* Saturday June 6: Departure from AVL (or wherever you depart from) to Bordeaux, via Paris or Amsterdam.
* Sunday June 7: Arrival at Bordeaux Merignac at 9:40 am.
Transfer to hotel in Bordeaux's Golden Triangle. This day will be dedicated to acclimating after the trans-Atlantic flight.
Lunch at the market in the old town, oysters, charcuterie, fromages surrounded by the activity of a thriving food market in the Bordeaux's halles, and with wines from our best producers. Let's start strong!
After lunch some might want to take a nap at the hotel, others will want to take a stroll with me in the city and start discovering the architectural treasures of the town.
Aperitif and dinner near the hotel.
* Monday June 8: Stroll in Bordeaux in the morning light and explore a few must see places.
We will 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 geography of wine, and the essentials of oenology.
Tramway ride back to the center of town and stroll on the docks.
Aperitif on a medieval square near the river, and dinner in town.
* Tuesday June 9: Serge Opillard joins us, and we drive to Langon the capital of the Graves region. The Graves is where wine production started in Bordeaux, and where the best 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 Eric Fonta's only agent in the U.S., as he is overwhelmingly recognized to be a cut above everybody in the Graves appellation. This visit will be a chance to discuss in his vineyard how he consistently produces such stellar wines, and delve into his encyclopedic wine and oenology knowledge. The man is one of the best tasters I have ever met.
We will have a tasting of course.
Eric will then accompany us for lunch in one of the best restaurants of the region, where Serge was sommelier for 30 years.
With Eric, we will have flirted with the sanctity of wine, so on our way back to Bordeaux, we will stop at Chateau Pape Clément for our first visit of a Grand Cru Classé. This estate is in the Pessac-Leognan appellation, on the edge of the actual town of Bordeaux, and goes back to the origins of wine making in Bordeaux. Its historic importance cannot be overstated, as all over Bordeaux we will see connections with this castle. After all, its owner was indeed a Pope, and an important one in the history of the papacy!
This estate is now in the hands of Bernard Magrez, not an investment firm. Mr. Magrez is from Bordeaux, and has built an empire in the wine industry, but still manages it himself. You will find a lot of soul poured in the winemaking here, and in the artistry of what Bernard Magrez creates and cultivates.
Dinner in Town
* Wednesday June 10: 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 Sauternais, which offers some beautiful rolling hills and skies.
We will first visit Chateau Haut Bergeron, a long established producer in Sauternes. This estate is the best kept secret in Sauternes where it produces some of the best wines, and wins most blind tasting competitions. This estate is the only one with a plot on an island surrounded by the Ciron river, the cause for the noble mold that makes the Sauternes what it is. The plot on that island gives a very fresh and modern Sauternes with aromas of pineapple and exotic fruit.
It is worth noting that the lunch with the winemaker at the estate, will be a culinary treat with recipes promoting the use and pairing with Sauternes.
After all this we will go to Chateau d'Yquem for a visit of this marvel of the wine world. Yquem is one of the most exclusive wine estates in the world, owned by the same group that owns Louis Vuitton, Moet Hennessy and many other prestigious luxury brands. Yquem, though, is not chichi. We are just here at the very top of the wine world, a few notches above state of the art. This visit will make evident why it is considered by many as one of the best wines in the world.
Dinner in Town.
* Thursday June 11: 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 and share his wine making vision and vintage wine techniques. It is worth noting that Chateau Coulonge is now an organic producer, which is 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 south west 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.
Chateau Coulonge is not far from Toulouse's Lautrec's castle where he lived, loved and died. We will have a VIP visit of this place which is dedicated to his legacy. We will explore not only the property, but also this artist's often little known decisive impact on art, notably through Picasso and other artists who defined art in the 20th Century.
We will also have a tasting of the estate's wines.
Dinner in Town.
* Friday June 12: We will start by a visit to Chateau Vignol, a producer of a superb Entre deux Mers, rich complex and aromatic. Chateau Vignol is a lovely family estate where we would like to stay longer.
We will have lunch in a creative restaurant, on the left bank of the Dordogne, not far from Saint Emilion.
From there we will have 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 visit we will go to the actual village for a stroll in its adorable streets, and a visit of the historic "troglodyte" church, a breathtaking edifice, carved inside the rock and defying imagination.
Dinner in a village near Saint Emilion.
* Saturday June 13: 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 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.
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. The owner is actually American and has a connection with North Carolina.
After our sinful lunch, we will seek redemption in history, with a visit of the nearby Castle. This one is a castle Fort, seemingly the father of all castle forts, one that has been featured in several films. This remarkable castle goes back to the 12th Century, 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 influenced dramatically a lot of New York's architecture, notably the Empire State Building.
After this, we will finish the day at Chateau Carbon d'Artigues a little further west in the Graves regions. This estate produces extremely well balanced, juicy and aromatic wines. They are one of the newest addition in Contrast Wines portfolio but an extremely promising one judging by the reaction of the 2019 Bdx tour. We will have a country dinner there with the producer.
* Sunday June 14: Bordeaux may seem at first like a river town, and it is, but it also very close to the Atlantic Ocean where many Bordelais spend their weekends and vacation. So today we are doing the "Bordelais" thing. We will take a train to the the most prized spot on the ocean near Bordeaux: Arcachon and the Cap Ferret. Both places are separated from each other by the entrance channel to a large bay which is largely devoted to raising oysters.
From the hotel we will take a tram to the station, then a train for a rather short 50 minutes ride. Once arrived we will walk down to the dock where we will hop in a boat that will take us across the bay. There we will have a 30 minutes walk to a lovely oyster shack on a deck overlooking the bay with the Dune du Pilât on the horizon as a mirage (see photograph on the right). The menu will be what you see, as well as oysters and local seafood.
I'll confess, oysters are one of my sins, and never have I seen such an ideal place to have some. Those who cannot do oysters will have the option to have their lunch at the restaurant across the street. After this healthy meal we will walk to the actual Cap and see the furious ocean and/or lighthouse. Then walk back to the dock to take the boat back to where we began.
Please note that there is a fair amount of walking on this day.
Dinner: we will back in Bordeaux, and tonight is your opportunity to break from the group and have dinner on your own. Those who find our company addictive and can't take enough of it will have the option to join Larry, Hammond and myself in my favorite Bordeaux restaurant where we will have had dinner once before. I will need to know, ideally at booking, and by April 1st at the latest, if you want to get the dinner option with Larry, Hammond and Jean-Christian that night.
* Monday June 15: We start the day by a visit of the other new Bordeaux producer in Contrast Wines, Chateau Montdésir-Gazin, near Blaye. This producer was recommended to me by Éric Fonta (Chateau Lehoul). So it will not surprise us to see that these wines are remarkably accomplished and define their own style.
We will have lunch with the producer and if time allows visit the citadelle that guards the entrance to Bordeaux.
From there we will take the ferry to cross the Gironde and find ourselves in the Médoc, that large band of land northwest of Bordeaux that follows the Garonne river rather closely, all the way to the ocean. We will do a bit of sight seeing, and visit one of the big name estate in Saint Julien or Pauillac.
Dinner in Town.
* Tuesday June 16: For our last day we go back to the Médoc. We willfirst stop in Margaux to visit Chateau d'Issan, a magnificent Grand Cru Classé with a stellar wine production and a stunning estate.
We will go toward the tip of the Médoc, for a visit of Chateau Castéra, a lovely estate with a sizable and very established production going back to medieval times, well before the Médoc became the rage wine producing area that was developed in the 19th century. We will have a visit of this beautiful property, detailing its history linked to Montaigne.
We will go back to Bordeaux through the lovely castles route which passes most of the famous estates known all over the world.
Dinner back in Bordeaux.
* Wednesday June 17: Free time this morning for a last embrace of the town, then lunch near the hotel before heading to the train station, for a high speed 2 hour ride to Paris. Our hotel is a very comfortable hotel in Saint Germain des Près, 10 minutes away from the station, and the most perfect location, close to the Seine River.
Dinner in Paris and night stroll in the city.
* Thursday June 18: I have included two days in Paris so that everybody may enjoy the city as the Bouquet Final of this firework tour. Those not participating in my Paris Itinerary will spend the days as they wish. Tonight though we meet for dinner, as we all want to hear what the others have done. This is a Contrast Tours dinner.
* Friday June 19: Second day or regained freedom. Tonight there is an optional Contrast Tours dinner at my friend Philippe's apartment in Montparnasse. The dinner is catered by a fantastic restaurant on the first floor, and Philippe will play the accordion for us. This is a rare treat and unfortunately we can only accommodate 8 guests, with priority to those on my Paris Itinerary, and beyond that, for those who book first. see options link below.
* Saturday June 20: This is the official end of the tour, save for those staying longer in Paris in my itinerary or not.
Taxi to Paris Roissy Airport.
See all the options for the tour, notably for those wishing to extend their stay in Paris, either touring the town with me or on their own.