If you are a novice in the world of wine and wish to further your knowledge by immersing yourself in an acclaimed wine region and learn about viticulture the experiential way, the fabulous Bordeaux region in southwestern France may be the perfect destination. A variety of affordable and enriching courses and excursions to prestigious wine estates in the area are readily available, and the charming and picturesque city of Bordeaux, perfectly located in the heart of this wine region, offers countless additional attractions: 18th century architecture, numerous monuments listed as World Heritage sites by UNESCO, an impressive waterfront and quays along the Garonne river, superb cuisine including fresh fish and seafood from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, a lively cultural agenda, and an ultramodern transport system (the first tram network to introduce ground level power supply).
Start your journey with the highly animated two hour-long introductory wine tasting course at L'Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux conducted in English or French. It proves to be the perfect preparation for the vineyard explorations to follow. With the help of maps, we learn about the different grape varieties, their respective regions, the importance of their terroir (a combination of climate and soil), the process of wine making, and the unique wines that are produced after carefully blending the different varieties such as the red Médoc and Graves wines in which the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties dominate; the famous Saint-Emilion and Côtes wines with Merlot and Cabernet Franc as main varieties; the dry white Sauvignon Blanc wine from the Entre-deux-Mers area east of Bordeaux, and the sweet white wines from the south, like the famous Sauternes, for which mainly Sémillon and Muscatel grapes are used.
The highlight of the course is, without any doubt, the wine tasting itself. As real connoisseurs, we hold the glass by the stem, examine the color, and sniff for a first impression. Then we take a sip and swish the wine around the mouth before swallowing in order to saturate the taste buds. Finally, after swirling the wine carefully around and to the sides of the glass in order to draw in some air, we take a fuller drink for a total impression and a longer sensation on the palate. By the time we have savored a dry white wine, two red wines, and a sweet dessert wine, we feel ready to embark on our next day's exploration of some of the 9,000 vineyard estates in the Bordeaux region, the second largest wine-growing area in the world with 284,320 acres under vine.
First we explore the Médoc region, particularly the left bank of the Gironde estuary, where the terroir is said to be outstanding. The well-drained soil is composed of gravel, sandy stone, and pebbles, and the moderate climate with its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean ensures warm summers and sunny autumns.
Driving through a gently undulating landscape and along the estuary with its distinct fishermen's huts, the cabanes, we pass the charming wine towns of Margaux, Listrac, Moulis, Pauillac, St. Estèphe, and St. Julien. There, in the heart of the Médoc, we visit two wine châteaux: Le domaine de Lanassan, a major wine producer since 1793 with 260 hectares - 50 of which have vines in production - and Château Maucaillou, built in 1875, with 2,175 acres of vineyards.