Bordeaux - The Revolution Continues
One of France’s oldest capitals and one of the world’s most famous wine regions, is undergoing a revolution that is reshaping its culture, food, wine and identity.
Bordeaux’s 18th century façade is getting a makeover and is now gleaming. Its shoreline transforming from gritty, industrial-gothic to people-friendly urban. Warehouse districts are transforming into apartment complexes, the food scene is booming and culture is thriving.
But Bordeaux is a region as much as it is a city and the Garonne and Dordogne rivers are the lifeblood of it all, their tributaries connecting all the port towns that have built and sustained the region and its people for centuries.
Bordeaux exists because of these rivers and there’s no better way to discover the region than by river ship. Apart from the perspective, the convenience of exploring without packing, unpacking or sweating about logistics, train timetables, taxis and check-in times is hard to argue against.
Uniworld’s aptly named S.S Bon Voyage is the region’s newest ship, having been recently refurbished, and was the obvious choice to explore a region that has had such an impact on the world of wine.
Effectively a floating luxury hotel, the S.S Bon Voyage is equipped with every comfort and service you need, docking and waiting for you as you slip into and explore each port and its surrounding regions.
Journey Of The Senses, And The Stomach
On-board, after an obligatory glass of Champagne, it was time for some dinner. Uniworld’s on-river focus is boutique luxury delivered to a smaller group, but with detail, and when it comes to food, that means choices.
First is the dining room Le Grand Fromage with daily menus featuring local cuisine, prepped with locally-sourced ingredients. This is a fine dining experience with all the trappings and like any true indulgence, the challenge is saying no. Next is La Brasserie, a classic, Paris inspired bistro with a dedicated chef preparing classics as you watch. Then there is the on-deck, glass-enclosed Café du Soleil offering fresh and casual styled meals, while La Cave des Vins is a stylish wine focused privée designed for small groups interested in a serious wine experience.
Or there’s always room service, which you can enjoy in your stateroom, on deck as the sun goes down, or in the main bar and after a day out and about, it’s always a relaxed option.
Wine has shaped Bordeaux like no other place on earth. There are over 6000 producers making wine out of 37 regions under 50 applications. Geographically, the region is broken down into two main parts, the left and right bank. The left is closest to the sea and the right stretches north. Red blends dominate with Merlot at about 60% of plantings, Cabernet Sauvignon 30% with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and a little Malbec used to shape style, flavour and aromatics. The white grapes are Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, with small amounts of Colombard and Ugni Blanc driving a nice array of fresh, dry table styles and some incredible botrytis and late harvest wines.
Wine is complicated at the best of times, but the beverage team aboard the Bon Voyage had all of it covered with a great selection of all regions and styles available to try at all times.
Explore and Experience
The first port out of Bordeaux is Blaye, or Citadel de Blaye, on the right bank of the Gironde, which was a historical military stronghold in the wars against the English in the 1300s and French Wars of Religion in the late 1500s. Blaye is a great place to soak up history, or take a scenic drive through the beautiful villages of Pain de Sucre, Marmisson and Roque de Thau.
Next stop is the left bank port of Cussac Fort Médoc and where things start getting serious for wine lovers. This town gets you close to the famous Chateaux of the Medoc, the first Bordeaux region to cultivate the vine and home to six of the most exclusive wine appellations in the world.
From Cussac Fort Médoc, the wines of Margaux beckon. Margaux has the highest concentration of ‘classed’ Chateaux producing elegant, perfumed Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot driven wines. The choice here is vast, from just a few euro a bottle up to thousands.
Pauillac La Fayette is a pretty quayside town built in the 1700s, which is the entry point for the coveted wines of the Haut –Medoc, specifically from Pauillac, St Julien and St Estèphe.
This part of Bordeaux is gorgeous, with many guests opting for vineyard bike rides and walking tours. For wine, with names like Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Pontet Canet, Pichon Comtesse, Ducru Beaucaillou, Beychevelle, Leoville Barton, Talbot and Kirwan, the options for a life-changing tasting are certainly high and worth chasing.
Saint-Émilion to Sweet Sauternes
Next we cross to the right bank port of Libourne, offering access to the glorious village towns of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. This is another idyllic part of the region with Chateaux, vines and villages scattered across the landscape, with Uniworld offering biking, walking and village tours.
In Saint-Émilion, the sublime Cabernet Franc and Cab Merlot driven wines that define the ancient underground cellars of Château Beau-Séjour Becot are a must, as is the 007 approved Château Angelus.
If you want to experience the Merlot forged divinity of Pomerol, but don’t want to spend four figures to acquire a Petrus or La Pin, you should seek out a bottle or two of Vieux Château Certan. Other names to look out for are Château Canon, Château Beauregard, La Tour Figeac, Lusseau, Pavie, La Croix de Gay, La Croix St. Georges, La Fleur de Gay, La Fleur Petrus, Le Gay and Le Moulin.
The small but charming port town of Cadillac is the access point for Barsac, Lupiac, St Croix Du Mont, Cérons Cadillac and Sauternes, the sweet wine epicentre of the world.
These wines are mainly Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc driven, Botrytis-infected wines that have a grand reputation all over the world. Cadillac is a beautiful town surrounded by countryside littered with historical gems like Château de Cazeneuve, Henry IV’s 14th Century residence and Château Malromé, Toulouse-Lautrec’s mother’s house that served as inspiration to this incredible artist and is now open to the public.
Not far away from Château Malromé is Verdelais where the artist is buried and is where guests can enjoy a tour, complete with a taste of Absinthe to finish.
Heading back to Bordeaux for a full night and day affords an opportunity to really explore this great city. Whether by bike or foot, a trip along the river reveals two things that truly symbolise Bordeaux’s transformation. The first is Le Miroir d’eau; a reflecting pond that mirrors the city and the river. The second is La Cité du Vin, a spectacular, architectural marvel and interactive experience centre that pays homage to the very thing that started it all. Le Vin.
Join a small group Bordeaux tour
To coincide with the 2020 Festival of Bordeaux, Selector is hosting an exclusive, small group tour through Bordeaux aboard the S.S. Bon Voyage. Hosted by Publisher Paul Diamond, this 8-day curated trip includes exclusive wine tastings, dinners, masterclasses and curated experiences.
For more info go to wineselectors.com.au/uniworld