Bordeaux or other wine region?

Jan 25th, 2008, 02:02 PM
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Bordeaux or other wine region?

Hi Fodorites,

St Cirq and others who are Bordeaux experts... I am wondering if you could lead me in the right direction in my research on our next France trip, possibly to Bordeaux, with fingers crossed maybe next year.

We just got this extraordinary book about Bordeaux wines and the author makes a bold claim that---although the wines are exceptional---Bordeaux is not much of an interesting destination. He also says that unless you're a wine industry professional, most doors are closed to visitors.

I was shocked to read that. (Maybe he's trying to keep the tourists away, eh?)

Is that true?

We're not looking for the type of all-day drunken winery hopping you might find driving through Napa Valley---stop, sip, spit, buy, drive to the next and repeat. But I wouldn't mind taking a couple winery tours.

So what is Bordeaux like? (I'm asking for the broad brush strokes and general flavor of the place... not the nitty gritty details of places to stay, etc.)

Is Bordeaux "charming"? And by this, I'll admit I conjure up a very specific definition of charming. Small stone farmhouse in uber-quaint village... walking to the weekly market... looking out over rolling hills and picturesque topography. Historical villages, good wines, a quiet place for my kids and us to relax for a couple weeks while still enjoying the joie de vivre of a European setting.

Should we consider staying in a different region like the Dordogne, or Provence, or up near the Loire (which we've done before), or even Burgundy instead?

Or is that author just downplaying the region? My husband has his heart set on "staying in the Bordeaux."

skatterfly is offline  
Jan 25th, 2008, 02:16 PM
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Hi, skatterfly.

I don't agree that Bordeaux is not an interesting destination. I do agree that if you're not a wine professional you probably won't be visiting the famous Bordeaux estates. I also would say that the areas around Bordeaux where the great wines are produced are just kind of ho-hum on the charm scale, compared, for example, with the Dordogne (which isn't much of a wine region by comparison) or Burgundy.

I like Bordeaux a lot, but it's fair to say that it has a gritty side (all cities do, IMPO, but Bordeaux seems to take a harder hit for this than most). Because it rose to prominence so rapidly, it has a wonderfully uniform 17th-18th-century architecture that is ornate and very appealing IMO. I love the whole rue Ste-Catherine pedestrian area, with its shops anad cafés and restaurants and street entertainers in the warm months. The city has beautiful parks and some very nice museums. The Maison du Vin and the Tourist Office do a very good job of arranging wine-related tours and exhibitions. And it's a city overflowing with great food and wine.

And the coastline is pretty and accessible.

That said, IMO the area that best fits your description of charm would be Burgundy.
StCirq is offline  
Jan 25th, 2008, 02:36 PM
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We were curious, too, so included the region on our Sept. trip.

You're from CA, so to put it in perspective, Bordeaux is to Burgundy as Pomona is to Monterey.
tomboy is offline  
Jan 25th, 2008, 03:54 PM
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Go to the "other" wine region.

Alsace has the cutest wine villages and perhaps the prettiest vineyards. The vineyards in Burgundy are quite scenic also, but the wine villages are not as cute as in Alsace.

Wineries are not nearly as accommodating in France as they are in the US (I've lived near Napa/Sonoma for 32 years). It's more of a business with them - not a "tourist attraction" like many in the Napa Valley have become. I've never tried to visit a working winery in France on a Sat or Sun - but I suspect that many are closed for visitors on weekends - and during lunch also. In 99, we "dropped in" to Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape on a Monday without reservations, and were told that all English tours were already sold out for that entire week (this was July 5).

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is online now  
Jan 25th, 2008, 08:48 PM
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I agree with what the other posters said, except that based on our 2-day trip to Burgundy several years ago (hardly representative of the area), I wouldn't view that as a scenic, cute weeks-long destination either.

I would definitely recommend the Dordogne area, especially with kids. It's gorgeous, there's a lot to do (with or without kids), and fabulous food. And lots of Bordeaux on the menus at meals!

You could begin a stay in the Dordogne with several days in the city of Bordeaux, and/or St. Emilion. I find St. Emilion a cute town, but again, not for more than a day or maybe two. On our first trip to the Dordogne, we flew into Paris, took the train to the city of Bordeaux, picked up a rental car and drove to St. Emilion. We enjoyed the area, visited a great cave my husband (the wine aficionado) enjoyed very much, and drove through the vineyards on to the Dordogne the next day.

And yes, while we have not attempted to visit the wine producers in France (we have made such visits in Italy, but they were arranged for us ahead of time), the author of the book you mention is correct about being able to visit places, especially of course the top producers.

There are little mom-and-pop producers all over (though I don't remember seeing them in middle of the most valuable wine producing areas of Bordeaux or Burgundy); there will be small signs by the side of the road. They are often "open," though that may mean that the person leaves his/her house when your car drives up and walks over to the wine-tasting room or building. You can taste their wines, but not necessarily get a tour. At these little places, it's considered polite to buy a bottle. These can be fun if you planned to buy a bottle for a picnic lunch or before-dinner glass of wine.

Neither Bordeaux or Burgundy are anything like Napa. My husband and I get a giggle, though, in France (and Italy) driving in between the vineyards of world-famous producers, reminding each other how valuable each square foot of land is, and each individual grape. Pretty amazing.
Lexma90 is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 12:58 AM
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We are having a ball spending the odd day in Madiran and Jurancon.
sheila is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 04:47 AM
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If visiting vineyards is not all that interesting, is it possible to arrange or participate in wine tastings, perhaps in Bordeaux? An earlier posting mentioned Maison du Vin and the Tourist Office. Do they arrange such events?

Many thanks.

cwj is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 06:40 AM
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The Bordeaux region offers all the things you're looking for; you just have to work a little harder to find them than you would in Provence or the Dordogne.

We spent 1 1/2 weeks exploring the area in September 2007. We found wonderful food, gracious hosts, quaint villages, markets, vineyard tours, and perhaps the best wine in the world.

We stayed in 2 locations, both were very relaxing and accommodating to our 2 small children (both under 2 at the time).

Some areas of France are dripping with "uber quaint" sites. From what I've seen, they're also dripping with tourists. Bordeaux (both the city and the region) had a more real-life feel than most of Provence does (the only exception being St Emilion-quite touristy).

Have a great trip,
Josh is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 08:06 AM
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Hi S,

Been to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace and the Dordogne.

For what you want I would rank the regions as:

Dordogne (short on wine)

For details, my trip reports are at

Ira Visits Europe May, 2007 (Salzburg, Fuessen, Bodensee, Burgundy, Alsace)

Ira Does France (Bordeaux, Dordogne, Paris)
Photos at

Enjoy your visit.

ira is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 08:15 AM
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The tourist office in Bordeaux does offer tours to some of the wineries in the area. The one that stands out is the entre du mer just west of Bordeaux. Many of the chateaux in the area of the grand crus do not allow visitors unless the visit is prearranged. I have visited all the other wine areas except Alsace. I prefer exploring wine more in Provence. It is more casual, the towns and vineyards easy to find and the scenery everywhere is gorgeous. There are several really great wines that come from there. Check a tour guide for the area. This may be the right place for you. In my opinion Bordeaux is just not that charming.
nametaken is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 09:35 AM
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If you are interested in the top Bordeaux wines, you go on out the Gironde area to Pauillac.

The wineries are not commercial, in any way. A few years back I had "reservations" at Lafite Rothschild, Mouton and La Tour. If you did not know what Lafite looked like, you would not find signs...drove in to shabby looking barn...Only the two of us..were shown around, had some wine to taste..this is the way it is. You absolutely cannot buy wine from them. Interesting experience...

gracejoan3 is offline  
Jan 27th, 2008, 09:20 AM
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My husband and I visited Burgundy and Champagne in 2003 and had an amazing time. As wine fans but not quite aficionados, we were pleasantly surprised by the reception at most wine producers.

Yes, the wine regions of Europe are not nearly as welcoming as in CA, but they will be a lot more personal and less like a business. However, if you go to smaller towns you will have much better success - going to Cotes de Nuits and other very well known towns we were snubbed or ignored. In smaller towns, we were welcomed and catered to - despute it being obvious that we were traveling around the countryside by car and would only be buying a bottle or two. We had to be a bit bold - knocking on doors) but literally were invited into people's home to taste.

Our favorite trip story involves showing up in an adorable little town, Chagny-Les-Roses, in Champagne without realizing it was a Sunday. We asked at the only open shop (a patisserie) if anyone might be open, and the nice woman behind the counter directed us to a small producer. When we rang his doorbell, he stuck his head out of an upstairs window, in the middle of shaving, and invited us in to his living room to taste, showing us pictures of his son's wedding in the back yard.

Or the grower in Burgundy who came off his fields to show us his cellar, shaking mud off his boots, and politely (funnily) lectured us on the benefits of the metric system. Definitely won't get that in Napa.

The countryside is lovely, too.

My $0.02.

- Pam
pamdamage is offline  
Jan 30th, 2008, 11:26 PM
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I agree with some posters here that most Bordeaus wineries are run very much more business-like than your regular Napa/Sonoma wineries with their tourist-oriented wine tasting rooms. The Bordeaux owners/winemakers are usually veryy busy tending to their winemaking processes or are swamped with the actual business of selling their products.

It's not difficult to gain access to and be entertained by Bordeaux wine producers. If you have a regular wine merchant at homee, then you may ask them to make arrangements for visits to wineries. If you know which ones you like and plan to visit, you may also google them online and contact them, either, by emai or by phone. You may even be surprised by their accomodating responses in making arrangements for the visit. You'll also probably find it a pleasant surprise when the winemaker/owner, during your appointed visit, excitedly greets you and spends their time taking you through their facitilites complete with sampling their most fabled products. Invites to lunch in theirr chateaux are not uncommon if you hit it off with them.

The producers from the Medoc (and Northern Medoc) in the Pauillac, with the communes of Pauillac, Saint Estephe, Saint Julien and Margaux, produces extraordinary wines that are revered by enthsiasts all over the world. If you are able to sample wines from producers from each of these communes, you will understand why the smallest differnce in terroir and location makes a difference in their respective products.

Closer to the city of Bordeaux itself, those in the Graves, and specifically the commune of Pessac-Leognan, houses some historically-good producers including Haut-Brion, Pape Clement and Smith Haut Lafitte. These wineries, and to some, are unexpectedly located in the very busy outskirt of the city - a nightmare to navigate and find if you are driving for the first time in Bordeaux.

The somewhat dfferent styles of the Right Bank wines of the communes of Saint Emilion and Pomerol are a delight to drink. Some have refered to these wines as more modern, but remain to be classic to most oenophiles. Sampling wines from the great producers of these communes are definitely worth the long drive, about at least an hour from the city.

if you are interested in the classic sweet stuff of the Sauternes and Barsac, then these producers are just further south of the city.

If you are a winelover, or looking to learn about good wines, I would highly recommend visiting the Bodeaux area.

bill_boy is offline  
Jan 31st, 2008, 12:55 AM
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Most of the above is true.

But the tourist office in Pauillac ( does organise wine tastings of the better (though obviously not the best) Medoc wines, and has information on some visits to the better known chateaux.

Driving through the Medoc, all the vineyards (including Latour and Lafite) are well-signed. The vineyards - as opposed to the wine-making facilities - are almost entirely unfenced, so you can stop, grab a grape and know you're eating embryonic first-growth claret (tastes no different from the plastic-wrapped muck at Tesco, but the thought's what counts)

Incidentally, it's locally claimed that Soulac, at the top of the Medoc peninsula was the start point in medieval times for English pilgrims on the road to Compostela, and there's a fair amount of Camino-related stuff (including some truly dynamite Romanesque churches)to see in the area.
flanneruk is offline  
Jan 31st, 2008, 03:33 AM
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Our experience in visiting Lafite and Mouton Rothchild a few years ago matched the descriptions given by gracejoan and bill boy above. We were given personal tours at each vineyard upon reservations made by our hotel concierge. It seems that such personal treatment occurs more often after the harvest. Gradyghost
gradyghost is offline  
Jan 31st, 2008, 04:24 AM
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While the Bordeaux wine region (St. Emilion, Medoc, etc) has its' charms and is seat to some of the most prestigious vintners in the world, I find that there are more discoveries to be made if head east toward Perigord. Specifically, the areas around Bergerac, Buzet, Pecharmant and Cahors are home to vintners which put out some very good wines, some of which put the lower end Bordeaux vintages to shame. Bergerac lies 50 miles east of Bordeaux. Use this town as a springboard to the other regions and you won't be disappointed.

These regions truly take pride in their wines and are very welcoming of visitors who show an interest in their output..

Drop me a line if you'd like some more info/insight.
Langcraft is offline  
Jan 31st, 2008, 05:19 AM
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Further to an earlier post by flanneruk, I'd caution you or anybody against stopping and picking grapes from any vines that belong to wine-producing properties, be it in Bordeaux, Burgundy or Napa/Sonoma.

Even if un-fenced, these are private properties and I don't think it would be appreciated by the owners/staff of the wineries when non-staff stops and picks their grapes which are used to make bottles of wine costing at least hundreds of dollars.

bill_boy is offline  

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