This past June I took the trip of a lifetime celebrating the amazing wines that France has to offer. My husband, Jason, and I were invited to attend an exclusive tour tasting the greats of Bordeaux with wine specialist Ralph Sands. This is the first part of a series on my trip to France and will be followed by the beauty of Paris and the South of France and a packing guide for two weeks.
We spent our first night on tour at estate Fifth Growth Chateau Cantemerle, also known as the Singing Blackbird, with a relaxing and casual dinner.
On our first full day we traveled to the Queen of the First Growths, Chateau Margaux. They are known around the world for their silky red wine and their Pavillon Blanc. The chateau has recently undergone a complete renovation of their vinification facility along with their cellar for the large library wines. Philippe Bascaules, the managing director and winemaker, the wine has never wavered from its amazing quality. Phillipe retains the same title in Napa Valley at Ingelnook Vineyards. After visiting the beautiful Chateau Margaux we stopped at the great Third Growth Chateau Palmer, with a reputation of amazing quality due to talented winemaker Thomas Duroux. We ate lunch at Third Growth Chateau d’ Issan, established in the twelfth century with the famous motto “for the table of men and the altar of the gods.” Dinner was spent in Pauillac at one of the Medoc’s crown jewels, Second Growth Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron. For just the first day, we were overwhelmed with delight!
On the second day we traveled to First Growth, Chateau Latour. With vines over 100 years old, the wine that is produced here has amazing power, complexity, and longevity. We then went next door to Second Growth Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande which had wine with amazing aromatics, power, and elegance. Lunch was spent with the Barton family in St-Julien at Third Growth Chateau Langoa Barton. Anthony Barton is one of the greatest men in Bordeaux, as he makes amazing wines at a fair price. For dinner, our party visited St.-Julien at Second Growth Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou. The wines we drank here had great charm, elegance, and fantastic taste.
We traveled north on our last day in the Medoc, visiting the legendary First Growth Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Not only does Lafite have an extensive history dating back to 1355, but the chateau is world famous for their impeccable wine and aging potential. This was an experience of a lifetime in itself, and I highly recommend visiting should you have the chance. The rest of the morning was spent at First Growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild, known for their expression of power, concentration, and great opulent fruit! The estate was first classified at the top of Second Growths in 1855, but was awarded the status of First Growth in 1973 due to Baron Phillipe’s passion and dedication. For lunch we wandered north with the Mouton team to visit Fifth Growth Chateau Clerc Milon, where we met with talented winemaker Jean Emmanuel Danjoy. Jean did his early training in Napa at Opus One, and has completely renovated his estate in the last 10 years. Our last dinner at the Medoc was spent at Fifth Growth, Château Pontet Canet, where we were welcomed by Alfred Tesseron, the humble owner of the estate. His huge investments have resulted in two back-to-back 100-point wines in 2009 and 2010, with every wine since then being delicious as well.
The next day was spent traveling through St-Emilion and Leognan, starting with Premier Grand Cru Chateau Canon-La-Gaffeliere and Premier Grand Cru Classé A Château Cheval Blanc. According to Ralph, “the silky blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the plateau of St-Emilion has made some of the most famous wines in Bordeaux history, vintages like 1921, 1947, 1982, 1998 and 2000.” For lunch we had the honor of visiting the warehouse of the largest purveyor of classified growth wine in all of Bordeaux, Negociant Joanne. Here we had an amazing tasting followed by a fun picnic on the grounds that the public eye does not get to see. For dinner we moved over to our home for the next three nights, Les Sources de Caudalie. We dined with the Cathiards, owners of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. Daniel and Florence Cathiard purchased this amazing estate in 1991 while it was in desperate need of investment. Their vision of making fine wine there along with building a hotel and spa was met with laughter by the wine trade at the time; however, the place is now internationally famous for their fantastic wines.
As we neared the end of our tour, we ventured south to Sauternes. The day began with a visit to Second Growth Chateau Doisy-Vedrines and Premier Grand Cru Château d’Yquem, arguably the toughest appointment to make in Bordeaux wine. To have the opportunity to have lunch at this estate was unbelievable, especially because it is owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy. Most of you know that I love fashion, and spending a portion of time here was wonderful. For dinner, we traveled to the beautiful estate of Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere. The wines here have risen in popularity as the vineyard is on a plateau with exceptional gravel deposits.
Our last day on the tour was relaxing, as we returned to the beauty of the Right Bank and St-Emilion. The morning was spent at Chateau Angelus, the home of Hubert de Bouard de La Forest. Ralph and his team have been good friends and partnered with Hubert for over thirty years, where his estate was elevated to a Premier Grand Cru Classe A in 2012. Our last lunch was spent at Chateau Tour Saint Cristophe, an ancient Roman vineyard and winemaking facility. Under the direction of talented winemakers Mr. J.C. Meyrou and Jerome Aguirre, the wines created here are stunning with amazing taste. We then rested in the afternoon and prepared for our final dinner at the only great American-owned estate in Bordeaux—Château Haut Bailly. Vines have been planted here since 1461, and although the estate is small and quiet, the wine produced here is strong and elegant.
As Bernard Magrez says, “some experiences are told, others are lived.” I highly recommend taking a tour with Ralph Sands and visiting the magic of Bordeaux. Please feel free to reach out to him to inquire about wine or check out his comprehensive report on 2021 wines from Bordeaux below.