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Wine Country: Bordeaux, France

This is the latest in a series of articles about wine. The last one dealt with Napa Valley.

Why Bordeaux?

If you can’t tell by my previous essays, I love France. I haven’t been there for quite some time, but when I think of the places I want to go visit again, Paris and Bordeaux top my list. Why Bordeaux? Because this time, I’d go for the wine tours.
Like most trips to France, it would start with a flight into Charles De Gaulle Airport. To get to Bordeaux, it is just a three-stage train ride. (As opposed to at least 340 miles on the A10 after driving through the outskirts of Paris.) First, take the RER train line B to the Denfert Rochereau station. Once there, take the Metro Line 6 to Gare Montparnasse. Then, it’s the three and a half hour ride on the high speed TGV to Bordeaux which can cost as little as $67 and leaves around once an hour. (Obviously 340 miles in 3 and a half hours makes the train faster than a car, but if you book right, you can probably get a flight from Paris to Bordeaux as part of your itinerary for a comparable or lower price than just a straight flight into Paris. Check it out. I did and was surprised. But, trust me, a train barreling through the French countryside does have a bit more romance to it than waiting for a connection in an airport. Unless your girlfriend really liked “The Terminal.”)

Once off the train, check into your hotel in the middle of downtown. (I prefer downtown because that’s where all the cool architecture and restaurants will be close at hand. From my checking around, the Hotel Des Quatre Soeurs, the Hotel de L’Opera and Hotel du Theatre all are smack in the middle of things and have rooms for under $125 and are less than two miles from the train station. However, you can also browse the tourist office listings here for hotels beyond these.) Once you’re settled it’s time to get some wine. However, since this area is a Mecca for wine, I’m going to take it slower. Now that you’re in Bordeaux, you can explore different regions. The first and one I’ll tackle in this essay is the Medoc Peninsula and what the Bordeaux website calls The Chateaux Road. (Why only one region? Compared to the Napa Valley, from the city of Bordeaux to the tip of the Medoc Peninsula it is about 60 miles – or almost double the length of the main road of the tour through Napa Valley. This is only one of five distinct areas.)

Medoc Peninsula

Why start with this area? Well, if you’re looking for the estates that most people are familiar with and you’ve heard in movies where people mention the most fancy wines, this is it. The home to Premier Cru wines Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, when France started to classify the best Bordeaux wines in 1855, 60 of the 61 ranked wines came from the Medoc region. This is the serious stuff. How serious? A 2005 Chateau Margaux can set you back $1,900. A 2005 Chateau Lafite Rothschild runs you $1,700. A 2005 Chateau Latour tops them both at $2,000.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the jack right now to throw down 6K for three nights of wine drinking with my lady. However, just like Napa Valley, amid these giants of wine making and its history, are other chateaus that have great offerings for a lot less.

You have to make an appointment at Chateaux Langoa and Leoville Barton, but they do offer a free tasting of the last vintage. It’s closed for lunch, Friday afternoons and weekends. It’s about 25 miles from downtown Bordeaux and the beauty of Gironde River valley accompanies your drive to the first stop along the peninsula.

The next stop just three miles away is Chateau Lynch Bages in Paulliac that offers tasting courses for $11 (8 euros). This stop is a perfect place to learn more about winemaking, appellations and the different regions through classes at “L’Ecole Du Bordeaux” taught with lunches and wines.

A little over 6 miles away is Chateau Cissac that also offers tours during the weekdays with booking beforehand. The area has a long history and a beautiful gothic church, Notre Dame de Cissac.

Five more miles down the road is Chateau Cos D’Estournel that has visits weekdays by appointment as well. If you believe location is everything, this chateau is right next door to Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, which has to mean something.

The last stop before you continue up the D1215 to the end of the peninsula to see the Gironde River meet the Atlantic Ocean is Cave Saint Roch in Queyrac, a wine cooperative in the northern Medoc region. Then it is just enjoying the sunset over the Atlantic after drinking wine all day. Which, as far as days go, is a pretty sweet one. See you next time for more on Bordeaux.

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About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."

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