Cuvée, cellars, casks, corks, châteaus, charcuterie, cheese and charm pretty much sum up the wine-tasting tour that took me through some of France's most famous wine regions (Bordeaux, Saint Émilion, Beaujolais, Sancerre, Chablis and Paris).
Pair Bordeaux's production of world-famous fine wines with its exceptional gastronomy and it becomes evident why France's sixth largest city was a tasty place to begin my journey.
Whilst in Bordeaux, do yourself a favor and enjoy a meal at Restaurant Influences. Started by a duo who met working at one of my favorite places to frequent when I used to live in San Francisco, La Folie (which has now closed, sadly), the couple then settled in Bordeaux and opened a restaurant with a delicious surprise tasting menu concept.
About 30-miles from Bordeaux is a magical place that wine enthusiasts need no introduction to. This small wine appellation is renowned as one of the greatest wine regions in the world. It’s also an incredibly delightful ancient village, that was classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
As far as Airbnb's go, the one I stayed at in Saint Émilion was pretty fantastic. It was located right in the heart of the pedestrian village, had all the amenities one would need and was bright, charming and cozy.
*Be sure to book your wine tastings in advance.
**NOTE: Many places are not open on Sundays nor bank holidays.
Château Ambe Tour Pourret - Try three wines, then buy a bottle of your favorite and enjoy it in the courtyard, along with some cheese and crackers.
Château Croizille & Tour Baladoz - Experience both traditional and modern methods of wine production, with this two-for-one tour of neighboring wineries. It culminates in a tasting room with sweeping, panoramic views of the vineyards.
Château Bellefont-Belcier - For €25 you'll taste a trio of wines in this 18th century estate (including one that retails for €150). Plus, you'll get some yummy paired nibbles as a bonus.
Château Cardinal-Villemaurine - Just a few steps away from the center of Saint Émilion you'll find this lovely family-owned boutique winery. Christine, one of the owners, was welcoming and informative, the wines went down easily and the little, disabled dog was entertaining.
L'Atelier de Candale - If you're getting around by foot, book this place for lunch, between tastings at Château Croizille and Château Bellefont-Belcier. Sit out on the beautiful terrace, amongst the grape vines, and enjoy the freshly grilled food.
Le Bis - This place has a casual, neighborhoody sort of vibe. The cheese is out of this world and the entrecôte is cooked on an open flame, in a fireplace, by a comedic owner/chef.
Chai Pascal - This 36-person cozy restaurant opened eight years ago and has since had an emphasis on traditional cuisine and, of course, wine.
Beaujolais is bordered by Burgundy to the North; the Saône River to the East; Lyon to the South; and the Monts de Beaujolais to the West. I99% of the wines here are made from Gamay Noir grapes and tend to be light-bodied, acidic and low in tannins.
To get a feel for the difference between commercial and independent wineries, I recommend doing tours/tastings at both of the following châteaus:
Château de la Chaize - Designed by the same architect as Versailles, this 17th century castle is one of the most beautiful buildings in France. It covers more than 400 hectares, including 150 hectares of vines, making it the largest wine estate in Beaujolais. Following a recent major restoration of the chateau's wine making facilities, the equipment is top notch, pristine and very modern.
Fabien de Lescure (Domaine de la Bouronière) - Conversely, this 11 hectare family-owned estate that has been passed down through the generations, follows a more traditional style of harvesting, crushing and pressing, fermentation and aging. I loved this winery the most. The lovely Joelle gave us a private tour, spent a lot of time answering our many questions and even refilled our glasses several time. Joelle is an active member of Femmes de Vin and is committed to highlighting the place of women in the world of wine.
La Robe Rouge - The food is inventive, unique, delicious and prepared to perfection. You must book in advance.
Lucienne fait des siennes - Located within a very cute, 11-room hotel, this funky little gem has mismatched furnishings and canine artwork adorns the walls. The dishes are designed to share and are full of flavor.
Château de Pizay - I found the restaurant within this 4* hotel to be overwhelmingly just okay. The starters, bread, wine and desserts were delightful, but I didn't care for the mains all that much. It's still worth a visit to see the beautiful gardens and have a drink in the bar.
Sancerre is not just a delicious, award-winning crisp, white wine, it's also an enchanting, medieval, hilltop village in the Loire Valley, with a maze of cobblestoned streets. Outside of the peak summer months, Sancerre is a pretty sleepy place, with only ~1,300 residents.
A walk around the perimeter of town allows for beautiful views of lush vineyards and undulating fields.
I highly recommend booking Le Logis St Pere for your accommodation. It's an unbelievable property, right in the center of the village. Parking is limited and a little difficult with the narrow streets, but it is free. Once we found a spot, we kept the car there for the duration and walked/taxied wherever else.
Château de Sancerre - This was one of the most informative and interesting tours that we had on the whole trip. Coupled with a yummy tasting of four wines plus local goat's cheese and home-made biscotti, it was a real delight.
Domaine de la Villaudière - Jean-Marie Reverdy & Fils - We didn't have a reservation, but we walked into this family run operation, to dodge the rain, and were pleasantly surprised! We tasted nine of their delicious wines and bought as much as we could carry back with us.
Taste Sancerre - We were welcomed here with a friendly atmosphere and beautiful views of the Sancerrois vineyards.
With one Michelin star, dinner at Maison Medard is a must. In a recently renovated 13th century building, the local ingredients are honored in a modern and refined way.
La Petite Maison - This spot has great service and inventive dishes, at an affordable price. At €20, the three-course lunch was a steal!
Auberge Joseph Mellot - What this restaurant lacked in ambiance, it made up for in quality and price. We were the only people dining there, which was a bit odd.
La Banque - This bar came recommended by just about every person we met in Sancerre, so we had to check it out. The former banking establishment turned trendy wine bar did not disappoint.
Chèvrerie des Gallands - The perfect food to enjoy with a glass of Sancerre is the locally made creamy cheese known as Crottin de Chavignol. On our way out of Sancerre, we quickly stopped to taste some goat's cheese at a farm which is home to 150 goats and where the cheese is made fresh each morning.
Chablis is the northernmost wine district of the Burgundy region in France. Its cool climate produces wines with more acidity and less fruitiness than Chardonnay vines grown in warmer conditions.
Take a load off whilst enjoying some charcuterie, escargot, baguettes and, of course, locally produced Chablis at Marguerite de Chablis. This riverside spot is an ideal lunch spot.
My French wine discovery adventure sadly came to an end in Paris. I had only planned on staying for one night, but ended up being there a few as a result of a Eurostar strike, which resulted in multiple train cancellations. Ultimately I ended up taking a grueling 9.5-hour bus-ferry-bus combination back to London. I would have flown, but I had bought too much wine in the previous 10 days. It wasn't the ideal end to a near-perfect trip, but there are worse places than Paris to get stuck for a few days.