We decided to spend a couple of days in Bordeaux on our trip to France because… well, wine! Truth be told, we didn’t really do much research. It wasn’t until the week before the trip that we realized guided tours to the nearby vineyards were outrageously expensive.
I’m sure that full-day in the vineyards is fabulous at 150+ Euro a pop, but I can literally spend a weekend in Portugal for that much money. So we decided to take the cheapest official city tour, which was the half-day tour that conveniently left in the afternoon and cost only 40 Euro. You can book it online or through one of the Bordeaux Tourism Offices.
Expectations vs. Reality
The enticing description for the tour starts off: “Are you interested in seeing mythical châteaux in the Médoc? Famous estates in Saint-Emilion? The “golden” wines of Sauternes?”
Of course, I am! That sounds amazing. The text immediately following this reads: “Yes, but there is so much more! Bordeaux also has plenty of lesser-known appellations, small family estates, affordable wines, etc.”
Translation: You won’t be seeing ANY of the mythical chateaux or famous estates in the region. You’re going to the small family estates that sell 5 Euro bottles of wine.
It’s also important to note that the day of the week affects which part of the region you visit. On Mondays, the tour heads to Bourg & Blaye, on Tuesday to Entre-deux-Mers, Wednesday and Sunday to Saint-Emilion, Thursday and Saturday to Medoc, and Friday to Graves & Sauternes. We went on a Saturday, so we went to Medoc. And though I would definitely spend 40 Euro to go to Medoc or Saint-Emilion, I wouldn’t necessarily be so crazy about going to one of the regions known for sweet or cheap dry white wine. (More on visiting the Bordeaux wine region in another post.)
But as it turns out, the day of the week doesn’t really matter because you’re going to be drinking cheap wine from some nameless winery no matter what. Can you imagine paying that much money to go see where they make Cook’s?
Chateau is the French word for castle, though it is used to describe countryside manors where wine is made. And on the hour-and-a-half drive to Medoc, we passed some gorgeous properties, some of which looked downright deserving of the title castle. But we didn’t stop at any of those.
Our first stop was the more modest, though still impressive, Chateau Maucaillou. We were given a tour of the facilities including the cool wine cellar where we had a tasting of two wines. Our very sweet and graceful guide explained a little bit about the wine-making process at their estate, and then we had some time to ourselves. But if you had to use the bathroom, you spent that time waiting in line with a bus full of people. Otherwise, you can walk around the grounds a little bit before getting back on the bus.
After we finished up there, we headed to Chateau Liouner. This was less a chateau and more a series of barns in the French countryside. The owner was there to talk to us about his estate. Because he didn’t want to repeat the information we had heard earlier in the day, he explained in detail who in his family is in charge of what part of the business. That’s every bit as thrilling as it sounds.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for his time and his wine, but when we drive by beautiful mansions like Chateau Pichon-Baron, it’s kind of a bummer to stop in some tiny ranch instead. Particularly, when those beautiful castles are the ones featured on the description page of this wine tour.
But nothing is worse than the people
I might have called the whole tour mediocre and forgotten about it, but the other people on the tour turned it into an infuriating experience. There were either one or two groups of SoCal douchebags that must have gotten lost on the way to a frat party and ended up on a wine tour in Bordeaux.
On the way to Medoc, our guide was explaining a little bit about wine-making and what kind of wine is produced in each region, the history, the classifications, and some information about what to expect throughout our day.
Our resident douchebags spent that entire time drinking from a shared wine bottle and talking as loud as possible. Everyone within 5 seats of them was forced to hear about their semester in Barcelona and their sexual exploits, because I guess it was imperative for them to let an entire bus full of people know that some girl somewhere had once allowed penetration.
When we got off the bus, I wanted to be as far away from them as possible, but they wandered around in the back of the group while we got a tour of Maucaillou. They snickered and had their own conversations and asked aloud when we were going to be able to drink. By the time we got to the second stop, I was so completely over their nonsense that I just wanted the tour to be over. I was not drunk enough to stop caring or engrossed enough in what was going on to be able to ignore them.
And I think ultimately, this is why I can’t stand group tours. Because whether the tour itself is good or bad, you have to suffer through it with some fucking trust fund babies from California. And Bordeaux may be heavenly, but hell is always other people.