Ever since I started drinking and appreciating wine, I had been dreaming of visiting my favorite region, Bordeaux, and exploring the vineyards and estates, pictures of which I had seen on so many of the bottles I love. Here are the absolute “must-dos” when in this wine wonderland!
Gauge the pulse of the region at Hostellerie de Plaisance
Our magical adventure started in the medieval UNESCO World Heritage Site of Saint-Emilion. The incredibly friendly and professional staff at Hostellerie de Plaisance prepared a smorgasbord of traditional French cuisine enhanced with a modern touch; in the Edwardian style of gourmet picnics.
We were shepherded through the prestigious vineyards of Chateau Pavie, the majestic vineyard ranked Premier Grand Cru Classé A. One of the secrets behind their incredible merlot is a natural lake hidden inside the limestone which gives their grapes a very special edge. The barrel-aging cellar was a particular highlight for me, with its design inspired by an old railroad station. Some 100 000 bottles are produced every year!
The property is composed of the main house, village rooms and vineyard house rooms. We spent the night in a spacious yet cozy and beautifully decorated vineyard house room. From my window, I loved following the last rays of the setting sun dancing through the vineyard’s leaves.
In the evening, a two Michelin-star dinner awaited us at La Table de Plaisance, with a feast of delectable delights unique to the area and expertly prepared by gifted Chef Ronan Kervarrec. Difficult to catch shellfish with sea foam introduced us to Chef’s Kervarrec’s seemingly uncomplicated but carefully thought-through style of cuisine. We then enjoyed a perfect Brittany lobster, followed by a Breton pudding cake and Breton ‘gavotte’ to die for. Our superb dinner was matched with the most exquisite local wines carefully selected by our sommelier, including an unforgettable Saint-Emilion 1er Grand Cru Classé 2001 from Château Pavie.
Eat canelés and sleep at Saint-James
The next morning, we headed to Saint-James, an architectural masterpiece in Bordeaux made by Jean Nouvel. Each room is unique in its own extravagance: one of them may have a Harley Davidson while another features a huge rooftop jacuzzi… My modern room was filled with artwork and overlooked the romantic little vineyard which produces a mere 500 incredibly special bottles a year. The incredibly friendly staff greeted us with delicious, freshly baked canelés. The sweet pastries, soft inside, and caramelly, crispy outside have become a little obsession of mine.
A 40-minute drive took us to Cap Ferret for a delicious boat ride in the Bay of Arcachon with Les Pinasses du Bassin. We enjoyed a romantic ride in the traditional long wooden pinasse along the coast while indulging in oysters and prawns.
Back in the hotel, Chef Nicolas Magie invited us inside his kitchen where I can truly appreciate the work and effort that goes into making our meals perfect. The artwork of every dish of our tasting menu was a true reflection of the culture and traditions of the area. My personal favorite, a deconstructed “pizza” made with crunchy artichoke barigoule and Cecina de Leon beef. In the spirit of the best French food, we enjoyed a light flavor-packed foie gras followed by caviar, roasted pigeon with artichoke and reduced beetroot au jus. Our wine selection was exquisite enhanced further still by the wine producer being on hand to enthuse about his wine.
Lunch and drinks at Château Cordeillan-Bages
The third day, we made our way to Château Cordeillan-Bages, a mansion with architecture dating back to both the 17th and 19th centuries. The property is located on the edge of Pauillac, a dreamy area that looks exactly as you would expect to see in a fairy tale countryside book, especially when the sun set amongst the vineyards.
We went inside the cells of Cordeillan Bages where we first learned more about the terroir and how the environment and area where the vineyard is based has an impact on the flavor of wine. We tried several glasses and different blends before finally creating our own. Clearly not even qualified as an amateur, I just chose the flavors I normally like. But the sommelier loved my blend and I felt honored!
Another sumptuous Michelin-starred lunch awaited us. The incredibly friendly chef Julien Lefebvre prepared a personally-deigned tasting menu using fresh local produce to create his culinary artwork and support the community. The team’s creativity was embodied in dishes such as a quail roasted in cereal crust or a turnip croissant, original, beautiful and beyond delicious.
Château Cordeillan-Bages can even provide a truly ‘local’ experience where you can sit by the estuary while enjoying the peace and sound of nature around you.
Blend your own wine at La Grande Maison de Bernard Magrez
By now you would have imagined eating and drinking any more would be impossible, but the food was so light and the wine so delicious I was ready for our spectacular last night in Bordeaux starting with a masterclass with Bernard Magrez blending wines at La Grande Maison Bordeaux. I made my own wine, mixing the exact percentages I loved of each grape, bottling it, naming it, and closing it. Of course, it says Whitney’s Wonderland!
Our evening ended across the road at Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire in La Grande Maison. Chef Jean-Denis Le Bras invited us to discover the impeccable kitchen where we could appreciate miracles in the making… Needless to say, it was one of the best dinners I have had in my life with outstanding service and inhuman attention to detail. Our ‘The Art of Wine Living’ menu included glazed wild sea bass with razor clams and cauliflower mayonnaise, grilled gambero rosso marinated with amontillado, wild sea bass with plankton, and Pierre Gargnaire’s world famous desserts. If you’re looking for romance and elegance for a special occasion, you won’t find anything that betters this restaurant.
Taste Sauternes at Château Lafaurie Peyraguey
The perfect closure to a magical experience was visiting understatedly luxurious Chateau Lafaurie Peyraguey, fully decorated with Lalique crystals, everywhere from the furniture and armrests, to ceilings and chandeliers. Inside their intimate, romantic, alluring rooms, the majestic windows overlook the vineyards, giving a complete sense of calm and peace. With only ten rooms and three suites, attention to detail and royal-treatment for every guest is guaranteed.
It is located in the very heart of the Sauternes region, therefore its terroir received influence from both the land and the sea. Its Premier Grand Cru Classé Sauternes is ranked in the Top 5 in the world. Wandering through the vineyards we learned how grapes are processed until the extraordinary sauterne is ready to be bottled in the elegant Lalique-decorated bottles.
Making an entrance, Michelin-starred Chef Jerome Schilling presented our stunning and inviting amuse-bouche on top of creative shapes of Lalique crystalware. The exceptional tasting menu included carefully selected ingredients such as caviar, langoustines, and sweet breads all paired with…Sauternes! The versatility and range of wines gives guests the option to choose the perfect match.