With springtime upon us, wine enthusiasts around the world are looking to squeeze a French vineyard into their European holiday. “Is it possible to catch the spirit of Bordeaux in a couple of days?” With careful planning the answer’s “yes”.   

I accompanied twelve CEO’s on a corporate two day ‘jolly’, sorry ‘educational visit’ to the vineyards of Bordeaux last summer. The Bordelais have a reputation for not being visitor friendly but that was completely busted as they opened their doors and their bottles with a broad smile.

We were on the early bird 6:45am flight from London Gatwick (ouchhh) but it was worth it as we were on the magnificent lawns of Chateau Palmer near the ‘left bank’ village of Margaux, a stone’s throw from the Gironde river by 10:30amm (and we lost the hour!) Our private visit of the cellars ended with a super tasting; second label Alter Ego 2011 (£56, $75) was followed by Chateau Palmer 2006 and 2007. The 2006, made from Cabernet Sauvignon (66%) and Merlot (34%) with its dense blackberry, friendly fine grained tannins and lingering finish topped my list; that’s if you have a spare £175 ($220). “Left Bank?”, I hear you say. For once wine trade lingo is useful; guess what, the Left Bank vineyards are on your left hand side as you sail up river towards the Atlantic. We then drove north to the village of Pauillac through rolling gravel-soil vineyards, before sweeping into the impressive, towered chateau that is Pichon Baron. We were greeted with a comprehensive, nay privileged, tasting in their ‘Hollywood’ cellars including 2012 and 2011 (cooler years) and 2010 and 2009 (sunny years and two of the best Bordeaux vintages). My best wine? The 2010 with its ripe fruit balanced with a lovely crisp tannic. But then again, at £100 ($130) plus you need deep pockets.

After a brilliant lunch at Pichon Baron (more fantastic wine!) we didn’t really need a slap up dinner but as dusk fell we entered one of Rick Stein’s favourite restaurants, La Tupina, overlooking the River Garonne in the heart of Bordeaux. The wine list was reasonably priced and a few bottles of Chateau La Garde (£30, $40) from the Pessac-Leognan vineyards south of the city were well received with Tupina’s signature meat dishes.   

The next morning saw us on Bordeaux’s ‘Right Bank’, an easy 45 minute drive from our city centre hotel. We arrived early to stroll around the world famous Petrus vineyards, hallowed ground indeed as these blue clay vineyards in the heart of the Pomerol plateau produce bottles with £1000 ($1300) price tags!

Spot on time (luxury coach, great coach driver!) we walked up the gravel drive of Pomerol’s Vieux Chateau Certan, another highlight for the excited group. Following a tour of the vineyards with the winemaker, the lofty barrel filled cellar was the venue for an exceptional tasting. The first glass, a barrel sample of 2015 brought applause all round, (my notes were ripe, silky, balanced, long), even though it probably had another 12 months to sleep in the barrels. The team had picked up the softer ‘Right Bank’ style, thanks to the higher proportion of Merlot (80%) in the blend. The other grapes in the 2015 were Cabernet Franc (19%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (1%) by the way. Other vintages tasted meant VCC, little known before, is now gracing a few more south of England cellars.   

We then drove the short distance to Pomerol’s world famous Le Pin vineyard; at over 500 Euro a bottle at the cellar (but not for sale!) the accountants in the group were quickly sharpening their pencils to calculate the annual balance sheets before realising that the production was exceptional but tiny.

Lunch beckoned but first one more private visit and tasting at St. Emilion’s Premier Grand Cru Classe Chateau Troplong-Mondot. Our lunch at Troplong-Mondot was superb which was no surprise as the restaurant boasts one Michelin Star. As we’d been drinking Bordeaux for two days we rang the changes with lunch; Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy’s famous white (100% Chardonnay) was followed by Hermitage, the famous Syrah (100%) wine from the northern Rhone. Oh, and a glass of Champagne of course!

A few beers in St. Emilion’s famous cobbled town square followed by a splendid dinner and we were on our way to the airport…we were on the last flight out reflecting on two amazing days getting to know one of the world’s most famous wine regions…. intimately!


John Downes, one of only 350 Masters of Wine in the world is a corporate entertainer speaker, television and radio broadcaster and writer on wine. Check out John’s website at  www.johndownes.com. Follow him on Twitter @JOHNDOWNESMW