The wine-producing Bordeaux area with its rolling hills and beautiful historic architecture is well worth exploring. Just 30 minutes’ drive from Château Mitaud is the town of Bordeaux itself with its historic buildings, wine shops, museums, restaurants and the newly-opened La Cité du Vin, an incredible wine museum and exhibition centre.

If you park in the Place Gambetta underground car park, you are within easy walking distance of the Rue de L’intendance (just off Gambetta square) which boasts some of the area’s oldest and most impressive buildings.

Why not venture along the length of the Garonne River where you will pass in front of the UN World Heritage Quais and see the old wine trade warehouses? Make sure you visit the fantastic and award-winning chocolate shop Maison Larnicol and L’Intendant, a famous wine boutique selling wines to suit all pockets, arranged around its unique corkscrew-like spiral staircase structure.

If you have more than half a day to spare, do visit the mediaeval walled town of St Emilion with its top-end wine shops and artisan-like retailers, selling everything from home made soaps to tapestries.

We can organise wine tours if you book in advance. After all, learning about wines is much more appealing if you are sharing a bottle or two with friends or fellow enthusiasts.

There is plenty to explore in Bordeaux and the surrounding area.

Activities in and around the Bordeaux Area

Bordeaux is in South West France. It has the Dordogne region popular with expatriate Brits with its rolling hills, truffles and foie gras to the north, and the more industrial area of Toulouse famous for its classic French dishes of cassoulet, confit de canard, culture, art and beautiful architechture to the south. It is the most famous wine-producing region in the world, producing around 900 million bottles and over 10,000 different wines each vintage with a value in excess of Euros 2bn, and is a magnet for wine professionals and tourists throughout the world.

The wine-producing areas of Bordeaux are divided up into Appellations, essentially a set of criteria that apply to all wine-making activities in that area, stipulating things like the type of grape varietals permitted to be grown (the Graves is famous for both its reds and whites, while Pauillac which is home to three out of the five First Growths in the 1855 classification, Château Latour, Château Lafite and Château Mouton Rothschild (which was promoted from a second growth in 1973) is basically all red). The most famous of these appellations, Margaux (Château Margaux is the only First Growth with the same name as the appellation) Pauillac, St. Estephe, St. Julien, on the Left Bank, and Pomerol and St. Emilion on the Right Bank, will be carved in the memories of wine lovers the world over. The Graves region, as it was previously known, was essentially split into two-appellations, namely Pessac Leognan (where all the classified growths are located including First Growth Haut Brion) and the more rural and less developed Graves (where Château Mitaud is located) in 1987.

The old mediaeval walled city of St. Emilion, a UNESCO protected world heritage site is one of the must-see sites in and around Bordeaux: you can park in one of the car parks around the city centre, have lunch al fresco in the central square and wander around the streets for a day, dropping in at wine shops selling top Bordeaux (at pretty 'top' prices generally!) or even buy your own table grape vines to plant. Well worth a visit also are the less well-known so-called 'satellite appellations' e.g. Fronsac, Lalande de Pomerol and Puisseguin St. Emilion on the Right Bank, which are less well-known, but often offer better value and a higher price-to-quality ratio. Always bear in mind that there are devoted, passionate and inspired winemakers at every level within Bordeaux who produce outstanding wines from less famous terroirs, as well as those who simply trade on the history and brand rather than on the intrinsic quality of what is in the bottle and whose failure to make the most of a fantastic terroir or a historic classification is even more disappointing. Being in a famous appellation does not guarantee you make great wine: it only guarantees you make wine that meets the base criteria for being sold as AOC.

Fortunately, the ratings of Robert Parker Jnr. have exposed many of these underperformers, starting with the 1982 vintage where Parker launched his career as the Uber peoples' critic by calling the vintage right as a magnificent and long-lasting vintage that remains highly prized (and with a price tag to match) by collectors and wine-lovers alike today. The other key impact of Parker on the market was he refused to go along with some past practices that led to conflicts of interest (so beloved by lawyers) and a reluctance to call a vintage "how it is" (straight talk), such as giving journalists and critics free hospitality or a couple of cases of wine 'finding their way into their car' before they left.

These practices obviously affected the willingness of some journalists to critique the latest en primeur offering. Parker called them as he saw them, and did not hesitate to attack even First Growths he thought failed to live up to the name, thereby pushing all underperformers to work harder and do better. Parker is admired for his easy to understand 100 point scale for marking wines and criticized in equal measure for giving rise to the "Parkerisation" of Bordeaux. Parkerisation is a derogatory descriptor, a term generally referring to producing samples/wines that conform to Parker's perceived preference (which he denies) for powerful, full-on, highly concentrated wines), that his critics say are designed to stand out in blind tastings but which are not true to their terroirs or enjoyable with food (see the spat with leading wine critic Jancis Robinson over Château Pavie 2003 to get a sense of how Parker's views define and divide the wine world).

What is clear is that Parker largely made and was able to move the market, at least until he sold a majority stake in the Wine Advocate to a consortium of Singapore investors in 2012 and subsequently anointed Neal Martin as his successor to review Bordeaux. Even now, although he no longer comes to review Bordeaux en primeur each year, the influence of the 'Sage of Maryland' remains huge.

Whatever side of the debate you are on, Parker ratings remain the main driver for prices, with many Château historically waiting to see the rating before pricing a wine en primeur. It remains to be seen whether Neal Martin will ever reach that level of influence and power over the market. Some critics and commentators anticipate that Parker's semi-retirement will lead to a more balanced market that is less dependent on a single view. Many wine lovers like Andrew never single sourced reviews of wine anyway and had looked to other leading critics such as Jancis Robinson as a counterbalance to a Parker view, even before he went into semi-retirement.

Neal Martin clearly is his own man and seems less willing to give Right Bank 'blockbusters' particularly high marks (in particular the mythical 100 points that guarantees commercial success and basically allows the producing Château to sell the wine at whatever price the market will take). Every year the previous year's top wines are presented in a week long fest organized by the Union des Grands Crus of spitting, swallowing and cogitating, as buyers around the world contemplate which wines to pre-order and sell as wine futures to their retail clients, including many more Chinese buyers and clients in recent years. If en primeur is going well and the vintage is in demand, leading châteaux owners will often release small tranches onto the market via négociants en primeur to see if it sells out, thus creating an impression of a shortage and pushing up prices before releasing the next small tranche.

Château Latour is the only First Growth operating outside the 'place de Bordeaux', the unique historical market and mechanism for getting mainly classed growth Bordeaux to market through a combination of courtiers (agents/brokers), négociants and any number of retailers and sub-distributors before the wine finds its way into the hands of the final consumer. Latour decided from the 2011 vintage onwards to only put on the market wines it believes are ready to drink, thus cutting out the middle men and keeping their cut for itself (although Latour claims to be driven by a desire to prevent speculation in the wine and to stop people drinking it way before it has reached its optimum drinking window).

There is plenty to keep you fully occupied in just the wine world for at least a week in Bordeaux. We can organize wine tours including most of the classed growths (but you should be aware that almost all require booking in advance and availability is not guaranteed, so please let us know well in advance). There is also the newly-opened Cité du Vin, a combined exhibition, museum, audio-visual centre for all things wine-related at 134 Quai de Bacalan, 33000 Bordeaux (+33 5616 2020) which is open every day including weekends except Mondays (in common with many French banks).

In terms of wine-related visits in the locality, we would recommend visiting Château Lafite, Latour and Mouton Rothschild in Pauillac during the week (no visits possible during the weekends). Here Cabernet Sauvignon is king, although as with all Bordeaux wines, they are blends, typically with a smaller proportion of Merlot. You or we need to call in advance to arrange and allow sufficient travel time between visits; the road from here to Pauillac is quite slow once you get off the motorway (go as if going to Mérignac but keep going past the Mérignac exit until you see the signposts for Pauillac), involving going through numerous small towns with multiple roundabouts, single file roads and speed bumps. A GPS is helpful in getting there.

All the First Growths in Pauillac are pretty close to each other, Mouton underwent a complete facelift in 2012 and is definitely worth a visit, but watch out for the sign facing the wrong way (!) for Mouton as you arrive in the vicinity. Andrew and Angela know people at Pontet Canet, a 5th growth in the 1855 classification which is next door to Mouton and also well worth a visit, if nothing else because the wines are fantastic and constitute a shining example of how biodynamics can be combined with commercial success. The 2009 and 2010 Pontet Canet in particular are expensive, but both fantastic wines – both got 100 Parker points but to us are still worth the ticket. We are currently working our way through a case of the 2005 which is drinking well, but has years of life ahead of it.

If you are into the more Merlot and Cabernet Franc-dominated Pomerols, then we would recommend going to Vieux Château Certan (but you should make an appointment and if you are late the proprietor Alexandre Thienpoint may not show up or send his son to meet you – he is a little unpredictable and hates being kept waiting!). Most recent vintages of VCC are great, with 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2015 all being stand outs. Details can be found on their respective websites.  Most well-known properties like VCC, Eglise Client and Cheval Blanc do not accept visits that have not been pre-arranged and most do not sell their wines (as they are sold through en primeur (wine futures) or through négociants to merchants such as Farr Vintners, Fine & Rare Wines, or Farthinghoe Fine Wines, to only name the ones that Andrew uses most).  Pontet Canet is an exception and does keep some individual bottles of back vintages for sale.

On the road to Pauillac, there is a place called La Winery open every day which is a great place to stop off for a wine tasting (they have Enomatic wine dispensing machines where you buy a card and then pay for wine samples or you can go for a paid guided tasting up at the bar), browse wine memorabilia or buy from a large choice of wines from around the world but with a focus on France. See their website for more details. Definitely a landmark as the first 'US style' winery in Bordeaux.

In terms of recent Bordeaux vintages, 2007 was the weakest (and hence the cheapest out of the 2000s, but is drinking well as long as you are selective in the wines you choose; we had a string of weak vintages from 2011 through to 2014, interrupted by the very good 2015s which Angela and Andrew tasted en primeur (Margaux was outstanding and the tasting very moving and poignant, coming a week after the premature and untimely death of the talented winemaker Paul Pontallier hosted by his son)), with 2001 drinking really well at the moment, and then in order of weakest to strongest in Bordeaux 2011, 2012, 2002, 2004, 2013, 2003, 2005, 2000, 2010, 2009. 2015 is shaping up to be a very strong year and 2016 also with volumes down heavily due to a catastrophic frost (the worst in 30 years) that wiped out about 25% of the newly-planted vines at Château Mitaud

If you are at Château Mitaud in the second week of April, Andrew can arrange for a limited number of passes on a first come, first served basis to take part in the trade–only Union des Grand Crus (UGC) official tastings, which bring together most of the top properties (although the First Growths do not participate, but separate visits can be arranged).

Also we would strongly recommend a visit to Le Hameau de Bages (the Bages Hamlet) which is a concept dreamt up by the Cazes family to revive a village community which had basically ceased to exist. The Cazes family owns (amongst other properties elsewhere in France and the world) Lynch Bages, Les Ormes du Pez and Villa Bel Air which is our best known wine neighbour in St Morillon.  There are shops selling all types of wine paraphernalia, wines (including all the Cazes wines) a good restaurant and a great butcher if you are a carnivore (if you feel like cooking, try the Pauillac lamb). The Hameau de Bages is right next to Lynch Bages itself in Pauillac. Check the opening hours online before going there to avoid disappointment.

Wine is an area where you always have something new to learn and how better to combine learning with the conviviality of a shared bottle or two with friends or fellow enthusiasts.

Winery visits

Find out about our network of vignerons and available excursions nearby