* Saturday May 19: Departure from RDU (or wherever you depart from) to Paris CDG via Delta direct flight at 5:33pm.
* Sunday May 20: Arrival in Paris at 7:45am, then flight to Bdx at 10:15am. Arrival at Bordeaux Merignac at 11:30am.
Transfer to hotel on the banks of the river.
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 the wines from one of 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.
It will be possible for folks to Uber themselves or call a vélo-taxi if they don't feel like walking.
Aperitif at a café, then dinner in town.
* Monday May 21: We will spend 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, as well as give the essentials of oenology.
We will have lunch at the 7th floor restaurant overlooking all of Bordeaux.
Tramway ride back to the center of town and stroll on the docks.
Aperitif on the banks of the river and dinner in town.
* Tuesday May 22: Serge Opillard joins us. We will drive you to Sauternes. Sauternes is about 45 minutes away from Bordeaux's center, and is of course the little village that gave its name to the profoundly aromatic liquoreux wine native produced in the Sauternais, which along with the Médoc, is probably in the most beautiful countryside in the Bordeaux region.
We will first visit Chateau Haut Bergeron, which produces excellent and long established Sauternes. This estate is the only one with a plot on an island surrounded by the Ciron river. Here, the weather conditions cause 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. We will visit it after lunch and walk a short trail around the island allowing us to digest while exploring the habitat created by this unique and remarkable river.
It is worth noting that the lunch with the winemaker will be a culinary treat with recipes promoting the use and pairing with Sauternes, and promises to be quite delightful.
After all this we will go to Chateau d'Yquem for a visit of the absolute best Sauternes there is. 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
* Wednesday May 23: Visit of Chateau Coulonge in the Entre Deux Mers region. Nicolas Roux is the descendant in a long lineage of wine makers. His family has owned this estate since 1804. He will open his farm to us and share his vintage wine techniques. Chateau Coulonge produces outstanding Entre Deux Mers which is more well-known for its whites, but also reveals some amazing reds, which will be verified here.
We will have lunch at the farm, allowing ourselves for a short immersion in this true winemaking facility, which like Nicolas, is as authentic as it gets.
After Chateau Coulonge we will take the charming bridge of Cadillac to drive across the Graves region and stop at the Lillet original plant, which as you can tell on the photograph on the left, has retained its original charm. Lillet is an apéritif famous all over the world and issued from wine from the region. We will learn its history and will taste its newest versions, which are hard to find in the U.S. On the right you can see an original piece of furniture from the wine merchants who created Lillet and used to deal in a lot of famous wines, including Chateau d'Yquem.
We will then head to Pessac-Leognan for our second Grand Cru Classé visit: Chateau Pape Clément. This estate goes back to the origins of wine making in Bordeaux and its historic importance cannot be overstated, as all over Bordeaux we see connections with this castle. After all, its owner was indeed a Pope! This estate is now in the hands of Bernard Magrez, not an investment firm. Mr. Magrez is from Bordeaux, built an empire in the wine industry, but still manages it himself. You will find a lot of soul in the quality of this visit.
Dinner in Town.
* Thursday May 24: This is our last day with Giorgios and Marika, so we are going to make it super special! 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 going to 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.
We will drive to Arcachon, park there, and take a boat 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. After this healthy meal we will walk to the actual Cap and see the furious ocean. 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, but those who can't walk this kind of distance will be able to find a cab ride or rent bikes.
On the Arcachon side of the bay we will go see the Dune du Pilât, the largest dune in Europe. After all this exercise it will be time to have an aperitif at a posh bar designed by a star designer, and which overlooks the dune with a gorgeous view of the bay.
The place is also a restaurant and we will have dinner there.
* Friday May 25: Today Giorgios and Marika return to their duties and in order to alleviate our sorrow, we are going to Saint Emilion. We will start first by a visit of the Domaine Jura-Plaisance that sits in Montagne Saint Emilion on the edge of Saint Emilion, really close to prestigious domaines like Cheval Blanc.
Jura-Plaisance has retained its vintner spirit, is French owned and is the result of one single man, Alain Germon, who does everything wine related there--from trimming the vines to the whole vinification process. The result is a tremendous genuine wine, rich in dark and blue fruits. Alain will introduce us to his approach and explain how he conducts the vines and what makes his wine so genuine in a place like Saint Emilion where that can be hard to find.
We will have lunch in a lovely restaurant, on the left bank of the Dordogne, not far from Saint Emilion.
In the afternoon we will walk through the village and visit one other domaine before having dinner in this beautiful village.
* Saturday May 26: 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" of the town, right on the market place. The owner is actually American and has a connection with North Carolina.
After our steak with Foie Gras, we will seek redemption in history, with a visit of the nearby Castle that belonged to Henri IV (the first Bourbon who ended the war of religions). This is a lovely 16th century castle, very well preserved, and which was the theater of Queen Margot's adventures!
It will then be time to visit Chateau Lehoul, the best winemaker in the Graves appellation. I am proud to be Eric Fonta's only agent in the U.S., as he is overwhelmingly recognized as a cut above everybody in the Graves appellation. We will already have had his wines during this tour, but this will be a chance to discuss his techniques and philosophy with him and delve into his encyclopedic wine and oenology knowledge. The man is one of the best tasters I have ever met.
This seems like a long day, but days are long at the end of May, and this one should flow like a steady but fluid stream. Because it is not over, from Chateau Lehoul we will go to Chateau Chatard, about 1/2 hour away. Chateau Chatard is in the hills on the other side of the Garonne, and technically in Entre Deux Mers. They produce one wine, a red, a Côtes de Cadillac, which is typically sold out by the time the next vintage comes. It is bright, fruity and joyful, just like its owners, Anne and Jean-Rémy Larrat. They bought their farm a few years ago and have turned it into a lively place where events happen all the time. We will have a visit and a chance to experience the beauty and serendipity of this location as well the Larrats' well-known conviviality during a dinner with the family.
* Sunday May 27: Today we relax with a light, take-it-easy schedule. Those who want will attend a walking tour, "The Bordeaux of the Slave Trade," hosted by a Franco-Senegalese gentleman who has researched this matter in depth. There is a lot of Africans in Bordeaux, traditionally well integrated, and their presence may be traced to the triangular slave trade that Bordeaux participated in, and on which it built its wealth. Mr. Diallo will walk us through that history and its remnants still present in the town's architecture.
Lunch will be at the market again, as it is too preciously rare to find such a vibrant, colorful and tasteful market. After lunch everybody will do what they want, including continuing to explore the town's wonders, with me or on their own.
Apéritif at a popular café and dinner in town.
* Monday May 28: Today we start our exploration of the Médoc, that large band of land northwest of Bordeaux that follows the Garonne river rather closely, almost all the way to the ocean.
We will spend the day with Michel Aroldi of the Dompierre Domaine in Pauillac. Michel's wines are present in many top restaurants in France, even starred ones, and have been served at the Elysée Palace, the presidential palace, for State dinners. When one tastes his Pauillac it becomes obvious why he enjoys such a clientele. He will shows us his vines, his cave, explain his techniques, some of which he invented, and will show us the Médoc he loves. I cannot think of a better way to be introduced to this rather mysterious land, the Médoc.
We will have lunch with this exceptional guide, at his house, which is obviously quite an exceptional treat.
Dinner back in Bordeaux.
* Tuesday May 29: We will spend a second day in the Médoc, as it is an important part of the region. We will first go a little further, closer to the Médoc's tip, for a visit of Chateau Castéra, a lovely estate with a sizable and very established production. We will have a visit of this beautiful property and will enjoy lunch in the castle and in company of Mr. Darmusey, the general manager and very pleasant fellow.
In the afternoon on our way back to Bordeaux we will visit Chateau Pichon Baron, a magnificent Grand Cru Classé estate in Pauillac.
Dinner back in Bordeaux.
* Wednesday May 30: Serge Opillard will test our wine knowledge acquisition with a game of recognition of certain aromas and analysis of wine through blind tastings and the like. Maybe a short last free stroll, then lunch in town before heading to the train station, for a high speed 2 hour ride to Paris.
Apéritif and dinner in Paris.
* Thursday May 31: Taxi to Paris Roissy Airport. Delta direct flight to RDU, or any other flight that will get you where you came from.
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. You may also arrange for yourself a longer stay in France. Your return date will be booked following your specifications. Please note that depending on your return dates, the price for the flight back may change, although most likely minimally.