Certainly France has so many wonderful vineyards that the entire country could be considered “the wine country.” Still, when it comes to mystique, nothing says wine like the Bordelais, the world’s most famous wine-growing region. Pomerol, St-Emilion, Margaux, St-Estèphe—this is where you’ll find the 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. The region has literally thousands of wineries, and many are relatively approachable family affairs where, if you call ahead, you can drop in for a dégustation (wine tasting). But here’s the rub: Your hard-working vintners are not always available to show off their estate to tourists. For some of them you will need to book in advance, but increasingly even the most prestigious châteaux offer excellent visits and wine shops, even catering for the smaller members of your party with ideas like grape juice tastings (Château Kirwan in Margaux for example; www.chateau-kirwan.com) and garden treasure hunts (Château d’Agassac in Haut-Médoc; www.agassac.com).
You’ll have 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 major areas of Bordeaux are the Médoc, Bourg and Blaye, Entre-Deux-Mers, Saint Emilion, Castillon, and Graves and Sauternes. The Médoc and Bourg/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 and Sauternes is more scenic, but for rolling hills, adorable villages, and photo opportunities, Entre-Deux-Mers, Saint Emilion, and Castillon are where it’s at. The beautiful towns of St-Emilion and Castillon are packed full of medieval treasures, while the Entre-Deux-Mers 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.