Bordeaux wine country is well worth the visit to experience its incredible historic châteaux firsthand.
If you're interested in visiting Bordeaux, this handy guide will help answer some of your questions on where to go, what to do, and how to get the most out of your trip. If you need more, be sure to check out the resources in the bottom of this article.
Getting to Bordeaux
Bordeaux sits about 5–6 hours' drive southwest of Paris in the Gironde department of France.
Most travellers either fly into the Bordeaux–Mérignac Airport (just west of the city) or take the high-speed TGV train which takes about 2 hours from Paris.
Regardless of how you choose to travel to Bordeaux, it's smart to rent a car when you arrive because the major wine destinations in Bordeaux are pretty spread out.
The City of Bordeaux
The entire downtown of Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it's easy to see why when you look at its incredible classical and medieval buildings. The streets are lined with laser-cleaned limestone buildings with blue-painted doors that meander into historic public parks.
Spend your day exploring on foot and earn yourself a tasty Bordelais dinner!
Because Bordeaux is a city in its own right, the wine tourism feels a bit buried. That being said, there are a few wine-focused spots you should know about:
La Cité du Vin – This curved, organ-shaped glass building is an interactive wine museum that explores topics from winemaking in Bordeaux to sensory analysis. It's a great place to kick off your journey and the restaurant has a great view of the city.
Le Bar à Vin – This unique bar sits on the ground floor of the Maison du Vin de Bordeaux, which is headquarters to the Bordeaux wine council (CIVB). The bar features a rotating display of 30 wines by the glass that explore the diversity of Bordeaux and it's a great place to whet your palate.
L'Intendant – This wine store champions 12,000+ Bordeaux-only wines that wrap the walls of a 5 story circular stairwell. As you walk up the stairs you can literally touch the top wines of Bordeaux.
A Note on Visiting Wineries
Many wineries in Bordeaux require advanced bookings in order to visit - so do plan ahead before trekking out into the wine regions. And due to the sheer size of Bordeaux, it’s best to treat each region like a day trip as it takes quite a bit of time to travel between Médoc, Graves, and Libournais.
Graves or "gravels" is a hot spot for Cabernet Sauvignon given the rocky, warm, and well-drained soils. You'll also find sweet wines made with noble rot and Bordeaux's most famous white wines.
Pessac-Léognan includes the southwestern suburbs of Bordeaux (in Pessac) and then Léognan is slightly farther, about 20 minutes from the city center.
There aren't many vineyards in Pessac but the few that are here are important. Château Haut Brion is definitely the most famous, being an 1855 Premier Grand Cru Classé (aka "First Growth"), but it's hard to get inside.
Instead, check out Château Pape Clément (a Cru Classé of Graves). They pull out all the stops with luxury tours and overnight accommodations. Château Pape Clément also happens to be the oldest functioning vineyard in Bordeaux.
There are many wineries and vineyards to explore in Léognan (and beyond), here are a few examples:
Sauternes and Barsac's position along the Ciron river (it's more like a creek) makes for a thick fog during harvest that causes Botrytis cinerea to grow on grapes. The shriveled berries of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend together to create Bordeaux's golden sweet wines.
Sauternes and Barsac both have their own Maisons, which do their best to offer and represent each appellation's wines.
Close to Sauternes and Barsac is the small city of Langon which is a great place to forage for food. Here are three very notable wineries with tours in the area:
The Médoc is Bordeaux's most famous Cabernet Sauvignon growing zone and known to most simply as the "Left Bank." It's here where you'll find several of Bordeaux's most jaw-dropping winery estates.
Margaux and Haut-Médoc sit just outside of the city of Bordeaux, which makes it easy to hit these spots during the day. The Cabernet-based wines from these areas tend to deliver softer tannins and more floral aromas. This is why Margaux is known for polished, elegant, and supple-tasting wines.
On the way up to the village of Margaux-Cantenac you'll pass by several famous 1855 Grand Cru Classé wineries including Château d'Issan, Château Giscours, and Château Palmer (now biodynamically farmed!).
Most notably, Château Margaux, the only Premier Cru (the top of the 1855 classification) in Margaux experimented and tested viticulture practices with organic vs biodynamic vs conventional in 2011 and 2012. They noticed a difference between organic/biodynamic and conventionally grown wines and now practice organic!
Saint-Julien, Pauillac, and Saint-Estèphe is where you'll find many more of the Médoc's top winery estates. The appellations flank the city of Pauillac which is ground zero for wine tourism in Médoc. There are many wineries who accommodate travellers and offer fine dining options.
Pauillac is home to 3 of the 5 first growths and 18 classed growths in total. One of the most stunningly beautiful of the bunch is Château Pichon Baron where you can see older vintage bottles on display.
In Saint-Estèphe you'll see smaller gravels and more clay which means the Cabernet-based wines are very structured and need even more cellaring! As you pass over the creek from Pauillac into Saint-Estèphe you'll spot Château Cos d'Estournel with distinctive India-inspired architecture. The smaller winery of Château la Haye offers several wines using different aging methods.
Around the city of Libourne is where you'll find Pomerol, Saint-Émilion, Fronsac and their satellite appellations. Clay and limestone dominate the soils here and it tends to produce higher quality Merlot and Cabernet Franc blends.
One noticeable difference compared to the Left Bank is that there aren’t many palatial châteaux here, but don’t let that fool you - some of the world’s finest wines come from here.
Pomerol skirts along the northside of Libourne with a very unique terroir that's especially suitable for Merlot: blue clay. The region has very rigorous quality standards, so no matter where you visit, from Petrus to Château Beauregard, you're bound to find quality.
Saint-Émilion is larger than Pomerol and Fronsac and boasts an eastern-located limestone plateau where you'll find occasional single varietal Cabernet Franc and Merlot bottlings. What's interesting about Saint-Émilion is how much the terroir here affects the taste. Château de Pressac hosts a blind tasting where you can experience this first hand.
Fronsac has the most hills and is sometimes referred to as the "Tuscany of Bordeaux." This is a great spot for the adventurer looking for value and new traditions, like the progressive winery hotel, Château Gaby, which plays music over loudspeakers to balance the vines' energy each evening.
Get a Guide
Bordeaux is big. One could spend a decade systematically exploring Bordeaux and not even visit all the nearly 6,000 wineries. So, if you would like more guidance, get a guide! Here are two options to get you started:
- Michael Higgins' book Exploring Wine Regions: Bordeaux, France is a deep dive into some of the stories, places, and people across the Bordeaux region and will help you plan your trip.
- Bordeaux Wine Trails is one of several inspiring small companies in Bordeaux who run wine tours. This is a great option for those who need a more packaged solution.
- You can always count on the Bordeaux Wine Official Wine Trip site to explore more information.