Bordeaux Wine Tour Etiquette

What to Do and What Not to Do

A style of winery visits in Bordeaux can be different from those in the US or other parts of the world. There is a lot of emphasis on tradition and history, unique winemaking techniques and wine education, which I personally like.

You get to see historic castles, walk moist underground cellars, touch vats full of wine, and watch winemakers do magic in the way it was done for hundreds of years. 

 

 

Understand what the Tours are Like in Bordeaux

As expected, after a detailed winery tour, you will be rewarded with a tasting of excellent Bordeaux wine. 

However, in many cases, especially when part of a larger group, you will be offered to taste only 1 or 2 wines. It is not very generous, you might think. In fact, a chateau is often a small independent operation that only produces small amount of wine which they pack into one or two labels. Voila! You tasted them both. 

Some wineries offer extended tasting options which are not always well advertised in my opinion. Vertical tastings, food and wine pairings, lunch with a winemaker or wine blending atelier that can make your experience quite unforgettable.  If you are interested in those, find out which wineries offer these and be sure to ask in advance.

My favorite wineries mastered the art of combining tradition of Bordeaux with hospitality of Napa. Those are the ones where you still get a very personalized and culturally enriching tour and tasting yet with a touch of hedonism, relaxed luxury and excellent customer service. 

Chateau Giraud in Sauternes is a good example. Imagine overlooking gorgeous vineyards of Semillion from the shade of an oak tree with a glass of dry white wine, a relaxing experience that leads to a winery tour, and discovery of the legendary Sauternes noble rot. 

The takeaway is to decide what type of wine tourist you are. Many of our clients tend to ask for the top 1st growth chateaux. Don’t get me wrong, these are great wineries and iconic wines. 

However, if you are more up for hands-on experience, a friendly chat with a winemaker, and a relaxed and generous tasting, I would recommend visiting to a family-owned winery in Bordeaux. 

Wineries like Chateau Hourtin-Ducasse in Pauillac are at the top of my list for customer experience. 

On the contrary, if you are in Bordeaux to taste its prestigious wines,  I advise to plan ahead, understand all interesting options offered by the wineries, and come with a list of your favorite wines and vintages you would like to taste.      

 

Dress comfortably

It is ok to wear anything. You may consider dressing up just a bit when visiting top wineries where your guide will likely wear a suit jacket. In the summer, bring a light sweater as cellars may be much colder than the outside. Some wineries with underground cellars would distribute blankets, but it is better to come prepared. 

I can’t stress enough the importance of comfortable shoes. There are gravel, dirt, cobblestone and cellar stairs to climb. The only thing, the French don’t really wear flip-flops outside of beaches, so probably better to avoid those for safety and a bit of a style. 

Be on time 

Our tour guides will watch the time, but if you are on your own, make the most of your day by being on time. 

Since all visits at Bordeaux chateaux are by appointment, there is a specific time slot allocated to your group. Being late rushes your tour especially the tasting part, as there may be another group waiting for their turn. If you are 15 minutes late, a chateau may deny a visit.

A typical visit starts from a quick look in the vineyards, a tour of winemaking facilities and cellars and it is followed by a tasting. 

I don’t recommend visiting more than 3 wineries per day in this fashion. Opt for the ones with a tasting only option to squeeze more tastings into your day.   

Walk in vineyards

Outside tasting experiences are still quite rare in Bordeaux. Take advantage of a nice summer day and walk in vineyards to take pictures and taste some grapes if you are tempted. 

Some wineries offer picnic options in their gardens. Don’t you love the idea of a relaxed picnic with a bottle of your favourite Bordeaux? 

This isn’t yet a widespread offer. If you would like to have a picnic lunch at a chateau, ask your guide.   

There is no pressure to buy wine after tasting 

There is no expectation that you will. Sales push is almost non-existent here, but of course, wineries will be pleased to know you enjoyed their wines enough to get some shipped to your home. You will rarely be offered a wine club membership. It is bizarre, but I only know of one wine club offered at by a Bordeaux winery so far. 

Keep in mind that sometimes if you buy a lot of wine or an expensive bottle, your tasting fees may be waived. Some top wineries do not have any wine to sell at all as they fully rely on merchants to do their distribution. 

If you would like to buy wines, be sure to let your guide know. They would make a stop at a wine shop or direct you to one in Bordeaux. It makes the most sense to buy older or rare vintages or small chateaux wines that may not be available back home. Be aware of quite significant shipping fees (approximately 100 euros for 6 bottles) and wine import tariffs in your country. Currently, 25% US import tariffs apply to French wines with an alcohol content of lower than 14 degrees.

Make sure you do not ship wines during hot months.

 

Do not serve yourself during a wine tasting

Servings may be small sometimes.  You can politely ask for another sip, but don’t serve yourself. This is one thing that is frowned upon.


Take pictures and speak to a winemaker and a winery owner

It is ok to take pictures everywhere. 

Talk to people you meet at a winery. Winemakers are very proud of what they do and they love interested guests. Sometimes, a friendly cellar master would let you taste wines from fermentation tanks or barrels which can be a great experience. 

Not all wineries around Bordeaux are family-owned, as some are investment properties of insurance companies, banks, Chanel and the likes, but when it is possible try talking to winery owner. You get to learn first-hand about their family history, their day-to-day life and economics of wine. When having a glass, I often get reminded about stories I heard by the vineyard.

Voila!  Happy tasting and enjoy your wine tour

Don’t hesitate to ask me any questions. Read more Bordeaux travel tips in the Blog. Let me know about your experiences at wineries in Bordeaux and other wine regions. Do you have any other tips for travellers?

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polinasomm
Author: polinasomm

Hi, my name is Polina. I am a sommelier and a wine tour guide in Bordeaux, France. I travel for wine in Europe, collecting the best wineries to visit, places to stay and eat.