Bordeaux…a legendary name for all French wine lovers – land of some of the most famous wine producing properties in the world, also renowned for its history, food & art de vivre!
It was an absolute joy for me to accompany 11 spectacular wine-enthusiasts and friends on a journey through this storied, complex, and historic region!
Les Sources de Caudalie
Our stay started with checking in at the family-owned and incredibly successful Les Source de Caudalie located in the heart of the vineyards of Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Pessac-Léognan. An extraordinary collection of contemporary buildings, it is surrounded by its own vineyards and lake-filled gardens. This lovely hotel offers a wide choice of accommodation, a panoramic cigar bar, a choice of restaurants, and a spa offering grape-based therapies. There is a phenomenal feeling of peace and tranquillity the minute you arrive at Les Sources de Caudalie.
The living area and reception
Birds-Eye View of the Grounds
A Stand-Alone Suite
Bikes for cycling the hotel and winery grounds
One of the hotel wings
The Indoor pool area
Château Smith Haut Lafitte – Grand Cru Classé Pessac Léognan
Walking through the vineyards at the hotel to the adjacent winery could not be easier and a wonderful start to our stay in Bordeaux.
The history of Château Smith Haut Lafitte started in the 14th century when Verrier du Bosq bought some vines. After, Georges Smith bought the estate in the mid-18th century. Florence and Daniel Cathiard purchased the property in 1990. The couple followed the tradition with the philosophy of making each year a wine reflecting the excellency of the terroir. For that, they have combined the most modern winemaking techniques and age-old methods: organic compost, small wooden vats, aging on the lees in barrels, etc.
At Château Smith Haut Lafitte, we had the opportunity to see a working cooperage as they produce their own barrels; the owner’s modern art collection along with the impressive barrel room. A fascinating visit with an exceptional team.
Dinner at La Table du Lavoir aims to serve an elaborate and original “bistro” cuisine, which varies according to the seasons. In the vast fireplace of the past, the meats come to roast and release their delicious smells while the gourmets read the menus written on old beaters. Original pieces of silverware, bought by weight, are next to traditional and old fabrics to dress the tables of the Lavoir.
Below is a picture of the group’s first night all together for the first time, just like fine wine, you can see the evolution of the “cuvee” as evidenced by the pictures as the week evolves and the group “blends” and “opens” nicely. 🙂
The framework was built from 18th century wood salvaged from the Lafite-Rothschild wine storehouses and the glass doors with small windows open on hot days to access the sheltered terrace
Spa Vinotherapie is a must for any wine week. The owner’s two daughters have a hand in its success – one owns the hotel and the other runs the successful beauty products brand – Caudalíe. The treatments are truly exceptional and other features include the hammam and baths with water from the natural hot springs, a heated swimming pool, and a jacuzzi.
Bordeaux is split in two by the Gironde Estuary, which divides into the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. When looking at a map of the region, the area to the north and right of the Gironde is the Right Bank, and the areas below and to the left constitute the Left Bank. Today we traveled to the iconic Medoc wine region located just north of Bordeaux on the left bank of the Gironde Estuary.
There are few things that wine lovers enjoy more than driving along the Route des Châteaux north of Bordeaux – along both sides there is row after row of vineyards as far as the eye can see. The names on the road signs tick off a fabulous list: Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Palmer, Pichon Longueville, Cos d’Estournel.
Château Lascombes, 2nd Grand Cru Classé, Margaux
Château Lascombes, a Margaux ranked second growth in the 1855 classification, bears the name of its first owner, Chevalier de Lascombes, born in 1625. At the turn of the 18th century, Jean François de Lascombes, a counselor at the Bordeaux Parliament, dedicated his wealth to making great wine at Lascombes. The existing Chateau was built in 1867 by Chaix d’Est-Ange. Powerful, fine, and harmonious at maturity, the wine has made very significant progress since the 2000s. Worthy of its rank of second growth classified, it is now amongst the best of the appellation.
Château Cos d’Estournel, 2nd Grand Cru Classé, Saint Estephe
In 1791, Louis Joseph Gaspard Lacoste of Maniban, Marquis of Estournel, inherits at 29 years old of the family property located in the southern part of Saint-Estèphe, at a place called Cos. From the 1830s, he builds one of the most extraordinary cellars of the Medoc, topped with Chinese pagodas and with a carved door from India. The marquis was in fact a great connoisseur of the Orient with which he traded. The new winery, built in the late 2000s by the Reybier family, is unique in the world: it is entirely gravity-based, using lift tanks instead of pumps, and it has 72 frustoconical and isothermal stainless-steel vats, thus enabling rigorous parceling and total respect of the product. We explored this fascinating property & its unique architecture before tasting several wines and sitting down for a private lunch. Oooh, la la!
In the heart of the southwest, the region is part of the Gascony region, a land inhabited by people who love the good things in life, and rich in excellent products, from the tradition of foie gras to the gathering of mushrooms and truffles, from strawberries to Sables des Landes asparagus…
Château Cos d’Estournel even raised the American flag for our visit today!!
Château Haut-Brion, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan
When Clarence Dillon purchased Château Haut-Brion in 1935, he restored it to its former glory and to the elite circle of the most legendary wines in the world. This extraordinary, bold, courageous vision is now continued by the fourth generation of the family, represented by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, Chairman since 2008.
If the wines of Château Haut-Brion are today famous all over the world, they owe it, of course, to the particular ecosystem of their terroir, but also to the succession of passionate and dedicated professionals who, through their knowledge, achieved such exceptional results. Our afternoon was spent exploring this lovely winery just outside the Bordeaux city center.
Château Mouton Rothschild, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac
Oh my, and what an incredibly special surprise to also be treated to Mouton Rothschild!! We had planned a visit here but as they were not able to open up for guests due to covid-19, but alas, our friends at Château Haut Brion arranged for a tasting for us nonetheless.
The Château Mouton Rothschild, 1st growth winery is world renowned for its wines!
The Baron de Rothschild was the first Bordeaux winemaker to insist on bottling all his wine at the estate, which, at the time, was considered to be an unusual idea. This allowed total control over the Bordeaux wine he sold from Mouton Rothschild. Prior to that point, chateaux either bottled their wine or sold it in barrels to negotiants, who bottled and sold the wine.
During this visit, you will discover how they combine the traditional methods & cutting edge technology to produce this wine which is considered one of the best in the world.
Dinner at Le Rouge, Wine & Tapas Bar
After a big day of “tasting”, a night of casual tapas & wine evening at the wine bar at the hotel was just the ticket. A selection of tapas created by the chef using locally sourced produce will be served along with a selection of wines. And just what we needed, our travel companion Charles brought in a few bottles of very special tequila!
The perfect way to wind down after a day in the Médoc
SAUTERNES and BARZAC
Late morning we met up with our fabulous wine expert and guide, Wendy. With her we headed south to regions of Sauternes and Barzac, famous all over the world for natural sweet white wine served for an aperitif, paired with meals and most deliciously foie gras, and of course desserts. The vineyards in Southern Bordeaux region are particularly well suited to “noble rot,” so called for a type of fungus, Botrytis cinerea, that attacks grapes. The grapes shrivel and produce way less juice, but the droplets from every little botrytis-pruned grape are incredibly concentrated and make for sweet, elegant wines. It is also what makes the wines expensive, to begin with, it simply takes exponentially more work and more vines to squeeze out a bottle of wine.
Château Coutet, Barsac, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Barsac
An English fortress built in the 13th Century, this citadel with its square tower, a design typical of the era’s military constructions, became a wine producing estate in 1643. Previously owned by the Lur Saluces family, the property was home to Château d’Yquem’s horse stables, transformed in the late 19th Century into a 110-meter long cellar (the longest in the appellation). Vertical wine presses from the 1920s, a 14th Century chapel, and a Bordeaux cobblestone courtyard are a testament to the estate’s rich architectural and regional history. Chateau Coutet is a family company that owns several 1855 Classified Growths. The visit here was among my favorites of the trip and I am seriously smitten with the wines from this region.
Lunch at Château Coutet was perfectly matched with the scrumptious wines of Barsac.
Château d’Yquem – Superior First Growth 1855, Sauternes
For sweet white wines, only Château d’Yquem has a classification of premier cru supérieur—it is quite literally in a league of its own. Part of Château d’Yquem’s excellence is the winemaking knowledge at the vineyard, where wine has been made since the 1500s, and part is its unique microclimate. If quality isn’t up to snuff in a certain year, the château doesn’t release a vintage under its label and sells off the juice. Chateau d’Yquem commands worldwide fame and a price point that is unmatched in the region. It was a treat to visit the Chateaux and yes, maybe we purchased a small “souvenir” or two!
Chateau de Rayne Vigneau’s Grand Cru Classe, Sauternes
Rayne Vigneau’s vineyard lies on a splendid gravel mound, overlooking Sauternes near the village of Bommes and forming the third highest point in the area after Yquem. Back in the 17th century, “Vigneau de Bommes” was the original name for the vineyard, the château, the surrounding estate, and, finally, the de Vigneau family, who were the first lords of the manor. Gabriel de Vigneau is indeed mentioned in documents as early as 1635. His son, Étienne, married Jeanne Sauvage, daughter of the Lord of Yquem, and supervised the estate starting in 1681. Madame de Rayne, née Catherine de Pontac, bought the Domaine du Vigneau in 1834.
The official 1855 classification recognized Vigneau among the top wines of Sauternes. In 1867, the well-known wine broker Daney ranked it first place, immediately after Yquem. Albert de Pontac, a great-nephew of Madame de Rayne, named the estate “Rayne Vigneau” in her honor.
POMEROL and SAINT-ÉMILION
Today we crossed the Garonne River and started our exploration of Bordeaux’s “right bank” famed appellations of Pomerol and the enchanting UNESCO village of Saint-Émilion.
Château Beauregard, Pomerol
Beauregard’s history dates back to the 11th century with the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. They owned a small manor and farmed these lands. Five centuries later, the Beauregard family built the first house, which was replaced during the Napoleonic era by the present château, a magnificent Gironde chartreuse. In 2014, the Moulin and Cathiard families purchased the estate.
Touring the property, we learned about the history, explored the two centuries-old chartreuses, walked through the vineyard and its exceptional terroir, visited the new concrete vat as well as the barrel cellars, and ended with a beautiful tasting!
Château Pétrus, Pomerol
Pétrus is one of the most expensive wines in the world and is mentioned in the same breath as top châteaux in the Médoc such as Mouton, Margaux, and Latour, but unlike the latter, Pétrus does not have a premier grand cru status. In the classification of Bordeaux wines of 1855, no Pomérol wines are listed at all. Officially Pétrus is therefore a “normal” AOC Pomérol wine.
Yes, I am jumping for joy just to have passed by the legendary Pétrus!! Among the very best wines in the world and certainly most expensive (at a starting price of Euro 2000 per bottle), a photo op would have to do on this trip as visitors are rarely accepted and the process to be invited or approved is not really clear!
Terroir plays a big role in the legendary status of Pétrus, as its 11 hectares of vineyards are located at the highest point of Pomerol, on a hill called la Boutonnière Pétrus. The soil consists of blue clay, which is rich in iron and can only be found in this specific place.
Village of Saint-Émilion
We explored the enchanting medieval village of Saint-Émilion, classified by Unesco in 1999.
A luminous, ochre-colored jewel built of limestone and Roman roof tiles, it’s perched on a plateau and completely surrounded by a sea of vineyards. The steep and narrow cobblestone streets are lined with remnants of monasteries and convents dating from the 11th to 18th centuries that tell the story of the village.
Of course, fantastic wine shops that ship are easily found in Saint-Émilion.
Château Angelus, Premier Grand Cru Classé A, Saint- Émilion
Château Pavie, Grand Cru Classé A, Saint-Émilion
Château Pavie is located on the southern slope of the hill of Saint-Émilion. The first vines date back to the 4th century. The name comes from small vine peaches called “pavies” that grew there.
The estate has belonged to the Perse family since 1988 and is one of the largest vineyards in the appellation, with 37 undivided hectares.
The terroir, located on three different levels is made of clay limestone on the plateau, then clay midway up the slope, and gravel at the foot of the slope. Each plot ferments separately and when assembled reflects the immense complexity of the terroir.
The reception area built of stone and glass overlooking the magnificent cellar designed in 2013 by the architect Alberto Pinto was impressive, to say the least.
Château Troplong Mondot dates to the 17th century. In 1850, Raymond Troplong became the owner and combined the name of the land with his last name, Troplong Mondot.
Major efforts in the past couple of decades have been undertaken to improve the quality of the wine. This is not only a beautiful property; its wines are considered to be among the best in Saint-Émilion.
The 37-hectare vineyard of Troplong Mondot is located on top of the Saint-Émilion plateau and slopes, at an elevation that allows fantastic views over the village. In this atypical panorama, the vineyard is part of natural heritage with unique biodiversity.
After a visit to the property & a tasting of the exceptional wines, we enjoyed an unforgettable dinner prepared by Chef David Charrier at Les Belles Predrix – the gourmet restaurant located on the property with one of the most exceptional views of the region.
For our last day together our zany group enjoyed what can only be described as an EPIC DAY on the stunning Arcachon Bay, a superb natural protected reserve located on the Atlantic Coast just 1 hour from the vineyards.. We started by boarding two traditional “Pinasse” – typical wooden boats – and indulged in exceptional oysters with local wines as we cruised abound Cap Ferret.
And then on to a long and boozy lunch at Philippe Starck’s trendy hotel “La Coorniche” from where the view over the Cap Ferret peninsula is breathtaking. Some of the views with crystal waters and sand bars of powder, reminded me more of the Indian Ocean than the Atlantic. Seriously stunning!
Fresh seafood was the theme of the day!
Our table at the Coorniche overlooked the famous Dune du Pilat, Europe’s highest sand dune, and the perfect place from which to launch your paraglide or to burn a few calories with a vigorous hike up!
Love this picture – a day to remember and certainly a cast of characters who became fast friends!
Oui, oui! Needless to say, a good time was had by ALL!