A Tour for Lovers of Wine
This was the 2nd tour that we designed. Running the Dordogne tour in 1997 awoke my interest in wine, and inevitably I started reading about the wines of Bordeaux, the greatest wine producing region in the world.
My first plan was to visit the main regions of Bordeaux wine production, namely, St Emilion, the Médoc, Haut Médoc, Graves, Sauternes and the vast but unsung vineyards of Entre Deux Mers.
Stephane and I set off driving around, stopping at hotels, reading wine books, buying armfuls of maps and visiting every Office Du Tourisme we could find.
Our original plan encountered problems. There’s nowhere to stay in Entre Deux Mers. All the roads that lead to Sauternes are too busy and horrible. And the biggest problem of all – Bordeaux’s in the way! It’s too big, there are bottlenecks caused by the Gironde and the two rivers of the Garonne and the Dordogne, and it’s just not nice to cycle there.
So we ended up going back to the drawing board. Stephane knew the area around Bergerac and Ste Foy as far as St Emilion. One look at St Emilion and I was hooked. It’s such a beautiful and atmospheric place, surrounded by very picturesque vineyards. And then we discovered the ferry that crosses the Gironde from Blaye to Lamarque in the Haut Médoc, and the whole route came together.
The Cleverest Bike Tour – The Best Wine Tour
Of all of our tours, all 7 of them, Bordeaux is the cleverest – the one which took the most work, the most calculation and measurement, and the most visiting and organising.
And in 10 years I don’t think I’ve seen a better ‘wine’ tour anywhere.
Walking vineyard tours are no good for me, you just can’t travel far enough. And coaches really don’t do it for me! And on our trip we meet such a variety of winemakers, and taste such a variety of wines.
In Bergerac, the wines are simple, everyday wines, red, and white and rosé. But even within Bergerac, there are special nuggets to explore, like Pécharment, and the beautiful, deliciously sweet wines of Monbazillac.
The Outlying Vineyards of Bordeaux
Further down the Dordogne we stay in the Bastide of Ste Foy la Grande, home of Bordeaux Ste Foy, the most outlying of all the ‘Bordeaux’ vineyards. We cycle through Montravel, with its white and red wines, and more beautiful dessert wines, then through the Cotes de Castillon, again ordinary wines where the surprise is just how good some of the wines are, and how skilful and dedicated the vignerons, the winemakers.
Castillon is literally a road-width from St Emilion – it should be no surprise the wines are good, but they can’t put ‘St Emilion’ on the label – that means bargain time for you and me.
Then we’re on the climb to St Emilion and Pomerol, whose wines need no introduction.
Next we cycle through Fronsac, a historic pocket of quality on the right bank of the Dordogne, before cycling through the emerging appellations of Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Blaye (if you’re interested, Bourg is usually considered slightly upmarket, but I prefer Blaye because I like Blaye and know some of the growers – so choose Côtes de Blaye!).
The Haut Médoc
By now we’re among the historic clarets of the Haut Médoc, the real heavyweights of world wine. People talk about Burgundy, and New World wines, but to paraphrase my Dad, no vineyard owner in the Haut Médoc ever woke up and wondered what it might be like to own a vineyard in the Napa Valley.
And finally we come down the quality scale a little with a day in the vineyards of the Médoc, historically known as the ‘Bas Médoc’, or low medoc, but they didn’t like the connotations, so simple Médoc it is.
A Totally French Wine Experience
It’s such a fabulous exploration of styles and prices and techniques of wine. Every single time we run the Bordeaux Winetrail it’s an education – and can you imagine a nicer classroom than the vineyards and tasting rooms of the Dordogne, St Emilion and the médoc? No, me neither.