A weekend in Bordeaux will obviously involve trips out to various wine-making chateaux that the region is famous for. It’s also one of the largest wine growing areas in France, so you’ll need to narrow down your itinerary to vineyards clustered in specific areas featuring certain grapes.
I am not a wine expert by any means, but from what I can tell, Bordeaux is divided up into two main parts, the “Left Bank” and the “Right Bank“. The vineyards on the Left Bank, which consists of the Médoc and Graves regions, typically feature bold and tannic red wines made predominantly of Cabernet Sauvignon. The Right Bank of the Libournais region, on the other hand, features wine made predominantly with Merlot. If you like white wines, head south to Entre-Deux-Mers, and if you like your whites on the sweeter side, go slightly west to Sauternes. (Reference this link for a helpful primer on Bordeaux wines.) Once you know which chateau you’d like to see, go to their website and email them a request for a visit. Note that Bordeaux isn’t quite the commercial operation that Napa or Sonoma Valley is. Many of these chateaux may require insider connections to get you access.
The city of Bordeaux itself is also worth exploring for a day. It may lack the romance and glamour of Paris, but there’s a pretty, historic charm about it (it reminds me a lot of Oxford in the UK), it’s easy to navigate by foot, and there are a lot of sights to see in the Old Town area. It also has decent shopping (you can easily find luxury brands like Hermes and Chanel here), and the food scene is interesting and surprisingly more diverse than you would think. In fact, one of my favorite casual meals in all of France was at an Asian fusion restaurant in Bordeaux called Dan. If you find yourself planning a weekend getaway to Bordeaux, I’ve provided a visual itinerary of our recent visit in late June which you can reference (fyi: you’ll definitely need a car or a driver to go to the vineyards).
Day 1 in Bordeaux: A tasting at Château Haut Brion, followed by a stroll through Old Town, Bordeaux and dinner at Restaurant Dan
Château Haut Brion
135 Avenue Jean-Jaurès, 33600 Pessac, France // +33 5 56 00 29 30
Château Haut Brion, one of the oldest and most prestigious vineyards in the region, is about a 15 minute drive from the city center in Bordeaux. The drive through a random suburb isn’t that picturesque, but it’s an inconvenience you’ll settle for when tasting wine rated as premier cru classé, a classification bestowed to only the best red wines in the Medoc and Graves regions (only four wines, including Château Haut Brion, are awarded this distinction). The tour is free, but they only give you a single taste of a young 2011 bottle, and they don’t sell directly to consumers.
After the tasting is over, head back to the city and check in to your hotel. We stayed at the Hotel de Tourny, a modern and stylish boutique hotel that’s centrally located in the city. Then you can head back out and embark on a walking tour of the historic Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site consisting of buildings dating back to the 18th century.
6 Rue du Cancera, 33000 Bordeaux, France // +33 5 40 05 76 91
French-Asian fusion sounds like a bad idea, but it’s executed extremely well at Dan, a pretty restaurant decorated with elegant, shabby-chic Asian fixtures. Dinner arrives in a pre-fixe format, and I’d highly recommend that you go with the Signatures option, which features standout dishes that Dan is particularly known for. The foie gras scented shrimp wontons and the BBQ pork, which are both included in the Signatures menu, are outstanding.
Day 2 in Bordeaux: Tastings at Château Pape Clément, Domaine de Chevalier and Château Coutet
Château Pape Clément
216 Avenue Dr Nancel Penard, 33600 Pessac, France // +33 5 57 26 38 38
Château Pape Clément is the oldest, and one of the most beautiful estates, in Bordeaux. It has an interesting bit of history in that it used to be the papal residency of Pope Clement V. While the grounds were gorgeous, this was probably the least favorite of the chateaux we visited. The tour guide lacked energy, and the tasting was conducted in a very methodical and impersonal fashion. The pictures come out great, but otherwise it wasn’t very memorable.
We were greated by Remy, the general manager of Domaine de Chevalier, and were taken on an informal tour of the estate. This ended up being one of my favorite visits because the format was a little quirkier and had more character, probably because of Remy’s personality. He would let us drink wine directly from the barrel and was generous with the tastings. The brand may not have quite the prestige of a Haut Brion or Pape Clément, but it was a lot more fun, and honestly, the wines tasted similar to the top-tier brands.
33720 Barsac, France // +33 5 56 27 15 46
Château Coutet, a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru classified wine, is known for its sauternes, a sweet white wine that tastes like a blend of riesling and port. I thought the tour here was fantastic. It was very informative and the team was also very generous with their pours. They let us try an aged bottle from the 80s, which was amazing. It was also one of the few vineyards in Bordeaux that sold bottles direct to consumers, so we were able to take home a wine souvenir with us on the flight back home! They do charge a small tasting fee, but I thought it was definitely worth it.