Bordeaux & the Rivers of Wine - View from the Inside

We were given some free time to wander the lovely, cobbled streets of Saint-Emilion and although it was raining, we were able to absorb the charm of this village

August 2018 • Jules Verne

Bordeaux is surrounded by many wine regions, each with their own specific rules and regulations – what grapes can be planted, how they can be cared for, how they can be turned into wine.  This makes it the perfect place to really experience French wine culture in a variety of forms. I have never really acquired a taste for wine, but after a week in this beautiful area I was starting to take a liking to it!

Bordeaux is situated close to the Gironde Estuary, which is the joining of the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers, and this cruise is a great way to see the highlights along both rivers. As wine has been produced in this area since the 18th century, rules and traditions have created a relatively small area with many distinct types of wines, both white and red.

We began the cruise in Bordeaux itself and first visited the Cadillac area by bus. We started with Chateau Roquetaillard and were lucky enough to have a tour by one of the owners – the son of a Count!

From there we travelled to the Sauternes region, where sweet white wine is made. The sweetness of these wines is created by the presence of a fungus that makes the grapes rot and intensifies the sugar content. Vines in this area need to be picked by hand to avoid damaging the fruit, which means the prices of Sauternes wines can be higher than others, but the high sugar content means the wine lasts a lot longer when opened without spoiling – perfect for a quick glass with dessert.

Next, we cruised towards the mouth of the river to Paulliac to visit the Medoc, Haute Medoc and Margeaux regions. These areas are known for their red wine with huge and stately ‘Chateaux’ overlooking the vineyards. We were able to visit the Chateaux Marquis de Terme vineyard to learn how they create their wines, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which they age in barrels that have been scorched over a fire to create levels of depth.

I found it very refreshing to be able to try a wine and actually identify flavours and complexity – a very novel experience for me! I had clearly learned a lot since beginning this cruise.

We then finished the day by driving around the area to see all the ‘Chateaux,’ which are an interesting mixture of the old historical houses next to the more modern and occasionally avant-garde storerooms used to age the wines.

The next morning we cruised up to the Gironde estuary to view the small fishing huts situated on stilts above the water. These have been used by local fishermen since the 18th Century and even though many have been destroyed by adverse weather some fishermen are lobbying for them to be considered a heritage site. 

As we retreated down towards the fork in the rivers, we stopped in Blaye to visit the Citadel. This citadel was one of 3 ranged over the estuary in the 17th Century to protect Bordeaux from foreign naval attacks and was built around the ruins of a medieval castle. It is fascinating to learn about the methods they employed to defend this area. It has a great view over the Estuary (you are able to see Bordeaux if it is a clear day!) and it is lovely to be able to see the ruins of the castle and the buildings constructed around them.

Next was my personal highlight of this tour – the Saint Emilion Region. The wine production was started in this region by monks in the 12th century and the area itself is actually named after Saint Emilion, who moved into this area as a hermit and lived in the natural caves in the area. He enlarged one of these caves and along with the monks in the area and turned it into a Monolithic Church. This church is concealed behind 3 large doors, so the scale of the cave is cleverly hidden until you walk inside. It is an awe-inspiring room with incredibly high ceilings and huge columns (some of which are now supported by metal braces pending a restoration attempt – the bell tower was cleverly built upon this structure in the 13th Century.) Most of the decorations and carvings inside have since been destroyed, partly by the passing of time and the damp atmosphere, but there is also graffiti from the French revolution carved into the walls – interesting to know that this phenomenon isn’t such a recent occurrence!

We were given some free time to wander the lovely, cobbled streets of Saint-Emilion and although it was raining, we were able to absorb the charm of this village by enjoying a chocolat chaud and a traditional macaron in a local café before returning to the vessel.

We finished this cruise with panoramic tour around Bordeaux. Using a bus we were able to see far more of the city than with a walking tour, but we were able to end the tour by walking through the centre of the city.

This cruise is definitely ideal for wine lovers. In total we were able to taste 5 different wines from around this area, as well as a wine lecture and tasting on the vessel. It is a lovely relaxing way to see the area, with the mornings free to enjoy the scenery from the vessel and lots of delicious food throughout! Even though I started this tour with no real appreciation of wine, I walked away planning to continue my education into this fascinating drink full of so much history.

Experience Bordeaux & the Rivers of Wine on our cruise