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Guide to Visiting Bordeaux Wine Cellars

Karen Frazier
Bordeaux Wine Cellars

The Bordeaux wine region has 60 appellations encompassing nearly 300,000 acres of vineyards with around 6,000 wineries and wine cellars. It is the second most popular place visit in France (behind Paris), and it's easy to see why. With world-class wine châteaux and a vibrant wine-producing industry, Bordeaux is the most well-known wine region in the world, and tourists flock there to visit celebrated Bordeaux wine cellars.

Wine Cellars in the Bordeaux Region

The renowned wine country is loaded with wine châteaux big, small, and in-between, famous, unknown, and not-so famous. Bordeaux is actually divided into 60 sub-regions with the most important wineries located on the left and right banks of the Gironde River. The following is a general list of the most important sub-regions and wineries to visit. Winery recommendations come from industry and travel experts and bloggers such as Decanter, Food & Wine, Wine Cellar Insider, and Harper's Bazaar.

Bordeaux wine map

Médoc

This is the substantial Left Bank appellation with the southern section referred to as Haut-Médoc, and it's Cabernet Sauvignon country. Margaux, Saint-Julian, Pauillac, and Saint-Estèphe are the most important and in the Haut-Médoc. Four of the Premier Crus (First Growths) reside here. Wineries to visit in the Médoc include:

  • Château Lynch-Bages is a cinquièmes grand cru classé (fifth classified growth) winery located in Pauillac.
  • Château Margaux is a premier grand cru classé (first classified growth) winery located in Margaux.
  • Château Kirwan is located in Margaux and is a troisièmes cru classé (third classified growth).
  • Château Phélan Ségur, located in Saint-Estèphe, is one of nine cru bourgeois exceptionnels (exceptional high-quality wine).

  • Located in Pauillac, Château Pichon Baron is a deuxième cru classé (second classified growth).

  • Château Mouton Rothschild produces one of Bordeaux's most well-known and celebrated wines. This is a first classified growth winery located in Pauillac.

  • Classified as a fifth growth, Château Pontet-Canet is located in Pauillac.

Graves

South of the Bordeaux and where the fifth premier cru, Château Haut-Brion, is located. Its best appellation is Pessac-Léognan. Graves is where both red wine and white wine are produced. Recommended wine châteaux include:

Sauternes and Barsac

These regions are south of Graves and are renowned for their lush and sweet white wines.

Saint-Émilion

Saint-Émilion is located on the Right Bank. Here, you will find Merlot-based wines from famous wineries such as Château Cheval Blanc. Other wineries to visit in Saint-Émilion include:

Saint-Emilion Monolithic Church

Pomerol

Pomerol is neighbor to Saint-Émilion on the Right Bank and home to Château Petrus. Merlot anyone?

Planning Your Visit to Bordeaux Wine Cellars

The starting gate for most people is the region's namesake city, Bordeaux. It straddles the Garonne River and is just south of its confluence with the Dordogne River which then turns into the large Gironde River that empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Gironde becomes the divider that creates the left-bank and right-bank assignations for the different châteaux with the left bank wines being more prestigious. There are several options to get to Bordeaux. One can fly of course, or drive. For ideas on where to stay, where to shop and where to dine, you can try the Office de Tourisme de Bordeaux which is a good resource to help you plan your trips logistics.

Visiting World's Most Famous Wine Region

Bordeaux, in the southwest of France, is still a pilgrimage destination for wine lovers around the world. There are other reasons to visit the region in the French southwest as well. There's the varied landscape that's loaded with forests, crisscrossed by rivers and streams and covered with vineyards. There are also the picturesque villages, history, hospitable people and good but simple cuisine. Ultimately, the overwhelming reason to visit Bordeaux is its celebrated red and white wines.

How to Get to Bordeaux

Bordeaux has an airport 12 km outside of the city with shuttle service and trains into the city. The airport, Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport (BOD), has three terminals and is a reasonably large airport, so prices to fly there are competitive. If you're visiting Paris, you can also take a high-speed train from the city to Bordeaux, a ride that will last about 2 hours and 30 minutes, or you can drive the roughly 590 km in about six hours.

Where to Stay in Bordeaux

There are a number of inns and hotels throughout the Bordeaux region including in the city itself. Where you stay may depend on which wine houses in Bordeaux you wish to visit, your travel needs, and your budget.

Bordeaux Wine Essentials

Bordeaux produces both red and white wines, but red is what sticks in everyone's mind and rouge comprises about 80% of total production. The Bordeaux reds of note are concoctions of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot with some Malbec and Carmenère also finding their way into the mix. The Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc are the major white varietals. The following are some helpful guidelines and tips to help get you organized when visiting Bordeaux wine cellars on your own pilgrimage to taste some of the world's most prized wines.

Footloose or Guided

Your biggest dilemma is whether to go independent or to latch onto a guided tour and let someone else take charge. Both have merit. If you are an experienced traveler and enjoy doing research and planning, then visiting Bordeaux wine cellars won't present too much difficulty. For those that don't, there are many tour companies that specialize in arranging wine tours in France. They usually offer fully guided tours taking over your travel headaches or let you customize your agenda. The benefit of a guided tour is there is somebody who speaks French, knows the best places in Bordeaux, and may have "inside" connections to get you a special châteaux tour and tasting or an impossible dinner reservation. These tours can be larger groups or smaller, private chauffeured jaunts. One recommendation is to combine independent travel with a few strategic guided tours.

hot air balloon on Vineyards

Booking Bordeaux Wine Tours

You can also save yourself time by booking visits through a touring agency.

  • Bordeaux Wine Trails can help you plan the perfect tour and tasting itinerary in Bordeaux. Half-day tours are relatively cheap, starting at 72€.
  • Ophorus Tours books private and shared wine tasting and tour experiences. Private tours cost in the neighborhood of 400€ to 500€, while shared tours will bee less expensive.
  • Bordovino Tours provides guided tours throughout the Bordeaux region. Small group tours start at about 75€ per person, while a private driver costs around 500€ per day.

Tips for Visiting Bordeaux Wine Châteaux

The first thing to know is that most châteaux will welcome visitors for tours and tasting by appointment only. Don't plan a surprise visit and expect to be welcomed. Also, keep in mind that many châteaux that offer tours may not provide any tastings or sell their wine onsite. Don't hesitate to ask questions of your hosts, the Bordelais are proud of their wine and heritage and love to engage in discussions about both. Some tips for visiting Bordeaux wine cellars:

  • Make your appointments weeks or months in advance. Contact the winery directly to schedule your time.
  • Plan for about 90 minutes per winery and allow for drive time between châteaux.
  • Group visits in the same region to minimize drive time.
  • Estimated drive times from left bank to right bank are about 90 minutes, while traveling from north to south for each bank takes about 40 minutes.
  • With drive time, time for dining, and time at each château, don't over schedule. Plan a maximum of 3 to 4 visits per day.
  • Dress comfortably and casually, but avoid sloppy clothes with rips, stains, t-shirts, etc.
  • If you choose to drive yourself, remember the legal limit for blood alcohol in France is .05.

Best and Worst Times to Visit Bordeaux

Bordelaise winemakers are welcoming to guests, but there are certain times of year when they are simply too busy for visitors.

  • Plan visits from mid-April through July when the weather is nice and the winemakers aren't as busy.
  • Avoid odd years during the second or third week in June when Vinexpo takes place in Bordeaux.
  • Avoid trade week, which is the first week in April.
  • Like much of France, the Bordelaise often take vacation in August, so many châteaux are closed that month.
  • September through late November are good months to visit, although you'll want to check for when harvest is occurring because wineries may be too busy to welcome guests during that time.
  • Avoid December through Early March, when it's cold and uncomfortable in the region.
  • Many wineries don't welcome guests on the weekends, so a weekday visit may be a better idea. Contact the winery.

The Wine Trip of a Lifetime

For wine lovers, visiting Bordeaux may be the wine trip of a lifetime. With some of the world's most respected and celebrated wine châteaux and a booming and welcoming wine industry, it's a wine trip well worth taking at least once in your life.

Guide to Visiting Bordeaux Wine Cellars