As the grape harvest season approaches in France, we take a look at some of the country's most iconic wine regions. In and around Bordeaux, some of the most prestigious wineries on the planet open their doors to oenophiles along five main wine routes, each representing the diversity of the region's production.
With its 117,000 hectares of vineyards, the Bordeaux region is home to 57 "appellations d'origine contrôlée" (AOCs), many of which are among the most internationally renowned. Bordeaux, Cadillac, Cheval Blanc, Pauillac, Laffite-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Pétrus, Sauternes, Saint-Émilion, Castillon-Côtes-de-Bordeaux and Yquem are just some of the wines produced in the area.
Best known for their red wines, which account for 80% of the region's overall production, the winemakers in the Bordeaux region focus primarily on the celebrated Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety, along with Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
Not to be overlooked: Whites and roses
Over the past decade, producers and traders have managed to restore the prestige of the region's white wines, which account for 20 % of total production and were once plagued by a reputation for mediocre quality. Fans of crisp, dry whites may recognize the Entre-Deux-Mers AOC, which is the main source of this type of wine in the Bordeaux region.
A presentation of Bordeaux wines would not be complete without a nod to the rosés made by certain producers. Usually seen as a complement to red wine production, the making of rosés involves allowing black grapes to age with their skins. Across all colors, the wines of the Bordeaux region owe their character to assemblages of different grape varieties rather than to a single type, in contrast to those of the Burgundy region, for example.
As early as the 19th century, Bordeaux secured its reputation as a wine capital both within France and abroad, thanks in large part to the major international wine exhibitions held there. Even today, the city becomes the center of the international wine industry during Vinexpo and the Bordeaux Wine Festival, which are held each summer in alternating years. The region's reputation has also been enhanced through its wine institute, which was founded during the mid-19th century.
Themed tours for all tastes
There are plenty of different ways to visit the Bordeaux region and its countless wineries, and visitors traveling by car may wish to start with one of the area's five main wine routes, or 'trails' as they are called by VignobledeBordeaux.com.
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There is the Châteaux Trail through the Médoc region, the Coteaux Trail to the north of Bordeaux, the Heritage Trail through the Unesco-listed village of Saint-Émilion, the Fortress Trail through the areas producing some of the region's best rosé wines among others, and the Graves Trail, which highlights some of the best white wines (dry and sweet) from appellations such as Barsac, Saint-Emilion or Cérons.
For those who prefer to be chauffeured, the Bordeaux tourist office offers several options ranging from group excursions to private guided tours. Virtually all of the outings include tastings at one or more châteaux. There are also tours focusing on individual appellations such as Saint-Emilion, Sauternes, or Graves.
Vinotherapy, day trips and evenings at the châteaux
Between wine tasting sessions, visitors can wind down with a visit to the Sources de Caudalie, the luxury hotel and spa known for its unique vinotherapy treatments using antioxidant-rich grape extracts.
The Abbaye de la Sauve Majeure, located around 20 miles outside of Bordeaux, is also well worth the trip. The 11th-century abbey is a recognized Unesco World Heritage Site as part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route.
For those looking for a more festive experience, certain wineries occasionally open to the public in the evening. The Côtes de Bourg district, for example, regularly organizes events with music and tastings. One such tour begins at the Château Mercier, where guests enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail and appetizer, followed by a walk through the vineyards to the Château Les Tours Seguy for the main course, and another stroll to the Château La Grolet for cheese and dessert. All accompanied by local wines, of course.
The Interprofessional Council of Bordeaux Wines (CIVB), ever keen to promote tourism to the region, offers a wealth of additional information and tips for planning your trip.