Wine Tasting & Chateaux Hopping in Saint-Emilion

with 33 Comments
Visiting Bordeaux without adventuring beyond the city and along the rolling vineyards of Saint-Emilion would be a sin. And we just couldn’t have this on our conscience.

Chateau de Reignac

On the second day in Bordeaux, we sign up for the Saint-Emilion Wine & Chateaux afternoon tour with Bordovino. We meet our tour guide Stephane in front of the tourist office and he shows us to the comfortable minivan. We are a small group of 8 people, which makes the conversation dynamic and the experience intimate.

Stephane, in his quality as both driver and guide, speaks perfect English with a lovely French accent. He is funny and along the way he shares with us a wealth of information about the Bordeaux wine country, the many appellations, the wine-making process, quality control, and the different wine types. Two things really stick with me: since the jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the vineyards are protected and they are totally at the mercy of nature (the usage of chemicals and even irrigation is strictly prohibited).

Stephane also makes a very romantic comparison between the vines and the human life. In the first 7 years or so, the productivity is negligible. Next is a stage of increased productivity but the wine is still young. From roughly 18 to 35 years, the highest productivity levels are reached and the best quality wines are produces. It follows a period of decline in productivity and beyond 70 years, the vines are, like old age people, beginning to retire.

We first stop at Chateau de Reignac, a Bordeaux Superieur. The elegant castle contrasts beautifully with the lush green of the surrounding vineyards. The weather has been colder than normal this year and the grapes are two weeks behind the schedule. I would have loved to see ripe grapes hanging heavily among heart shaped leaves, but this will have to do. We savor the tranquility of the land before the local guide takes us around the cellar. As we walk between wood barrels and stainless-steel vats, we receive a wine making lesson. We can feel pride in the woman’s voice and the cold, old cellar has an aphrodisiac effect on us.

The green house designed by Gustave Eiffel

Next it’s time to actually taste some wine, but not before passing by an incredibly looking green house designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. Seated at the round wine tasting table, Stephane wants to educate our senses first and he gives each of us a smell palette (you know, the one where it says earthy, smoky, flowers, spices etc.). We are supposed to identify the smell of the liquid stored in some small bottles that are passed around the table from one to another. It’s a fun game that’s supposed to make us more perceptive at the different wine aromas. We suck at it, and barely manage to correctly identify two out of six. You would say it should be easy, after all we use our noses constantly. I realize I’ll never get a job as a perfume tester, nor as a wine taster, for all it’s worth.

The round tasting table at Chateau de Reignac

We have three different wines, one white and two reds. They are all dry, full bodied French wines, with earthy and smoky aromas. I particularly like the 2010 one, and after Stephane takes his time to tell us more about each variety in particular, we leave for Chateau Soutard, a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe.

The village of Saint Emilion

Chateau Soutard

We are very close to Saint-Emilion now. There are cars parked along the road even before arriving to the small medieval town. We take it left, through the vineyards. As we stop in front of a U-shaped limestone building, I feel hypnotized by the views. We are surrounded by vineyards and in the distance the gorgeous Saint-Emilion can be seen. The yellow buildings are in strong contrast with the green of the wine making plants, all perfectly groomed and trimmed at the same level.

We visit the huge cellars, old and new at the same time, since they where amplified in recent years and brought up to date. There are barrels, gleaming stainless-steal vats and concrete, egg shaped ones. The wine making technique perfected over the years and supposedly, throughout the whole human history, from Roman times when vines were first planted on the sandy slopes of Saint-Emilion, wine quality was never better than it is in the present day. We are offered a lesson in barrel making techniques and prices and we can’t stop but wonder.

Back to the surface, we are served some appetizers along a few more wine varieties. We certainly welcome the local cheese and sausage that go very well with the full flavored reds. The wine tasting room is very elegant and when we are finally through with it, we spend a bit of time in the chateau’s shop. There are many wine varieties here, all made out of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of these wines are almost impossible to be found outside France.
Saint Emilion 

We finish our tour with a visit to the heritage village of Saint-Emilion. The history of this place goes back to prehistoric times, but it owes its name to an 8th century monk who settled here in a hermitage carved into a rock. The monks who followed him started commercializing the wine in the area and since the village is located along the Way of Saint James, the pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santigo de Compostela in Northern Spain, it’s easy to imagine thirsty pilgrims making good costumers.

Our tour guide, Stephane

The village of Saint-Emilion with it’s steep narrow streets and Romanesque churches is a truly magical one. It is said to be the prettiest of Bordeaux’s wine towns. Small and perched atop slopes that finish into a stream of vineyards, it is as charming as touristic. The buildings reek historical importance, all made out of soft limestone, and most of them housing promising restaurants or shops inside which we can spot rows of gleaming ruby bottles. The Dordogne Valley has been producing wines for kings and princess since immemorial times and walking among the history infused buildings it surely feels special.

Stephane takes us to see the town from the vantage point next to the cathedral tower first, and then we slowly and carefully walk down towards the main square. The cobbled alleys are slippery and dangerous and we need to pay extra attention, both to our feet as to the vine decorated buildings we are passing by. There’s so much beauty surrounding us! We also visit the old lavatories, one used for washing the clothes of the wealthy and noble, and another one down the stream, three times smaller, used by the poor. The world was never a fair place to leave it, but Stephane turns things around and tells us how whenever the clothes of the rich were by negligence taken down the stream, the poor would ask for compensation in return for the clothes.

Old lavatory

All in all, the tour was a wonderful one and we can say wholeheartedly that we learned a great deal from it. I have my doubts one afternoon could actually turn us into wine connoisseurs, but it surely put things into perspective. We tasted some great French wines, we had tons of fun and at the end of the day we simply knew we would want to go back someday. Back for the vineyards, the good wine, the bare limestone and a beautiful sunset.
We were guests of Bordovino. As always, all opinions are our own and based on our personal experience. For more information on their tours, you can check out the Bordovino website and Facebook page

33 Responses

  1. Paul
    | Reply

    We have quite a few clients (including our friends at Bordovino) in the region and so we are lucky enough to go back to Bordeaux and the Saint-Emilion region at least a couple times a year. I absolutely love it every time. It's one of the most beautiful wine regions of France.

  2. Alex
    | Reply

    Saint Emilion looks to be one amazing historic town and surrounded by great wine, what else could you want? Looks amazing definitely a place I will visit when I head to France next!

  3. I know a lot about wines from South America and the west coast of the US, but I know very little about French wine. I got a little exposure on a short trip to Paris a few years back, but I would love to explore French wine country and learn more.

    • Laura
      | Reply

      The French vineyards are so pretty, dotted with castles and old villages. A must have experience for your next visit to France 🙂

  4. Raffaella
    | Reply

    The images are amazing, everything looks so grand and peaceful and full of history and charm. Was it harvest season when you visited?

    • Laura
      | Reply

      Unfortunately the grapes were not ripe when we did the wine tasting tour of Saint-Emilion. But we would like to visit a vineyard at harvest time… Maybe even do some barefoot grape stomping 😉

    • Raffaella
      | Reply

      Ohh that would be so cool!

  5. KElizabeth
    | Reply

    Wow stunning photos! Thanks for sharing!
    Kallie @ But First, Coffee

    • Laura
      | Reply

      Thank you, Elizabeth! Saint-Emilion is so gorgeous!

  6. Mary @ Green Global Travel
    | Reply

    Your images are stunning – particularly the architectural shots, though the landscape views your describe sound breathtaking! I love having the opportunity to learn while travelling, particularly when there is a strong connection to the local culture, so this tour sounds blissful!

    • Laura
      | Reply

      The tour was not only educative but also entertaining. And Saint Emilion is just perfect, especially if good wine and history play an important in your travels 🙂

  7. Mo
    | Reply

    Great photos you take! Thumbs up!

  8. Frederic Gonzalo
    | Reply

    I came across your post and blog on the very same day I was exiting St-Emilion where I'd spent 48 hours or so. What a fabulous town, what great architecture and history and.. what wine!! Your post is bang on and hopefully more folks will discover this little gem only half-hour away from Bordeaux.
    Cheers,
    Frederic

    • Laura
      | Reply

      We only spent a few hours in Saint-Emilion, but I would love to go back and linger around for a week or two, taking long walks among the vineyards, visiting the chateaux, drinking wine and discovering the cuisine of the region. Oh, the good life!

  9. Marina K. Villatoro
    | Reply

    That looks awesome. I went to a wine tasting yesterday, it was pathetic. Especially after looking at your day 🙂

    Can't wait to see some real wineries soon.

    • Laura
      | Reply

      Saint-Emilion is supposed to be one of the best wine regions in the world, so I guess it's tough to match 🙂

  10. Thomas
    | Reply

    Looks like a great tour. Great photos! Saint-Emilion looks lovely and that greenhouse designed by Gustave Eiffel is pretty cool! I once at at a restaurant in Arequipa Peru of all places with a stair case designed by Gustave Eiffel.

    • Laura
      | Reply

      Must have been so cool eating in that restaurant! I would have liked to take a tour of the greenhouse. Unfortunately we didn't. Still a nice touch. I wasn't expecting to see this on a wine tour, so it was a nice bonus.

  11. Andrea
    | Reply

    How beautiful! We did not make it here but I really wanted to go. We ended up in the Medoc, which was also gorgeous

    • Laura
      | Reply

      We almost ended up in Merdoc too. However, I'm so glad Saint-Emilion worked our in the end for us. Such a pretty place to explore. Really curious about Merdoc and definitely planning another trip in the region, hopefully soon.

  12. jdomb
    | Reply

    Looks gorgeous! We've been wanting to get to this area of France for wine tasting.

    • Laura
      | Reply

      Definitely a must do! The wine is absolutely great and the views amazing. It totally makes for a romantic escape!

  13. Accelerated Stall
    | Reply

    Great idea for a getaway, beautiful architecture, stunning landscape and what's that…? Great wine too? I like the way you get away. *grin*

    • Laura
      | Reply

      Exactly! I feel like getting away and back to Saint-Emilion right away. It's harvesting time now and I'm dying to go for some barefoot grape stomping.

  14. Joe @ Cosmic Smudge
    | Reply

    Great photos. I would love to do this tour next time my wife and I go to France. It's hard to pry ourselves away from Paris but this would be a great reason to get out into the country.

    • Laura
      | Reply

      You should definitely do it. Paris is wonderful and I love it, but the French countryside has so much more to offer! We loved walking among the Saint-Emilion vineyards. Sooo pretty and peaceful!

  15. Kenin Bassart
    | Reply

    Can't go wrong on any trip that begins with a wine tasting!

    • Laura
      | Reply

      I know, right? 😀

  16. MikesRoadTrip
    | Reply

    What a great post and pics…sounds like an amazing experience!

    • Laura
      | Reply

      Thank you, Mike! The wine tour was great fun and Saint Emilion was simply awesome!!

  17. Looks like such a beautiful getaway! Thanks for sharing.

    Happy travels 🙂

    • Laura
      | Reply

      It really was beautiful. I wanted to go wine tasting in the Bordeaux regions for a long time, and this tour was everything I imagined it to be.

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