From all the wine courses I have attended and books I have ready, my best and highly recommended wine learning experience is wine travels. By visiting a wine producing regions and visiting the various wine producers, you tend to get a better insight of the world of wine. You get the opportunity to see the wines from the eyes of the producer, you understand what the jargon in the book means and looks like. Many times you also get an understanding of why certain regions go for a certain style of wine, which is usually related to the lifestyle habits of the area. The more you travel you also start to absorb that the style of a particular wine also matches the character of the producer behind it.
My only advice when visiting a producer is to go there to listen and learn and not to show how much you know. As the first feature on wine travel, I cannot not start with the region that is considered to be the world capital of wine; Bordeaux. Bordeaux has for many years set the standards for the wine industry, producing some of the world’s most sought-after wines and also being a bench mark for its style. The Bordeaux wine history as a wine that was a cut above the rest goes back over a century and even though today many countries are producing great wines, whose popularity and even prices rival Bordeaux wines, Bordeaux will always remain special.
With Ryanair now flying twice a week to Bordeaux from Malta, this city has grown very much in popularity with the locals. In the past one would have to fly via Paris, which was expensive and also very long, so this comes as very good news to those wishing to visit this beautiful city. Here, I am sharing some tips with you to make you trip a memorable one.
Before you go
Firstly, Bordeaux is not only about wine, it is a very youthful and bustling city and one can have a great time even if there is no interest in wine and wine tasting.
It is very important that you plan ahead, especially if you are there only for a few days. Planning too many tastings in one day can turn out to be exhausting. I like to stick to not more than two visits in a day. I always recommend renting a car as this will give you the liberty to move around more freely – of course, it is very important that if driving one does not consume any alcohol. During a wine tasting one can still enjoy the full experience while ‘spitting’ out the wine, so it is possible to enjoy a tasting and not consume any. If you are a big group you can book a chauffeur service to and from the estates. This is the most comfortable option as you do not have to worry about driving.
When it comes to the Chateaux, make sure you always book ahead. Most properties nowadays welcome tourists against a fee that will include a visit and a wine tasting. The wine producing areas in Bordeaux are split on the two river-banks which we like to call the left bank and the right bank. To make the most of the trip is suggest to visit a estates on both banks, the left bank or Medoc area (Margaux, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Saint Estephe) is popular for its castle like Chateaux and home to some of the most famous wines in the world. The right bank (Saint Emilion and Pomerol) also produce some of the most famous wines in the world, like Chateau Figaec and Petrus however the estates here are smaller. A visit to the town of Saint Emilion is also a must.
Whenever I visit I like to plan a tasting at 10am another at 11.30am followed by lunch. Obviously, I keep the visits close to each other to avoid a lot of travelling. An hour away from the Bordeaux is the village of Archacon. Archacon is famous for its oyster farms and it is always a great experience visiting if you have the time.
Where to stay?
I prefer to stay in the centre of Bordeaux, since it is equally close to which part of the wine producing area you would like to visit. Also in the evening everywhere is walking distance in the city, so whether it’s a restaurant or one of the many French cafes in the centre, you are always a short walk away.
The centre is also great for a walk by the river, which is also bustling with life and activity. My go-to hotel is Hotel-De-Seze, since it is perfectly located, clean and cosy, however there are many nice hotels in the centre to fit everyone’s pocket.
Where to eat?
When it comes to restaurants, you are spoilt for choice, however the following are some of my personal favourites.
For the lovers of fine dining I recommend Le Gabriel. The restaurant has a Michelin star and is located the Place de La Bourse. For something more casual, Le Bouchon Bordelaise offers typical south-western cuisine.
In Saint-Emilion my favourite place in L’ Envers du Décor. For the meat lovers, La Terrasse Rouge is a must, the latter is also located in Chateau la Dominique and can be combined with a visit and tasting.
On the left bank, a visit to the Village du Bages is always a great experience. This is where the famous Chateau Lynch Bages is situated and you can have lunch at the bib gourmand rated Café Lavinal.
Another famous restaurant in the Medoc is Le Lion d’ Or; this is a historical eatery and very popular with the wine producers and Chateau owners. An interesting practice in this restaurant is that many chateau owners have their own wine cabinets where they store their wines and which they consume at Lion d’ Or against a corkage fee.
If you manage to fit an afternoon in Archacon, make sure you book a table for lunch at La Co(o)rniche. Situated on the Great Dune of Pyla Sul Mer, this restaurant has a great vibe and its seafood is to die for. If you are an oyster fan make a quick stop at the traditional oyster village or, Port de Larros in Gujan-Mestras for a real authentic oyster experience. Here you can see the traditional wooden cabins involved in the oyster catching business, some of these cabins have now been turned to restaurants.
As you can see, Bordeaux is a very versatile place to visit and even if you stay for a week, you are always going to find interesting things to do. I visit twice a year and have been visiting for the past 18 years and have never lost interest in visiting again. Feel free to get in touch for some extra tips.