In the spring of 2008 I was lucky enough to visit this incredible region and experience some of the wines and food that make it worth the journey across the sea. Below is an itinerary of what I would describe as a wine and food lovers dream day in Bordeaux.
In my opinion, if you’re going to visit a region like Bordeaux, go big and make an appointment to tour at least one of the great First Growth wineries! Really, how often are you going to have a chance to visit and taste these famous wines? Chances are, not very often unless you own a fine wine shop or you’re a Texas oil tycoon.
My recommendation would be to start with (in my opinion) the one with the greatest stories to tell, Château Mouton Rothschild - located just northwest of the city of Bordeaux, in the village of Pauillac in the Médoc region. A visit to Château Mouton Rothschild provides everything you would expect from visiting a famous château in France - stunning architecture, great history, a grand tour matched with graceful hospitality.
During the tour you will learn about Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the innovator behind this famous brand, tour the pristine Grand Chai (a 100 meter barrel hall), admire the history and stories behind their labels, tour the Museum of Wine in Art (a collection of objects collected by the family all devoted to wine), and end with a tasting of the world famous wine. Although wine was not available to purchase, I left my visit with a much deeper appreciation for the history behind the brand as well as a lingering taste of the wine on my palate! The museum tour alone makes it worth the visit.
On your way back to the city of Bordeaux make sure to make an appointment to visit another of the classified, yet lesser well known, winery, Château Branaire-Ducru. Classified as one of the ten 'Fourth Growths' (Quatrièmes Crus) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, a tour and tasting here will provide another look at what makes this region, and its wines, so special. Less formal and more casual, you will receive a tour of the production facility, a sense of the history behind the château, and a taste of some of their wines (subject to what is available at the time), along with the chance to purchase wine.
After two tours under your belt you are likely to be hungry and ready for some lunch! An absolute must stop on your itinerary is La Tupina, located a short walk from the city center of Bordeaux in what I would describe as an alleyway (although it is more commonly described as being located in a “small street”).
The quaint restaurant provides a rustic feel inside filled with aromas of freshly roasted meat and vegetables. The ambiance was warm and the service was great and unpretentious. Although they were not available on my visit, I have heard phenomenal things about their fries cooked in duck fat (um, yes please!).
After lunch take a long stroll around the gorgeous city (that looks like a mini Paris), do some window shopping, and drink an espresso (or two) before heading down to your final tour and tasting.
Like I said, when in Bordeaux you gotta go big, so why not finish the day with one more tour at the well known Château Haut-Brion, the oldest of the First Growths located within the borders of the city of Bordeaux. When driving up to the gates of the winery you feel like you’re still in the city, but after entering onto the property you are transformed to a quiet and grand countryside feel with views of the spectacular château and vineyards. You will receive a private tour of the property, the gorgeous (barrel room), and tasting of their wine. If you’re lucky you may also get to witness barrel making in progress, as Haut Brion is one of the few chateaux in Bordeaux that have their own cooper on site. For a wine geek like myself this is a very cool thing to witness.
After a long and exciting day full of formal tours and tastings its time for a casual dinner! If you’re a cheese lover (and who isn’t?) you must check out Baud et Millet, back in the Bordeaux city center. This small restaurant with a neighborhood feel houses over 100 different cheeses in their cheese cellar along with an equally large selection of wines to choose from. The cheese cellar is an all you can eat buffet and the wines you don’t select via menu, but instead you peruse the selection on the shelves along the entryway to the restaurant, grab the bottle you want, bring it to your table and your server will open it.
If you’re like me and too indecisive for such a large buffet, you can select from their entrees, which provide many options for baked cheese casserole type dishes that are warm, cheesy and delicious. If you select from the menu you still have to at least check out the cheese cellar! It is quite a sight.
If you’re in more of a carnivorous mood then head a few blocks away to L'Entrecote instead, but expect a long queue when you arrive (don’t worry, it goes fast). Don’t expect a menu with a long list of options here. Instead you have one meal option at this popular spot - meat and fries at one price. To start you are presented with a green salad, followed by a big skillet of steak, and all you can eat fries all at one price (16 euro). My husband has a weakness for meat and I have a weakness for fries, so we were both equally satisfied here. The restaurant even has it's own brand of wine, so your choice is equally basic; red or white. Simple, straightforward, and yes fun and delicious.
After a day with a formal itinerary your next day should be casual, relaxed and impromptu. I recommend a leisurely drive to the right bank to the small and adorable walking town of Saint-Émilion. Bring your walking shoes as this small town is very hilly with windy roads (this is no place for heals!). Go without an agenda and just take in the breathtaking views of the vineyards and hillsides, and shop among the dozens of local wine shops. I promise you, you will find some awesome little gems that you will never see back in the states. In addition to wine, the town is also famous for their macaroons. So while you’re there you have to stop for some of the delicious local treats. You have earned it after all with all of the walking you’ll be doing! To me, a fun, informal day is a great way to follow one with a strict itinerary! Just explore and let yourself get lost in the beauty of the region.
For most wine lovers, a visit to a region like Bordeaux is not an everyday (nor annual) experience. For most of us it is a once in a lifetime trip. So if you among that group then I say go big and make the most of your trip to the region. Visit some of the most famous chateaux while also checking out spots not on anybody’s agenda. That’s how you find exciting new gems. Most importantly, take it all in, enjoy the abundance of great food and wine, and have fun!