There are so many wonderful vineyards all over France that the entire country could be considered “the wine country.” Still, when it comes to mystique, nothing says wine like the Bordelais, the most famous wine-growing region in the world. Pomerol, St-Emilion, Margaux, St-Estèphe—this is where you’ll find the wine world’s greatest stars, a sort of oenological Beverly Hills. However, not all of the wine estates are grandiose affairs with names like Mouton-Rothschild and Château d’Yquem. There are literally thousands of wineries in this region, and many are relatively approachable family affairs where if you call ahead, you can drop in for a dégustation (wine tasting). But there’s the rub: Your hard-working vintners are not always available to show off their estate to tourists. In fact, you’ll have to reserve far in advance to visit the famous châteaux (in the wine country, a château is a wine estate, not a castle, though some of them appear to be). So what’s a wine lover to do?
There are several ways to enjoy this beautiful region, whether you are a wine fanatic or just someone who likes wine and would like to learn (and taste) more. The five major areas of the Bordelais are the Médoc, Haute-Gironde, Entre-Deux-Mers, Grand Libournais, and Graves et Sauternes. The Médoc and the Blaye are both fairly flat, stretching out towards either side of the Gironde estuary. Both are pretty, but you don’t come here to sightsee: these are some of the most high-rent vineyards in the country. Graves et Sauternes is more scenic, but for rolling hills, adorable villages and photo opportunities, Entre-Deux-Mers and the Grand Libournais are where it’s at. The latter is home to the beautiful town of St-Emilion, while the former harbors bastides (neatly ordered towns around a central square—strategic urban planning left over from the Hundred Years’ War) like Sauveterre-de-Guyenne and Cadillac.