Bordeaux River Cruising

Bordeaux River Cruising
I’m visiting vineyards, wineries and chateaux in Bordeaux, which is the world’s largest fine wine region with around 10,000 named wineries making dry red, dry white, sparkling and exquisite sweet wines, while Cognac brandy is produced at the edge of the Bordeaux region.

My visit this time is different. Instead of venturing out each day from a Bordeaux hotel I am on a Viking River Cruise. River cruising is becoming very popular and Bordeaux is a new destination with a handful of operators offering similar tours.

Visualise an upside down letter Y. The left fork is the Garonne River. The right is the Dordogne, they join to form the Gironde estuary which flows into the sea forty miles away. Bordeaux city is on the left bank of the Garonne, about fifty miles from the sea.

Viking Forsetti departs Bordeaux inland up the Garonne to moor at Cadillac. This mediaeval town is in sweet wine territory of St Croix du Mont with Sauternes across the river.

We visit Chateau d’Arche for a vineyard and winery tour with tasting of four different Sauternes, including a wonderful aged one. This is a very well organised and informative visit.

In the afternoon we cruise back down river past Bordeaux and then turn up the Dordogne to moor at Libourne in the heart of the St Emilion wine region. This is red wine country based on Merlot. As well as an included walking tour of pretty St Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage site ,there is a choice of optional tours at extra cost. One is to hunt and taste truffles. I take a visit to Chateau Siaurac with a tour of the vineyard and cellars by owner Paul Goldschmidt. After tasting several wines we enjoy lunch at the chateau accompanied by more wines.

Next day cruise downstream to moor in Bourg to visit the impressive fortifications at Blaye. Then we sail into the Gironne estuary to Pauillac, a name well known to wine lovers. Three of the five ‘First Growths’ are in the small Pauillac appellation.

We tour by coach stopping to see famous Chateaux, and the slight dips, streams and hills that denote the borders a between appellations. Each of four coaches from the boat goes to a different famous Chateau for a tour and tasting. I visit Chateau Giscours in Margaux, a ‘Third Growth’ where Io buy a bottle of 1971 take home. Then all coaches converge at nearby Chateau Kirwan in Margaux, a ‘Third Growth’ where we will have dinner. Owner Nathalie Schÿler welcomes us and introduces the wines that accompany each course.

Then back at the boat for cheese and Sauternes pairing.

If you’ve been on other European river tours this is quite different as there’s not so much cruising, the riverside scenery is uninspiring and the cruise starts and ends in Bordeaux. However there’s much more emphasis on wine with different wines matching the appellations the boat is visiting served every day with meals. There are wine tastings and talks, and this is the only Viking boat with a dedicated sommelier. But it’s not too geeky and many guests with only a moderate interest in wine enjoyed it and said they'd lerarned a lot.

Questions about river cruising in Bordeaux? Ask them on our forum.

Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

Disclosure: Peter F May paid in full for his river cruise and optional visit to Ch Siaurac. All other food, wines, visits and tastings mentioned were included in the cost of the cruise.

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