The Bordeaux region is home to over 7000 beautiful chateaux and over 14,000 local wine
These regions are further divided into 38 sub-regions (basically vineyards that share similar climate, soil and grow the same grape varieties). A few of the well-known areas include Médoc, Graves, Libournais and Blaye.
Each of the sub regions have Appellations, which are a specific set of rules defining the types of grapes used, ripeness, alcohol level and other wine making practices in order to label your bottle a specific way.
I’m sure wine connoisseurs aren’t, but for many of us who are accustomed to seeing bottles simply labeled by the winery and grape variety, French wines might seem a bit confusing. All Bordeaux wines are blended with a variety of grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot the primary red varietals and Sauvignon blanc and Sémillon the primary white varietals. So the labels on French wines have quite a different meaning.
Whether you are a connoisseur or new to the world of wine, a perfect way to get introduced to the region is by river cruising, starting and ending in in the city of Bordeaux. Each day brings you a new spot to explore, where you are not only introduced to winemakers, unique wine tastings and exclusive access, but also to the rich history and historical treasures of that region.
What will you see? Itineraries vary by cruise line, but top stops include:
A port city on the Garonne River, the city of Bordeaux has long been considered the wine capital of the world. The historical old town center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, beckons a visit, with its extraordinary 18th century squares and magnificent architecture. The riverside promenade is a perfect place for a long lazy stroll, and La Cité du Vin wine experience is not to be missed.
Sauternes and Cadillac are best known for their quality sweet white wines. Sauternes, a village totally surrounded by vineyards produces some of the most prestigious dessert wines in the world, with some bottles commanding over $1000. Cadillac is located about 8 miles to the north of Sauternes on the north side of the Garonne River. Not as famous as Sauternes, it none the less produces high quality sweet white wines.
Cháteau de Cadillac, a castle dating back to the 17th century, provides interesting history and old world charm, originally as royal residence and later a women’s prison between 1820-1952.
Pauillac is in the Medoc region, famous for its red wines. The town of Pauillac doesn’t offer that much to see, however the Medoc region provides the opportunity to sample of France’s best wines. This area is home to a number notable wineries, including Chateau Lafite-Rothschild and Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Wine tasting and visiting small museums will keep you intrigued.
Located north of Bordeaux on the eastern side of the Gironde Estuary, Blaye is known not only for its red wines but also its history of military significance, specifically the Citadel, a military complex built between 1685-1689.
On some itineraries Blaye is also the gateway to the town of Cognac, renowned for its production of fine brandy as well as visits to the 16th century Bourg Castle and museum.
Libourne, an idyllic French town, was originally founded by the English in 1270. It has a layout of a fortified town and some of the old city walls remain today. The city square is lined with 16th century town houses and a Gothic church with a 232 foot spire.
The medieval town of Saint-Émilion, perched on a plateau overlooking its vineyards, has the honor of being the first vineyard region declared as a UNESCO world heritage site. Magnificent architecture, monuments and the opportunity to hunt and taste truffles await.
Chateau de Montaign, Chateau de la Riviere and Bergerac may be included on some itineraries.
River cruising is a fantastic way to see Europe, and especially France. Immerse yourself into the heart of the country, meet the locals, get inside access. A lot to see and experience, yet easy going and stress free, not having to drive or change hotels every night.
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