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A guide to Bordeaux’s most prestigious vineyards

A Top Ten of wines to savour

Defining quality is never easy. Everyone has an opinion. And the truth can be obscured by myth and tittle tattle, or even sheer expense. The sky-high price of a bottle of wine at auction, or the millions lavished on a brand new statement-affirming winery does not necessarily reflect the actual quality of the end liquid, red or white.

The 1855 Classifications

The roots of all guides to the quality of Bordeaux wines were laid out in Victorian times. These classifications are complex, historic and controversial. The famous 1855 official classification ranked the region’s greatest wines into 5 crus, or growths. This league-style rating has remained more or less unchanged ever since.

The classification has given a beneficial marketing push to ‘brand Bordeaux’ over many years. A number of flagship wines from properties like Ausone, Lafite and Latour have become synonymous with quality and raised the quality perception of Bordeaux as a wine producing region. 

This has had a halo effect, which other regions generally lack. Germany may produce some scintillating wines but it has no comparable league-style table to give drinkers guidance and provide reassurance

The appellations of Bordeaux

Various regions make up the wine production areas or communes of Bordeaux. Some, like Margaux, Sauternes, Graves, St Estèphe and Pauillac are fairly well known. Others such as St Julien, Pomerol and Pessac-Léognan are perhaps less widely known.

If travelling through the region and planning on stopping for either a vineyard visit and/or a tasting, it pays to do a little research. Not all properties welcome visitors, certainly not without advance notice. But those that do often offer a hospitable welcome, informative tour and a chance for a memorable lunch along the way.

Châteaux of Bordeaux

Bordeaux is awash with big names of the wine world: Lynch-Bages, Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Pétrus, Mouton-Rothschild, Haut-Brion, Margaux and many more.

For the purposes of this article we take ‘prestigious’ to be a reflection of the most famous, most important and the most widely regarded as among the ‘best’ of the region.

Château Haut-Brion, Pessac  Dating from 1525, this is one of the earliest wine making estates, producing venerable and highly regarded wines today. 

Château Pape-Clement, Pessac  With a long history of wine production going back over 700 years, this is a beautiful estate in a graceful parkland setting and producing red and whites of stunning quality.

Château Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac  Centuries of wine making here culminated in the property being accorded the highest ranking of 1er Cru, or First Growth, in the hugely influential 1855 Classification.

Château Figeac, St Emilion  One of the largest Bordeaux vineyards, this is a property with a long history and a wine making tradition going back centuries. Today it is set in a UNESCO World Heritage landscape. 

Château Guiraud, Sauternes  More than just great wine. The luscious dessert wines of Sauternes command high prices. But this property also offers a very pleasant day out, with tree-lined avenues, charming grounds, tours and garden tours. You can even book a picnic hamper here.

Château La Dominique, St Emilion  This is another vineyard famed for superlative red wines but actually also for an architect-designed cellar which houses a restaurant (the Terasse Rouge) from whose rooftop terrace you sip and savour while enjoying fabulous views over the UNESCO heritage surroundings.

Château Gruaud Larose, St Julien  One of the more elegant estates, with Palladian-style architecture and a choice of visitor trails, ending with wine, cheese or chocolate. Perhaps all three? One of the great classical wines - rich, full bodied and velvety.

Château Cheval Blanc, St Emilion  Owned, like many wine châteaux, by wealthy tycoons (this being owned by Bernard Arnault of LVMH). He has created a real state of the art winery, with views to die for and a funky, painfully modernist extension to the original property. 

Château de Candale, St Emilion  Great wines, for sure, but just as good is the chance to sit in the sun and enjoy French classics with a modern twist. Enough of the sipping and spitting…. Just sit and enjoy!

Château Margaux, Margaux  One of the top flight wines of the 1er Cru, it is sometimes regarded as the ‘Versailles of the Medoc’ for its stunning, elegantly proportioned façade. A perfect meeting of astounding wines and astonishing architecture.

Château Margaux

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