Further south, Bordeaux is largely recognized as one of France’s most famous wine regions, offering an expansive range of wines within its relatively large area. Wines from the left bank of the Garonne River are more heavily blended with cabernet sauvignon, dubbed the king of the grapes of this region, whereas wines from the right bank are more predominantly merlot, often referred to as the “queen of the grapes.” Although wines have been produced in France for centuries, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the first official classification was introduced, setting strict standards to assure quality. There were 58 châteaux in the original 1855 classification, and today those wines make up some of the most prestigious in the world, including names such as Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion and Château Lafite Rothschild. While many hope to visit some of these prestigious wineries, it can be quite challenging to secure appointments to some of the more exclusive wineries, so it’s important to plan in advance.
As a wine region, Bordeaux offers expansive variety in a relatively small geographical area, as there are significant differences in the red wines from the Left and Right Bank, but this region is also well known for its white wines that come from the Graves area. Indeed, sweet sauternes wines were part of the original 1855 classification, so as far as wine tourism goes, this is an excellent region to include. The Cité du Vin in Bordeaux offers a cultural space dedicated to the living heritage of wine throughout the world, and it is also possible to partake in a wine blending class while here. For this reason, Bordeaux often attracts wine connoisseurs for several days. It is worth spending at least one day touring wineries on the Left Bank, where the properties are more expansive and have grandiose castles where the wines are produced, and also spending a day on the Right Bank, where real estate is more limited, resulting in smaller wineries, leaving as much physical space as possible for the vines.
An excellent addition to a Bordeaux itinerary is a visit to the Dordogne region. While not necessarily a wine region in its own right, the malbec grape originally came from southwestern France until the phylloxera epidemic destroyed many of the vineyards in Europe in the late 19th century. As a result, some malbec vines were transplanted to South America, where they thrived. Tasting malbec from Cahors in the Dordogne, known for its firmer tannins and less fruit-forward character, compared to Argentine malbec, is a treat for lovers of this varietal.