Bordeaux is circled by vineyards; from Medoc – home to names like Château Mouton-Rothschild – to Sauternes, where the world’s greatest sweet wines are made. Visitors flock to some of the most famous villages in the wine world (Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Emilion and Pomerol) but beware as a declining number of the major châteaux still require introductions and appointments.
1. Château Smith Haut-Lafitte
One of the leading labels in the Graves region, Château Smith Haut-Lafitte offers tours and tastings and is adjacent to Les Sources de Caudalie, a five-star luxury hotel with 61 luxurious rooms and suites set in the vineyards. It has two restaurants (one starred) and a spa offering treatments using vine products.
2. Château Giraud
Château Giraud, with a history dating back to the 1700s, is a hugely welcoming Sauternes producer offering tours and tastings of its outstanding sweet whites. It was classified a first-growth, or 1er Cru, back in 1885. One of the first Châteaux to embrace wine tourism. It also has beautiful gardens.
3. Château Gruaud Larose
You'll find an unlikely ultra-modern tasting centre and observation tower at this ancient estate at Saint-Julien Beychevelle in the Médoc. The 21-metre tower is a counterpoint to the classic château, built in 1725. For a fee, enjoy wine tastings matched with chocolates or cheese; or sample older vintages.
4. Château Cordellian-Bages
Visit the Château Lynch-Bages tasting facility in Pauillac, a region that is home to some of the most expensive vineyards in the world, and then dine (and maybe stay overnight) at the ultra-luxe Château Cordeillan-Bages, known for its fine food, superb service and expansive wine list.
5. Château Margaux
Château Margaux’s new winemaking facility, visitor centre and vinotheque, designed by prize-winning British architect Norman Foster, is a good example of Bordeaux’s growing embrace of wine tourism. The new buildings complement a château that was built in the early 1800s. Reservations are mandatory.
6. Château la Dominique
This dramatic Château offers both public and private tastings and tours (for a fee) and is home to a restaurant, La Terrasse Rouge, that was designed by Jean Nouvel. It is a decidedly modern affair with sweeping views over the vines of Saint-Emilion and a menu featuring Oleron oysters and other south-west delicacies.
7. Luxury Wine Experience
This group offers a wide range of tours, tastings (and even overnight stays) and several of the properties owner by wine entrepreneur Bernard Magrez: Château Pape Clement in Graves, Château Formbrauge in Saint-Emilion, Château La Tour Carnet in Haut Medoc. He also owns Le Clos Haut Peyraguey in Sauternes.
8. Château Siaurac
Enjoy fascinating tours behind-the-scenes of this old château in Lalande de Pomerol and taste wines from three vineyards under the same ownership: Siaurac, Château Vray Croix de Gay in Pomerol and Château La Priueré in Saint-Emilion. A number of tasting/tour packages are available, including some featuring lunch.
9. L'Ecole du Vin
Learn about the various wines of Bordeaux without leaving the city. The Bordeaux wine school offers two-hour “initiation” courses and tasting sessions six days a week between July and September, promising you will learn “how to taste and discover the specificities of Bordeaux wines”.
10. Hotel Rollan de By
Stay in a comfortable vineyard hotel and immerse yourself in the culture of Bordeaux wines. There are only six rooms at this boutique establishment but Rollan de By is set on over 200 hectares of vineyards and visitors are offered a tasting of some of the best labels. Ideal for bon vivants.
Also visit Cognac
Take a day trip out of town to visit the brandy-producing town of Cognac, home to famous names like Remy Martin, Hennessy and Martell. Cognac has a population of under 20,000 but this lively little town on the Charente River is known worldwide. There are several organised tours offering distillery visits.