I have researched the Bordeaux region extensively to develop my first tour in Bordeaux in 2018. My subsequent Bordeaux wine selection has since then, been a resounding import success in North Carolina, which enjoys these wines often in U.S. exclusivity. I have done several tours in Bordeaux since, refining constantly the itinerary and growing the wine selection that now includes a Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé in NC exclusivity.
I am very proud of this new itinerary. It is not your typical cruise, and you will be visiting Bordeaux from an insider angle, learning along the way the differences among the different appellations of the region, taking in the diversity in company of no less than a master sommelier, a Premier Sommelier de France, my lieutenant in Bordeaux, who, with me, will be one of the two drivers.
Exceptionally, this tour is also graced by the presence of Frank Leonor, a French winemaker, who has created and managed the modern Domaine La Rouviole in the Minervois (western Languedoc), which I import. Frank will be a regular tour participant. This is exceptional, winemakers don't typically participate to wine tours, but Frank is of a different type, dispensing a rare human elegance, you will love his presence, wisdom and companionship.
This is a very urban tour, as Bordeaux is a quintessential European city, and one of the trendiest destinations in the world. Not only is Bordeaux utterly pleasant to live in, with its rather mild weather, its 12th to 18th century glorious architecture, which earned it to be on UNESCO's World Heritage List, but this is also a city with a rich past, and a vibrant present. We will stay in the very center of the town, and will take daily trips from that location to vineyards, cultural sites of importance, and villages of legends. Everyday will be a new feast, with gastronomy and wine aligned with the exceptional character of what we will visit. Please take a look at the itinerary below and feel free to contact me with any questions.
* Saturday June 17: Departure from RDU (or wherever you depart from) to Bordeaux, via Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid etc.
You could also have chosen to arrive early, flying to Paris for instance and stay there Saturday night, then Sunday morning arrive fresh in Bordeaux after a 2 hours train ride.
I can help get you accommodation in Paris On the 17th.
* Sunday June 18: Arrival at Bordeaux Merignac or gare Saint Jean.
Transfer to hotel in Bordeaux's Golden Triangle from the Airport, or by tram from the railway station if arriving by train. This day will be dedicated to acclimating after the trans-Atlantic flight, unless you landed on the continent a day earlier or more, and are ready now to explore Bordeaux in all its depth.
Lunch at the covered market. Oysters, charcuterie, fromages surrounded by the activity of a thriving food market in the Bordeaux's halles, and with wines from my most popular producers. Let's start strong!
After lunch some might want to take a nap at the hotel, others will want to take a stroll in the city, with me or on their own, and start discovering the amazing architectural treasures of the town.
Aperitif and dinner in my favorite restaurant in Bordeaux.
* Monday June 19: Serge Opillard joins us, and we start our exploration of Bordeaux with a visit of Chateau Coulonge in the Entre Deux Mers region. Nicolas Roux is the descendant of a long lineage of humble wine makers. He produces outstanding whites and reds, including a stunning Malbec. These wines are some of the best sellers in Contrast Wines portfolio. Nicolas is as authentic as it gets, and will open his farm to us to share his wine making vision. It is worth noting that Chateau Coulonge is an organic producer, which is still uncommon in Bordeaux, Nicolas also uses low sulfites.
After visiting his vineyard and cellar, we will have oysters under the oak tree, with of course his organic Sauvignon blanc. Then we will have lunch with him and his wife, experiencing second to none Bordeaux hospitality (a member of Chateau Coulonge's staff is an ex star restaurant chef ... You may expect to be blown away), and allowing ourselves a momentary immersion in this true winemaking life.
Given that we are all very curious of this mysterious Bordeaux, today we exceptionally visit two wineries. And so now we head to Saint Emilion for a visit of Chateau Le Chatelet, the Grand Cru Classé that I distribute to NC in exclusivity.
So we go from one of my most humble, yet superb producer, to one of the very best that Bordeaux has. This is Contrast Tours, we are not afraid of contrasts. Le Chatelet is a tiny estate, less than 3 hectares, located in a top location, quite close to the village. The wine is divine, quite concentrated, with ultra polished tannins and beautiful aromas, a real nectar, something that few of us have ever experienced. We'll meet the very busy but unaffected owner, and Vintenr, Julien Berjal who will give us a tour of its carved in the rock chais.
Dinner in one of Bordeaux's top restaurants near the hotel.
* Tuesday June 20: Today we drive to Langon the capital of the Graves region. The Graves is where wine production started in Bordeaux, and where some of the best wine values may be found.
And it is where we find Chateau Lehoul, a stupendous producer, whose wines have instantly become popular when I introduced them in North Carolina. I am proud to be their only U.S. importer, as they are overwhelmingly recognized to be a cut above in the Graves appellation. This visit will be a chance to discuss in their vineyard how they consistently produces such stellar wines, and delve into their science.
We will have a tasting of course.
Lunch in at one of the best restaurants of the region, where Serge was sommelier for 30 years, and whose original chef, Raymond Oliver, was the French Julia Child on TV, when I was a little boy.
Langon is not far from Toulouse's Lautrec's castle, where he lived, loved and died. We will explore not only the property, but also this artist's often little known decisive impact on art, notably through Picasso, and others who defined art in the 20th Century.
Dinner in the Chartrons Quarter
* Wednesday June 21: Today we drive to the Côtes de Blaye, on the north side of the Gironde. This is where we will find the Domaine du Cassard, the most prominent producer of Crémant de Bordeaux, one commonly served by a famous Mayor of Bordeaux.
We will visit the chais and study how this rather unusual production operates, then have lunch with the producer in his own country restaurant.
After lunch we will do a short visit of Blayes's fortress, before taking a ferry to cross the Gironde. On the other side we will be in the most glorious part of the Médoc, and will go back to Bordeaux following the 'Route des Chateaux."
Dinner in Bordeaux
* Thursday June 22: Today we drive to Sauternes, about 45 minutes away from Bordeaux's center. Sauternes is of course the little village that gave its name to the profoundly aromatic liquoreux wine, native of the Sauternnais, which offers some beautiful rolling hills and skies, ultimate ornaments of beautiful wineries.
We will visit Chateau Haut Bergeron, a long established producer. This estate is the best kept secret in Sauternes, due to the fact that it is not classified, yet produces some of the best wines in the appellation, and wins a lot of the blind tasting competitions.
The lunch with the winemaker at the estate will be a culinary treat, with pairings that will demonstrate the versatility of Sauternes, and its incomparable richness.
We will go back to Bordeaux early so that you may enjoy some free time in town.
* Friday June 23: We spend the day in Saint Emilion, the marvelous village whose charm has seduced the world. We will start with a visit of the historic "troglodyte" church of Saint Emilion, a breathtaking edifice, carved inside the rock during medieval times, and defying imagination.
After that we will have lunch in a creative restaurant, on the left bank of the Dordogne, not far from Saint Emilion. This restaurant is an absolute gem, that always provide a memorable experience in a rather casual yet styled format.
The afternoon will start with a visit of the Clos des Abbesses, a family owned Grand Cru in Saint Emilion. Saint Emilion is of course a spectacularly beautiful village entirely dedicated to wine, and where it seems that all the millionaires of the world compete to acquire their plot of wine greatness. Clos des Abbesses is an exception, in that it is owned by a French family, and goes for wine excellence, but without the frou frou often found elsewhere. I am very proud of this producer which deserves all the attention that I am attempting to shine on him.
After this, you will be able to stroll on your own in Saint Emilion's streets, taking in their unique charm.
After visiting greatness, we will head for dinner in Montagne, a village near Saint Emilion, in another fantastic restaurant located in a very quaint part of Montagne. Every year Serge asks me if we go to that restaurant, as it has struck him as well as a hidden pearl, and let's not forget that he worked for 30 years in one of France's best restaurants!
* Saturday June 24: Today we are going to the tip of the Graves region, in a town named Bazas. It is market day, and this is a market and a town with a deep middle ages impression. The market is a true and lively market that brings a gentle chaos to the town. It takes place on the main square in front of the Cathedral, one of the very nicest churches in the region, which casts an almost surreal, movie like ambiance.
Bazas is also known for its beef, and we cannot pass on that. We will have lunch in a popular "steakhouse," right on the market place, with some of the very best beef there is. The owner is actually American and has a connection with North Carolina.
After our sinful lunch, we will seek redemption by visiting the beautiful Cathedral which once was on the road to Compostelle, and explore its hidden gardens for a relax time.
After a drive across the Entre Deux Mers, we will end the day at Chateau Vignol, which produces some of the most popular wines in my portfolio--including an excellent Clairet--and are known for their stunning character and value. Jean-Thomas who heads the Estate with his brother, is a very endearing fellow that I know you will enjoy, and after a thorough visit, we will have dinner with him.
* Sunday June 25: Stroll in Bordeaux in the morning light and explore a few must see places.
Lunch on the docks of Bordeaux.
We will then take the tram and spend the rest of the day at the Cité du Vin, a new generation museum, where wine comes to life through an immersive, sensorial approach, all set within an evocative architectural design. The place is loaded with interactive activities destined to teach the visitors the history and culture of wine, as well as the essentials of oenology.
Stroll on the docks.
Aperitif, and dinner in town.
* Monday June 26: Today we visit Chateau Carbon d'Artigues in the Graves region. This estate produces extremely well balanced, juicy and aromatic wines. They are one of the newest addition in Contrast Wines portfolio.
We will have a country lunch there with the producer, and prepared by him. The scene may resemble a Renoir painting, as the photograph on the right let imagine.
After this relaxing deceptively "country" affair, the day will affirm its aristocratic character. We will head to a nearby Castle. This one is a castle fort, seemingly the father of all castle forts, which caused it to be featured in several films. This remarkable castle goes back to the 12th Century, and is linked to the history of the entire region. Sébastien, the heir of the family which has owned this castle for 700 years (that's right, 700 years!) will guide us through an exceptional VIP visit detailing the history and art presented to our eyes. He will also explain the importance of the renovation by Violet le Duc, and how this architect from the 19th century, to whom we owe the Notre Dame we used to know, influenced dramatically a lot of New York's architecture, notably the Empire State Building.
Dinner in THE Bordeaux restaurant where Bordelais wine drinkers go. It shows!
* Tuesday 27 Juin: On our last day we go to the Médoc. We will pass by Margaux and see the lovely castles route which passes most of the famous estates known all over the world.
We will eventually push until Chateau Castera, one of the oldest wine producer in the Medoc, going back to the middle ages, well before this whole part of the Bordeaux vineyard, was developed into a wine devoted territory in the 19th century. Chateau Castera used to be in the larger Montaigne family, and we will have an historic visit explaining the long past of this Cru Bourgeois producing estate. We will of course visit the chais and explore the blending aspects of wine making, something rather specific to Chateau Castera.
We will have lunch at the Castle, enjoying again one of the highest grade of Bordeaux hospitality.
After this rare, high brow but relaxing visit, we will head back to bordeaux with a gentle ride across the Medoc and by the Gironde.
Dinner in a Bouquet Final fashion, at one of Bordeaux's best restaurants.
* Wednesday June 28: Free time this morning for a last embrace of the town.
Then lunch near the hotel before heading to the train station where we will part with Serge, for a high speed 2 hour ride to Paris. Our Paris hotel is a very comfortable one in Saint Germain des Près, a 10 minutes taxi ride from the train station, and in the most perfect location, close to the Seine River.
Dinner in Paris and night stroll in the city.
* Thursday June 29: I have included two days in Paris so that everybody may enjoy the city as the cherry on the cake of this tour. Those not participating in my Paris Itinerary will spend the days as they wish, and may take advantage of the "meet us for dinner" option, in keeping with the high standards of the tour. Frank will probably come to Paris and grace us with his company for dinner.
* Friday June 30: Second day in Paris. Like yesterday, those not participating in my Paris Itinerary will spend the days as they wish, and may take advantage of the "meet us for dinner" option, in keeping with the high standards of the tour. If Frank comes with us to Paris, which seems likely, he will grace us again with his company for dinner.
* Saturday July 1st: This is the official end of the tour, save for those staying longer in Paris in my itinerary or not, today we have lunch in prime spot at the Eiffel Tower.
The hotel can arrange for a taxi to come and get you to the airport if this is where you are going.
See all the options for the tour, which feature the room options, my Paris Itinerary, and the "meet us for dinner."