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Wine traveller’s Bordeaux – a travel guide to the land of grand red wines

Bordeaux - Saint-Emilion

The world’s largest quality wine region, Bordeaux offers unique experiences for lovers of good wine and food, in an eye-catching scenery. Medieval stone towns, châteaux and beautiful rolling vineyards to delight the eye. The tranquillity of the countryside and the bustle of Bordeaux. Whether your budget is €1000 or a €10 bottle, there are wine discoveries in Bordeaux for everyone that will be remembered for a long time.


Over 8,000 wine producers, dozens of appellations, multiple classifications, restaurants and wine museums. It’s completely impossible to cover Bordeaux in a single article, but here are a few tips worth checking out in Bordeaux – especially if you like a bolder style of red wine. Wines that don’t need to be enjoyed while holding a pinky up.

This and that side of the river – A crash course in the wines of Bordeaux

Today, a rough division into Bordeaux red wines emerges from the areas delimited by the river lines. The rivers Garonne and Dordogne join the Gironde as they approach the Bay of Biscay. On the left bank of the river, in the Medoc, the gravel soil creates optimal growing conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon, which is usually the dominant grape variety in local blends (Cuvée). These wines, which are hard when young, usually require a good number of years in the cellar before they blossom.


On the right bank of the river, the soil is softer and the main grape variety is Merlot. The fruity and full-bodied wines can be enjoyed by the more impatient at a young age.

Bordeaux wine classifications are a confusing muddle

Over hundreds of years, Bordeaux has created enough wine classifications for its own needs. History readers will know that in the old days, the nobility enjoyed the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Mosel or the Rhine. You knew the region, but the producer didn’t really matter that much. In Bordeaux, the matter was settled in 1855, when the producers of the region were classified into five categories according to their sales, reputation and quality at the timeGrand Cru Classé. The classic Bordeaux 1855 wine law was born.

At that time, the production of the right-hand side of the river was not yet highly regarded enough to qualify for the classification. Neither was the southern Graves area. Later on, they developed their own quality systems, which have been diligently tweaked over the years.

In addition to these labels, other quality labels appear on bottles, such as Cru Bourgeois, which history goes back further than the 1855 law, and Bordeaux Supérieur. If your winery does not meet any of these requirements, you can simply write Bordeaux AOC on the label.

So how do you know what bottle to bet on?


There are no quality systems at all in Saint-Émilion neighbouring Pomerol or Fronsac. So how do you know what to invest in? It’s purely a matter of taste – as wine always is.

If you want to spend thousands of euros on a bottle, you can easily do so. Aim for the “1er cru classé” wines and top vintages of the 1855 classification. Pricey wines are widely available in the region’s many wine shops. There will certainly be something to talk about when you get home.

Can you get a better price? Is it worth buying lower-rated wines at all? Of course it is. Your own taste and your wallet are the best guides to discovering the wines of Bordeaux. Bordeaux is full of great wineries, restaurants and wine bars where you can taste great wines at all price and quality levels.

Focus on the bigger Bordeaux reds – Saint-Estèphe & Saint-Émilion

In this article we focus on two Bordeaux appellations: the Saint-Estèphe AOC (Haut-Medoc) and the Saint-Émilion AOC, on the right bank of the river. Why? Because they generally produce a fuller, bolder, more angular style than the neighbouring regions. A wines painted with bigger brush.

The elegantly robust red wines of Saint-Estèphe

Saint-Estèphe, the northernmost of the four top villages in the Haut-Médoc region of Bordeaux, produces red wines known for their deep colours and intense, robust character. In blends, Cabernet Sauvignon plays a leading role, as it almost always does in the Medoc. It is typically blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and sometimes Petit Verdot.

The 2019 Mac-Carthy was still very young, but quite delicious. The “second wine” from Château Phélan Ségur, Frank Phélan 2014, a wine with an Irish pedigree, was already starting to show some great signs of development. But the king of the row was the Grand Cru Classé Château Cos Labory. While in Bordeaux, it’s also worth trying Les Pèlerins de Lafon-Rochet, which is great value for money.

The wines of Saint-Estèphe have a full-bodied flavour and structure, with a complex aromatic complexity. They age beautifully for a long time, but in some cases can be enjoyed as early as a few years old. These powerful and intense wines are excellent with grilled steaks, lamb and game dishes. Although at their best, Saint-Estèphe wines have the “finesse” of Bordeaux, these wines generally have more bite than other top Medoc villages.



La Maison du Vin

A shop with a wide selection of wines from the region, with a few bottles open for tasting. The price level is quite reasonable.



Château Lafon-Rochet

This grand wine estate also invests in visitor center. The cheapest way to get in for tour is for a few tens of euros.

Saint-Émilion – Medieval times and succulent red wines

Saint-Émilion is an exceptionally beautiful wine town. It has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for a very good reason. It’s also a great base for wine tourists – the vineyards in the region practically start in the town itself and you can even visit the wineries on foot.


Located on the right bank of the river Garonne, the region specialises in red wines made with Merlot as dominant grape variety. Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are also used in the blend. The wines of Saint-Émilion are generally superbly complex, lusciously full-bodied, fresh and elegant, while retaining their brisk character.



Chai Pascal

There are also some very high quality Saint-Emilion Grand Cru on the wine list. Good and fairly inexpensive food on offer.



l’Envers du Décor

Huge menu and an even bigger wine list – over 500 brands on offer in the cellar.

Fleur Cardinale


Château Fleur Cardinale

In the 2000s, new owners and modernised wine production and winery visits. Great wines.



Château Grand Corbin-Despagne

The family has hundreds of years of wine history. Winery visits are available, but it is advisable to confirm the appointment.

Chateau Palais Cardinal


Château Palais Cardinal

2008 change of ownership and investments, both in wine and in farm visits. Great wines at affordable prices.

Bordeaux is a more relaxed version of Paris

Bordeaux and especially its old town are picturesque. Old architecture is respected where it should be and new buildings are built further back. Bordeaux’s old town has hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets. Although the city is bustling, you don’t have to queue up to get to in to venues and restaurants – a practice that is becoming a habit in Paris.

Bordeaux L`Orleans


Brasserie L’Orléans

A Bordeaux institution offering authentic, tasty and hearty brasserie food and incredients from the local area. Wines for every price range.

L`Intendant Grands Vins de Bordeaux


L’Intendant Grands Vins de Bordeaux

The four-storey wine bottle shop is an attraction in itself. Excellent selection, including top vintages.

Wine Museum La Cite du Vin

If you like wine but haven’t studied the subject further, La Cite du Vin provides some basic information in a very interesting way. It’s worth booking half a day or even a day at the museum and you’ll be rewarded with a basic understanding of wine, through illustrative multimedia presentations.

The museum traverses the history of wine and offers insights into every corner of the wine world. For the more advanced enthusiasts, the best attractions are the history sections and an exhibition of typical wine aromas. The ticket price includes a visit to the observation deck upstairs, where you can sample the wine of your chosen wine country. During the visit, we found special products from Moldova and Mexico. The wine shop downstairs is unrivalled, if pricey. French and European wines are widely available, but very special wine countries are also represented.

Planning your trip – make time for Bordeaux wine region

When planning a trip, it’s worth remembering that Bordeaux is a huge wine region. The drive from the northern tip of the Medoc to the southernmost estates in the Bordeaux region is 150 kilometres. The motorway junction is the city of Bordeaux, which you pass by as you move between left and right. Ring roads exist but are congested and slow. For this reason, the route and accommodation should be carefully considered. It takes a fair amount of time to drive around.

There is a comprehensive service to help you organise your winery visits:

If you’re travelling without your own car, it’s a good idea to stay in Bordeux. Numerous travel agencies organise minibus trips to wine regions and farm visits. Ideally, they will pick you up from your hotel and the journey to a relaxing wine day starts as soon as you get on the bus.

The visiting season at wineries generally ends at the end of September, when the harvest season begins. After October, however, there are a few wineries where you can visit. During the quiet period, it’s a good idea to check out the places to visit and the buzz before you fly to France.

Last Updated on April 1, 2023 by Flavorado

This post is also available in: Suomi

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