Bordeaux is often the preferred destination for a first wine tour in France… and it could become a lifetime journey.
The most prestigious maker of Sauternes, a sweet white wine of which one rare vintage recently auctioned for an astounding $100,000, the Chateau d’Yquem is located in the village of Sauternes, south of Bordeaux. Regularly touted as producing the most complex, flavorful and aromatic sweet white wine on the planet, their “Premier Cru Classe superieur” (superior-class vintage) Sauternes is so meticulously cultivated that each vine reportedly produces only a single glass of wine. The characteristically golden wine, with notes of tropical fruit, is aged in oak barrels for three years; rather unusually for white wines, it ages extraordinarily well. This explains why the Chateau’s most coveted vintages are up to 50 years old– and why investors jump at the occasion to procure them.
Meanwhile, the 400-year old chateau offers a luxurious backdrop for tastings and tours of the premises; even if you’re staying in Bordeaux and have only got a morning or afternoon, this is a worthwhile excursion.
Blending rich literary history, medieval romantic appeal and superb wine-tasting opportunities, this Chateau situated 45 minutes northwest of Bordeaux is home to a Haut Médoc wine that earned it a place among the 1855 Grands Crus Classés. One of the oldest winemakers in the Médoc, the La Tour-Carnet boasts medieval historic roots: part of its premises, including its striking round tower, have stood here since the 11th century. In fact, it’s one of the only estates in the region to feature a genuine moat and drawbridge.
The philosophers Michel de Montaigne and La Boetie reportedly visited the premises of the château, giving it genuine intellectual appeal as well as elegance. Now owned by Bernard Magrez, the estate is a rarefied choice for lodging in the region, and their private gastronomic lunch and dinner service is reputed as excellent, particularly for its wine and food pairings.
Rolling green vineyards, gastronomic dining and spectacular thermal bathsare among the breathtaking sights and luxurious amenities that await visitors to the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. This much-coveted luxury wine maker, whose elegant premises are situated in the Pessac-Léognan vintnering appellation only 20 minutes from central Bordeaux, produces both “grand cru classé” reds and whites that regularly rank among the region’s most outstanding wines. The recently renovated tasting rooms and wine-making facilities at the chateau make for a very pleasant afternoon of sampling and purchasing; the Chateau is well known for its harmonious architecture and eye-catching sculptures.
Meanwhile, gastronomy and superb possibilities for relaxation await with private dining at the Chateau and close access to the Caudalie “Vinotherapie” spa, located just across the road. What spells luxury more clearly than sampling world-class wine, then getting pampered with spa products specially formulated with grape extracts?
Situated in in the charming town of Saint Estèphe, the Cos d’Estournel chateau– with its striking orientalist design–has long been renowned for elicting an “Arabian Nights” ambience, in mid-Médoc. But since the owners revamped the winery it is above all coveted for its spectacularly modern; innovation-focused facilities (see photo above). Visits and tastings of the superb “Cos” wines– from voluptuous “Pagode” reds to intensely floral, aromatic whites– can be made upon appointment. The onsite museum will be of interest to dedicated oenophiles, or those who are simply curious to learn more about wine-making.
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Doubtless the most famous of the wine-tasting destinations (and producers) on our list, the Chateau Margaux has been attracting wealth and royalty for centuries. In the 12th century, it was known as “La Mothe de Margaux” and was frequented by European royal figures– but it wouldn’t become a wine-making estate until the late 16th century. Since then, and despite a tumultuous history that saw the estate suffer from a fungus that destroyed the vineyards and many different waves of ownership, it has proudly stood as perhaps the most globally prestigious Bordeaux appellation. It is the only Chateau to produce wines that bear its name– a rare honour.
Producing remarkably rich, complex reds and whites that have become staples in auction houses around the world, the Chateau and its surrounding vineyards are lavishly beautiful; the 19th-century, starkly white estate is framed by tall canopies of trees and offer a lush, luxurious setting. It can be difficult to secure a booking for a tasting here, so reserving well ahead is strongly recommended. Having an expert guide arrange the visit will ensure you avoid disappointment.
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