all the work for you and all you have to do is go along and drink lots of wine:

  • Full day small-group Medoc wine tasting tour from Bordeaux – BOOK HERE
  • Small-Group Saint-Emilion and Pomerol Day Trip from Bordeaux – BOOK HERE

You might also like these wine tours in Bordeaux:

Spending more time in the Bordeaux area? Check out our one-week itinerary for Bordeaux.

Watch a quick video of our wine tasting experience in Bordeaux

https://youtu.be/wseY26TpeBk

Laura in the vineyards of New Zealand

Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.

How to Visit Bordeaux for Wine Tasting

Discover the Wine of Bordeaux

The first thing you need to know about the Bordeaux wine region is that it is split up into many different sub-regions, or appellations. There are over 290,000 acres of vineyards in the whole of Bordeaux, so it’s enormous, to say the least. With over 7,000 different Chateaux in the region, it is both the largest and most important wine growing region in France.

Throughout Bordeaux, you’ll find wines that are designated with their Bordeaux appellation on the label, as well as wines that do not have this designation. That is due to the fact that there are very strict rules governing the production and marketing of wines from this area.

In order to be labeled with the specific Bordeaux appellation, all aspects of the growing and vinification must take place within the appellation. That means the vineyards are located there, the work to create the wines is located there, and the Chateau itself is located there.

The wine must also be a blend of the grape varietals required for that appellation. For the Left Bank, that blend is heavy on the Cabernet Sauvignon, lighter on the Merlot. For the Right Bank, the blend is heavy on the Merlot, lighter on the Cabernet Sauvignon.

⇒ To learn more about Bordeaux Classifications and regulations, visit the Complete Guide to Bordeaux on The Wine Cellar Insider.

Chateau Baudan, a small, family-owned chateau in Medoc
Chateau Baudan, a small, family-owned chateau in Medoc

The blends are specified this way due to the nature of the soil in both of these areas. Merlot grows better in the limestone and clay soils found on the right bank, while Cabernet Sauvignon grows best in the gravel-predominant soil on the left bank.

You’ve probably already heard these territorial specification: Left Bank and Right Bank. They refer specifically to the area of land on the left and right of the River Gironde that flows through the center of Bordeaux.

On the Left Bank, you’ll find perhaps the most famous of the Bordeaux appellations, Medoc. It is in Medoc that the first wine classification began, with the Official Classification of 1855. It was during this classification that the First-Growth Chateaux were recognized, and they have remained the same ever since.

Speaking of official classifications, there are currently four such classifications in Bordeaux. The 1855 classification, the Cru Bourgeois, Classifications of Graves, and Classifications of Saint-Emilion.  They all have different specifications and rules.

While the 1855 classification in Medoc has not changed in all those years, the Classification of Saint-Emilion changes roughly every 10 years, giving a periodic chance for Chateaux to earn a spot in the coveted classification.

How to Get to Bordeaux's Wine Regions

Bordeaux is an easy city to reach, as it is very well connected with the rest of Europe. It is just a few hours’ train ride from Paris, making it an easy side trip.  I’m not aware of any direct flights from the U.S. to Bordeaux, but there are a lot of connecting flight options (which is great news for anyone looking to take advantage of a free stopover in another major European city).

Once you’ve landed in Bordeaux, you can take a bus or the tram into the city center, or rent a car and drive to the countryside to visit the Chateaux. If your goal is wine tasting and going on Bordeaux vineyard tours, then a car is a necessity. Not that you can’t get around by public transpiration, but it will take you so much longer.

Once you’ve decided on a wine region to visit, you can make appointments to visit the Chateaux, or you can find a guided Bordeaux wine tour (either a group or private tour). This is a good option if you don’t like to drive yourself around, or if you’re not good at sipping and spitting wine.

If you only have the option of public transportation and don’t want to go on a guided tour, the easiest and best option is to visit Saint-Emilion. You can take the train directly from the center of Bordeaux to the center of Saint-Emilion. From there, you can walk to at least a dozen Chateaux.

Want to visit other great wine regions in Europe? Check out our full guide.

Wine tasting in Bordeaux
Wine tasting in Graves

Where to Go for Wine Tasting in Bordeaux

As mentioned previously, the Bordeaux wine region is very large. It can be broken up into areas of popularity, for the sake of simplifying your wine tasting route. Be aware that tours and tastings at most of the chateaux is by appointment only. Don’t count on showing up and there being someone available to welcome you.

You can make your own appointments by emailing the chateaux directly. It’s best to begin this process around 2 weeks before arriving. Another, easier way to go about arranging appointments in Bordeaux is to use an online booking service like Wine Tour Booking or Wineriest.com.

Left Bank Wine Tasting

First, you have the Left Bank.  In the left bank, the top appellations are Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Saint-Estephe, Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac, and Pessac-Leognan.

Medoc might be the most popular of these, but definitely not the only place to do some great wine tasting on the Left Bank. Just don’t expect to get in to all of – or any of, for that matter – the First-Growth Chateaux. Instead, try to visit the Chateaux that you already drink wine from. If you’re new to the world of Bordeaux wine, then I suggest you choose a spot on the map and find a cluster of Chateaux that are within easy distance of each other and just try something new!

Concrete vats used for the vinification process at Chateau Prieuré-Lichine
Concrete vats used for the vinification process at Chateau Prieuré-Lichine

Must-Visit Chateaux on the Left Bank

⇒ Chateau Pontet Canet: This chateau was classified as a Grand Cru Classé in 1855 and it has some pretty famous neighbors in Pauillac. The vineyard is certified organic and biodynamic, so you know its vines are growing in amazing soil conditions. Tours and tastings are free here. Contact [email protected] to make an appointment.

⇒ Chateau Lafite Rothschild: This well-known chateau is owned by members of the Rothschild family and is highly regarded in Bordeaux. Visits are by appointment only from Monday to Friday during limited hours. Contact  [email protected] to make an appointment.

⇒ Chateau Lafone-Rochet: Located on a hill at the highest point in the Saint-Estephe appellation, this is a family-run winery that offers wine tours and tastings. Contact [email protected] to make an appointment.

⇒ Château Prieuré-Lichine: This is a Grand Cru Classé in 1855 Chateau with a really nice, modern visitor center that still retains the beauty and tradition of their interesting past. They do a large production, and you can see the entire process in their equally modern cellar.  They have a few different types of tours, including a gourmet wine and food pairing. Contact [email protected] for an appointment.

Where to Stay in the Left Bank

There are many chateaux on the Left Bank that have accommodations. You could choose to stay at one where you can also have a tour and tasting included.

Here are two great choices:

★ Château La Tour Carnet: Find the best deal, compare prices, and read reviews on TripAdvisor or Expedia.

★ Château Ormes de Pez in St Estephe: Find the best deal, compare prices, and read reviews on TripAdvisor.

Wine Tasting in Graves/Pessac Leognan

If you have some extra time in your schedule, another good place for wine tasting is Graves, Pessac Leognan appellation. This area has its own unique micro-climate and soil conditions which lead to it being suitable for both the production of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as white grape varietals. For this reason, you’ll find a more even balance of both of the major Bordeaux grapes in the wines of this appellation. They are also classified until a separate Classification.

Chateau Pape Clement
Chateau Pape Clement (photo via Flickr by Tony Hisgett)

Must-Visit Chateaux in Graves and Pessac Leognan

⇒ Chateau Pape Clement: Aside from the fact that the grounds and the chateau itself are incredibly beautiful, Chateau Pape Clement offers a wide range of activities for visitors, from tours and tastings, to lunch and food pairings, to horse-carriage rides through the vineyard. You can also stay overnight in the lovely hotel. Contact [email protected] to make an appointment

⇒ Chateau Leognan: This family-owned wine estate in part of the Grand Cru Classe of Graves. They offer tours and tastings, as well as horse rides and B&B accommodations. Contact [email protected] to make an appointment.

⇒ Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte:  The chateau has been built up over the past decade to be one of high quality and reliability. It’s a beautiful property with a five-star hotel and spa on the premises, as well as two restaurants. Contact [email protected] for an appointment.

Where to Stay in Pessac

We chose not to stay in Graves, as we stopped by the chateaux we wanted to visit in between stays in Bordeaux city center and Saint-Emilion. But if you have time and want to stay a few nights in Graves, then we have one highly-recommended suggestion:

★ Chateau Pape Clement: Find the best deal, compare prices, and read reviews on TripAdvisor or Expedia.

Right Bank Wine Tasting

We love the town of Saint-Emilion and think it’s the perfect place to do some wine tasting and to discover the beauty of Bordeaux. The Right Bank has a decidedly more relaxed, unpretentiousness that is welcoming to guests, even if you don’t know much about wine.

If you base yourself in or near Saint-Emilion, you can easily get around to the biggest appellations on the Right Bank, which are Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. Of course there are other, smaller appellations too, but these are the main ones where the classifications of Saint-Emilion come from.

If you have a car, you can very easily drive yourself between the chateaux. The roads are very good and well marked. You can’t miss seeing the chateaux dotting the landscape as you drive along. We even found that they are much close together than we imagined they’d be from the map. It often took us only 5 minutes to drive between the chateaux on our itinerary.

If you’re scheduling your own itinerary, you’ll want to leave about 1.5 hours for each tour/tasting and driving time. Any more than that might leave you wandering around trying to find something to do in between. We also suggest stopping for a long, leisurely lunch.

La Terrace Rouge at Chateau La Dominique
La Terrace Rouge at Chateau La Dominique (Photo by Savored Journeys)

Must-Visit Chateaux on the Right Bank

⇒ Chateau La Dominique: This Chateau is a Grand Cru Classe in Saint-Emilion, with high quality wines and a really interesting cellar, designed by famous architect Jean Nouvel. Stay for lunch or have a nice relaxing dinner at the restaurant, Le Terrace Rouge, where you’ll have a lovely view of the vineyards from their unique red stone terrace. This is one of the only Chateau that we found where you can stop by the tasting room for a wine tasting (no tour) without an appointment. Contact [email protected] for an appointment or restaurant reservation.

⇒ Chateaux Troplong Mondot: A Premier Cru Classe B in Saint Emilion, Chateau Troplong Mondot is located up on a hillside, with amazing views of the vineyard. They have a restaurant that is open for lunch and dinner, with some of the best views anywhere. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. To make a booking, [email protected].

⇒ Chateau Faugeres: The beautiful new cellar of Chateau Faugeres, designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, is a true sight to see, perched high up on a hillside surrounded by vines. You can tour the facility and taste the wine on a group or private tour. Contact [email protected] to book an appointment.

The restaurant patio at Chateau la Candale
The restaurant patio at Chateau la Candale (Photo by Savored Journeys)

⇒ Chateau de Candale: This is one of the few chateaux that offer lunch and dinner. While it’s a bit farther from the center of town, it’s worth the drive. The restaurant l’Atelier de Candale, is owned by a famous winemaker and cooper, Jean Louis Vicard. The outdoor patio is perfect for al fresco dining with a view of the vineyards. You can also take a tour and have a tasting. To book a tour or a meal, contact [email protected]

⇒ Chateau Villamaurine: A Grand Cru Classé de Saint-Emilion, Chateau Villamaurine is within walking distance of the town of Saint-Emilion and offers the chance to see the great underground caves where the limestone has been extracted. Visits are conducted every day of the week. Contact [email protected] to arrange an appointment.

⇒ Chateau La Rose Perriere: Located in the Lussac Saint Emilion appellation, the Chateaux is owned by a famous cooper, Jean-Luc Sylvain. The grounds and chateau are incredibly beautiful. You’ll want to stay in one of the few guestrooms they offer on site. Stop by for a tour of the grounds and a tasting of their various wines. Book your visit online.

⇒ Chateau Gaudet: This chateau is a small, family-run winery right in the heart of Saint-Emilion. It has been in the family for many generations. There is a really extensive and incredible underground cave cellar that you can tour, which ends in a wonderful tasting of their Grand Cru Classe wine. It is essential to make a reservation prior to visiting the cellar. Make a reservation online.

Where to Stay in Saint-Emilion

When in wine country, we prefer staying somewhere surrounded by vineyards in the countryside, rather than in the city center. Both of these options are available to you in Saint-Emilion.

Chateau Hotel & Spa Grand Barrail
Chateau Hotel & Spa Grand Barrail (Photo by Savored Journeys)

★ If you want the countryside experience and have a car to get around with, you absolutely must stay at Chateau Hotel & Spa Grand Barrail (Find the best deal, compare prices, and read reviews on TripAdvisor or Expedia). We had an incredible second-floor room with a balcony overlooking the main Chateau and it was just fantastic. If you can get this room (or similar) it will add greatly to your experience in Saint-Emilion.

★ If you don’t have a car and would prefer to be able to walk to some of the chateaux from the city center, then Hostellerie de Plaisance is a great choice for luxury located right in the city center. (Find the best deal, compare prices, and read reviews on TripAdvisor or Expedia.

Conclusion

As you can see, visiting Bordeaux for wine can be very rewarding and educational, but it can also be really overwhelming to first-time visitors. Using the above information should help you iron out a good itinerary for visiting Bordeaux’s wine regions. Then all that’s left to do is get there and enjoy the wine!

Let us know if there is anything we can do to help with your planning!

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.)

Laura in the vineyards of New Zealand

Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.

How to Visit Bordeaux for Wine Tasting

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