Grape discoveries on a Bordeaux wine tour

Medoc wine region seen on a Bordeaux wine tour

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Vines as far as the eye can see. These rustic vines were sleeping, their leaves mostly shed and branches bare. The fruit was picked many weeks earlier and had been relieved of its juice which lay in barrels fermenting with sugar and yeast.

Over the course of the next few months the liquid matures until it is ready to be bottled and ultimately drunk. The wine making process has been refined and tweaked in a million ways over the course of centuries in this region.

I learnt about France’s rich wine heritage and more on a Bordeaux wine tour of the Médoc in late autumn.

Touring the Médoc wine region

Bordeaux wine tour vines and chateaux

In an area renowned for its wine making the Médoc is first among equals. Home to over 1,000 of the 7,375 châteaux in the Bordeaux region, you find some of the world’s finest wines in this small pocket of France.

I took a half day tour that visited two châteaux and was fascinated to learn details of the process and culture of wine making in this part of the world.

En route to the châteaux we were given an overview of the terroir and history of wine making in the Médoc region. Uniquely positioned between the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, the name Bordeaux derives from the French term au bord de l’eau meaning “along the waters”.

This situation, its location on the 45th parallel, certain weather conditions and unique soil composition mean that the region enjoys remarkable conditions for making wine.

10 interesting details I learnt on the Bordeaux wine tour

Chateau Lanessan vat room

1. Wine has been made in Bordeaux since the 8th century when vines were introduced by the Romans. The vines were originally tended by local monks and many of today’s châteaux are former priories or monasteries

2. It wasn’t until the 12th century and the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet that Bordeaux wine was exported to England, establishing an industry now worth over €11.7 billion to the French economy

3. Bordeaux has 5 main wine districts each with their own unique style – St Emilion, Médoc, Pomerol, Sauternes and Graves

Different grape varieties growing at Chateau Lanessan

4. Gravel based soil is the key to the terroir of the Médoc region however soil composition varies from château to château and is a mixture of limestone, clay and mud

5. 60 Bordeaux appellations or protected geographical indications (AOC – appellation d’origine contrôlée) cover more than 120,000 hectares of land. AOC products are legally defined and produced in a consistent and traditional way using ingredients from classified producers in protected geographical areas. -> Learn more about top Bordeaux appellations

6. Over 10,000 different wines are made in the Bordeaux region. Almost 90% of these are red wines.

Hundreds of barrels of Bordeaux wine maturing

7. The main grape varieties grown in the region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Carmenere, Semillon, Saugivnon Blanc, Muscadelle.

8. For the 1855 World Exposition in Paris, Emperor Napoleon III commanded a classification of Bordeaux wines be established. This classification ranked wines in importance from 1st to 5th growth or cru based on the quality of the wine and reputation of the château. All except one of the red wines listed in the classification came from the Médoc region. There have been minimal changes to the listing since 1855

9. Egg white or albumen is used as a refining agent to clarify wine and remove tannin particles, a process that originated in the Bordeaux region

10. Over 850 million bottles of wine are produced in the Bordeaux region each year

The châteaux

chateau lanessan bordeaux wine tour

Château Lanessan

Our first stop was Château Lanessan where the same family has been making wine for 8 generations. Covering 80 hectares of the Haut-Médoc region the château produces 400,000 bottles of their Cabernet Sauvignon blended wines each year. We were taken on a tour of the vat rooms and cellar and explained the process of wine making at the château. In the cellar were housed 700 barrels of wine that would be bottled in June with a recommendation to cellar for 15-20 years.

I enjoyed tasting the main Château Lanessan and Les Calèches de Lanessan wines with a deeper understanding of their history and provenance. As I am a lover of Cabernet Sauvignon blends I found both wines to be delicious and unique.

Chateau Prieure-Lichine taken on Bordeaux wine tour

Château Prieuré-Lichine

With a long and rich history Château Prieuré-Lichine is found in the prestigious Margaux region of the Médoc. Once belonging to the Priory of Cantenac, monks worked the fields and the vines here dating back to the 12th century.  During the French Revolution the priory survived requisition by the Republic due to its links with the church and in 1855 its wine was named Quatrièmes Crus (Fourth Growths) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification.

These days the wine is produced with modern techniques including a state of the art room with huge 2 storey concrete vats. The wines blend Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grape varieties with Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. I tasted my favourite wine of the day at Château Prieuré-Lichine. Even at a young age I could taste the smooth complexity of their eponymous wine.

The past, present and future of Bordeaux wines

At both châteaux I enjoyed hearing how the wine makers had adjusted their techniques to adopt new technology and held onto traditional methods where it made sense. Both châteaux have taken advantage of optical sorting machines that test the quality of each berry using laser technology. However I noted that the first sorting is done by hand as it has been for centuries at Château Prieuré-Lichine.

Talent is acknowledged in the art of wine making in the Médoc but there is also a deep respect for experience and knowledge of the wine makers of the past. There is a growing concern about the impact of climate change on the region. The wine makers deep knowledge of weather conditions and terroir of their region means they know that even subtle shifts in temperature can have a significant impact on the quality and taste of the wine produced.

Tasting the wine - Tour of Bordeaux Medoc region

Bordeaux wine tour information

The city of Bordeaux lies at the heart of the making region of the same name. Tours depart from the city centre daily. There are options to suit most tastes, timeframes and budgets taking in the main wine regions – Médoc and St Emilion.

Our half day Médoc tour was on a large comfortable coach with around 40 other people. The tour guide on the Châteaux and Terroirs: On the Bordeaux Wine Road tour was friendly and knowledgable and delivered her commentary well in both English and French.

Over the course of 5 hours we visited two châteaux and learnt about several others as well as the history and culture of the region. We had interesting behind the scenes tours of the vat rooms and cellars of these vineyards and tasted two wines at each property.

Cellar at Chateau Prieure-Lichine

The tour was a great introduction to the wines of this region and complemented our wine education at the wine museum La Cité du Vin the previous day. Those with a more in-depth knowledge of wine and Bordeaux varieties may prefer to do one of the smaller tours focused on boutique châteaux.

Visit the Bordeaux tourist office for the latest Bordeaux wine tour information or check out some of the deals below.

Bordeaux wine tour ideas

Have you visited the wine regions of Bordeaux? What is your favourite region or wine?

I was kindly given a complimentary ticket for the wine tour by the Bordeaux Tourist Office. All opinions are my own and honest. Please check my disclosure page for more information.

Bordeaux | France - wine tour of the Médoc region

We stayed at Le Boutique Hotel Bordeaux and recommend wine lovers and families stay at this charming and centrally located small hotel when visiting Bordeaux.

I adore France. These are some of my other favourite cities, regions and French experiences

Paris | Normandy | Lyon | The Somme | Picardy | A foodie guide to Paris

More great travel stories on:

Suitcases and Sandcastles

90 thoughts on “Grape discoveries on a Bordeaux wine tour

  1. The Soul of Seoul says:

    I’d LOVE to go on a wine tour in France. The history, the ambiance, the knowledge. Lovely.. though maybe when the vines are leafier though the wine tasting would still be lovely in any season I imagine. It’s so interesting to learn how things are made. Seems to make the appreciation factor go up.

    • Katy says:

      I visited the Bordeaux region in summer many years ago and it was incredibly beautiful. What I love about these places is the rhythm of live and respect for the seasons. Well worth a visit whatever the season

  2. Tracy McConnachie Collins says:

    Really interesting! I lived in France for a couple of years (about 27 years ago) and really learnt how much the French appreciate and respect their wines. Though no longer a drinker of red wine (ok the occassional glass lol) as it gives me a headache the next day it is still interesting to learn all about the processes and taste some wines along the way! #farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      The French really do have such a deep respect and understanding of the history and science behind the winemaking. Though in true French style it is not a clinical thing more a holistic knowledge built over centuries.

  3. Candy says:

    I’m a huge fan of interesting facts. I love red wine and had no idea that over 10,000 different wines were made in the Bordeaux region. And how cool that 90% of is red wine 🙂 This posts makes me want to go on a wine tour!

    • Katy says:

      Wine tours are great. It wasn’t until I started writing this post that I realised how many I had been on.. oops! Thanks for stopping by Candy

  4. wellcaffeinatedtraveller says:

    Oh wow, this is a dream tour for me! I love wine from all over and love learning new and interesting facts about it. How funny that one of France’s most important wines was actually introduced by the Romans!

  5. feetdotravel says:

    Strewth (I also like that word!), that is a lot of wine! Loved the wine history though, I always find it fascinating how/when products arrived in England (and that they use egg white!). I am not a red wine drinker (although I know a lot of people who are!) … I like bubbles 🙂 and on my bucket list is to visit the champagne region for a tour – I do enjoy wine tasting events and vineyard tours though – especially as the surrounding areas are always so beautiful and picturesque. I feel like I need to open a bottle of something in honour of this post …. #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      Cheers! I like bubbles too ? and am very much looking forward to popping some corks over Christmas. The champagne region is beautiful. I know you’d have a wonderful time

    • Katy says:

      Sally it is a very beautiful region steeped in history. There is an incredible food scene too I am sure you would enjoy visiting Bordeaux

  6. Anna says:

    I’m a huge wine enthusiast, so I’m happy to have stumbled across your post! A wine tour in Bordeaux sounds amazing from the wine museum to cellars and, of course, wine tasting. I think I’d adding it to my 2017 must-do list, thanks for this inspiration! 🙂

    • Katy says:

      That’s great Anna – hope you manage a trip to the Bordeaux region. You could easily spend weeks there exploring all the wine regions and chateaux

  7. mappingmegan says:

    Reminds me of our own tour … though it was many many years ago! Bordeaux is probably the top destination to do a wine tour, one of the best regions in the world! Was the highlight of our trip to France way back in 2009, and I still remember it as one of my favorite days 🙂

    • Katy says:

      Megan I had done a tour of St Emilion in around 2001 with some girlfriends which was a hoot. We nearly got our car wedged between the stone walls that line the narrow roads. Lots of wine induced shrieking and some help from the locals and we managed to get out. Needless to say this tour was a little more refined and I will remember the wine more I think. Thanks for stopping by

  8. bavariansojourn says:

    This sounds amazing. I haven’t ever done anything official, just a few of our own made up tours whilst staying in France, cycling from place to place to try new wines! Perfect! 🙂

    • Katy says:

      Ooh yes I like that kind of wine experience too. So civilised! This tour was perfect as we didn’t have too much time. Next time I’ll sashay round the vineyards from chateau to chateau!

  9. Heidi says:

    Wine tours are great! I love your post – Bordeaux is so easily accessible from the UK and is one of the best known wine regions in the world so it’s always worth a visit. I’m a wine tutor in London and I tell people to go on wine tours all the time – they tend to be in lovely locations, you learn something new and you get to taste wine all day – what’s not to love! #citytripping

    • Katy says:

      Heidi, thanks so much for stopping by and your lovely comment. I NEED to do more wine tours. Is there somewhere you would recommend in the south of Italy as that’s our next stop in Europe. In the meantime I’m heading back to Australia for Christmas and luckily we are surrounded by wine where I am going. Good times!

  10. Phoebe | Lou Messugo says:

    I feel very much amiss for despite being in France for the best part of 20 years and being a great consumer of wine, I’ve never been on a tour! (And I’ve never been to the Bordeaux vineyards!) It’s definitely time to rectify that.

  11. California Globetrotter says:

    I LOVE THIS!!! Pinned for later and while reading this I’ve thought that this would be SUCH a great trip to do one day with my stepmom for a girls weekend! What could possibly be better than Wine, Chateaux and being in France!? Honestly! #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      Oooh yes, you should try some different wines. I used to have a real sweet tooth but these days give me a big hearty red wine and I’m happy

  12. differentshoresblog says:

    The château is lovely, I want to live there. I fantasise about having vineyards: I know it’s hard work but just seems so nice. I used to glug wine but now I’m more refined in my old age and would really appreciate a civilised tour like this #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      Ha ha – me too, I’d rather forget those beaujolais nouveau nights at uni.. I shall put in a order with the universe for a chateau for you with vineyards and lots of help to run it. Merry Christmas!

    • Katy says:

      Thanks Allison, I love how the process has been refined and improved over hundreds of years. In a time when things are so disposable I think it is wonderful that the winemakers pay such respect to the past

  13. Clare Thomson says:

    I really must do a wine tour in France – I’ve done them in Tuscany, and I certainly enjoyed tasting lots of Gigondas in Provence. These châteaux look beautiful – I’d have liked to have seen inside as well. #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      No time for house browsing Clare.. too much wine to be tasted! They did look lovely actually. Can you believe I have never been wine tasting in Italy.. horrors. Will need to fix that situation next year

  14. Hilary says:

    Look at all those empty glasses! Were they all yours? 😉 Looks like an amazing tour! I’ve been to Napa a number of times, but never gone wine tasting in Europe. I must remedy that! #farawayfiles

  15. mymeenalife says:

    Oh, I love red wine so that’s great that they produce so much of it! This sounds like a good way to start learning a little bit more about the history and production of wine – very cool!

  16. Nisha says:

    1000 chateaux , thats an incredible statistics. No wonder Bordeaux is the wine capital of the world. I would definitely go there , when I do get to France again.

  17. Ruth says:

    There is so much to learn about wine! I am sure they use their own processes in this area. Last year, we visited the Basque Country in France and I saw all the train going towards Bordeaux. It was so tempting to change plans and go there. #FarawayFiles

  18. Kat says:

    I had probably commented in your previous post (the wine museum) that I’m not a wine connoisseur (I can’t remember if I had mentioned) but I like to drink a glass of wine or two. Merlot is actually my favourite 🙂 I would love to go on a tour like this to understand how they produce wine, various types of wine…it makes the trip very interesting. I had gone on a day tour from Paris to Champagne; there were about 40 people in the bus and the guide spoke in 4 languages! It got tiresome after a while as English was the last language spoken on the tour! #FarawayFiles

  19. oregongirlaroundtheworld says:

    I have been to California’s Napa Valley wine region (lucky to have winemaker friends) and done personal tours there at around the same time of year. Take out the chateaus and it looks very similar! I love the idea of getting to the ROOT of French winemaking and sounds like it was a lovely experience! Erin

  20. Elizabeth says:

    I’ve been feeling very excited about wine lately and have loved reading your recent posts about wine tours and wine country. I’m inspired to go check out a few vineyards near me soon! #farawayfiles

  21. MummyTravels says:

    This sounds so fascinating, has to explore one of the best places in the world to take a wine tour too – somewhere I would love to visit, especially now with the Cité de Vin. #citytripping

  22. afamilydayout says:

    I love a glass of red wine but have so little knowledge about how to tell a good one from a bad one! I just look at the label and if everything is in French then I assume it’s a good wine. #farawayfiles

  23. Nell (the Pigeon Pair and Me) says:

    I’d love to do this kind of wine tour. After D and I had our wine-tasting lesson in the Vendee this summer, I’ve come to appreciate more of the huge variety of wines available in France as a whole – and even within each region. Learning about the different wines stimulates your mind as well as your senses. Perfect! #FarawayFiles

  24. aandj8804 says:

    I don’t actually like bordeaux wines. Other French wines? Yes. Bordeaux? no. Nevertheless it was interesting reading about your experience in the Bordeaux region of France. It sounds like you learned a lot and had a lot of fun exploring! 🙂 #FarawayFiles

  25. Translating Traveler says:

    Did anyone say wine tour? Count me in! I have been to vineyards before for some wine tasting but I’ve never been on a tour. I love to learn more about the entire process and the history of winemaking, so this seems like a great way to spend a lovely day in France!

  26. Thelittlelai: Beyond limits says:

    Wow, I’m a huge fan of wines and I really wonder how they made it and the whole process and with this blog post, you have just answered everything. Very interesting, all facts and everything about your post is something that made me want to have a wine tour.

  27. durhamslovelifetravel says:

    I love wine and have actually made my own once, I never knew about the egg whites and found that very interesting the process in refining quality wine, would love to learn more

  28. vishvarsha says:

    What a beautiful location! I have been to only one wine tour till date and could picture whole of your tour due to that experience and this lovely article. Can only imagine how beautiful this place would look during grape season 😀

  29. daisythebus says:

    The history, knowledge, tradition and respect that goes into wine production never ceases to amaze me. Very interesting to read that modern day laser technology is used side-by-side with traditional methods. Thanks for this fascinating read! #farawayfiles

  30. Ali May says:

    Katy, you have once again taken me on a journey to a place I’ve always wanted to visit. I’m a massive wine lover and yet, I had no idea that in Bordeaux they introduced egg white to reduce tannin particles! What a great visit you had. #FarawayFiles

  31. fifi + hop says:

    So much history to revel in besides good tasting wine :). Miss the old days of living in San Francisco and visiting Napa and Sonoma. There really isn’t anything more relaxing than wine touring in beautiful scenery. #farawayfiles

  32. Blair Villanueva says:

    As a lifestyle blogger, this is the kind of tour I’ve been wishing to encounter. I’ve learned a lot from your post, and its amazing that you’ve visited their vineyard. Kudos!

  33. Joanna says:

    I love wine and I have tried Bordeaux wines before, when I visited France. I even brought home 6 bottles with me, bought from a special small wine shop in Normandie. I would love to explore the vineyards from Bordeaux and join some wine tastings.

  34. Miriam Ernst says:

    I think this is a shame that, while knowing France, I’ve never been to such a tour! I’d love to go to one of these vineyards, there are also some in Chateauneuf du Pape. I’m sure that would be awesome, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  35. Indrani says:

    Making wines since 18th century! They must have attained high level of perfection now!
    Amazing how such processes go on for centuries and centuries.

    • Katy says:

      And there you go..I was unfamiliar with Canadian wine until reading your comment. I have since done some googling Adelina.Yet another reason to visit Canada!

  36. carmyy says:

    Oh wow that is a LOT of different types of wine! I honestly did not know there were so many made in just that area. I’d love to check it out!

  37. Ami Bhat says:

    I favor white wine over red but either ways, Bordeaux still fascinates me. More from a perspective of the little heritage and history that exists here – like the Chateau. Loved the factual data that you have presented. Quite interesting.

  38. verushka says:

    So many interesting wine facts.Have never visited any wine regions in France but someday I will.
    I love finding out about the history and story behind the farm. A very informative post.

  39. WanderMum says:

    Great post Katy with lots of interesting facts. We certainly have a lot to thanks the Romans for! We are off to the Bordeaux region next year so may have to check out this tour. Did you have childcare for the little ones or take them with you? Thanks for linking #citytripping

  40. missgallivant says:

    Always love to read posts about the Bordeaux region. I’m a Brit now living here, and it truly is a beautiful part of the world. Especially if you like wine 🙂

    • Katy says:

      Thanks so much Rebecca – the south west is one of my favourite regions of France. Can’t wait to return soon

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