A Sojourn for the Oenophile
By Hillary Latos
For the true wine lover, a trip to the Bordeaux region is the equivalent of the pilgrimage to Mecca, or embarking on a quest for the Holy Grail. This revered winemaking region is home to some of the most prestigious chateaus in the world, where each Grand Cru commands a higher price than the next, with the pricing and grading shrouded in mystery only adding to the allure.
The wines of Bordeaux summate the French sense of perfectionism, where "challenging" vintages are blended in secretive proportions to create the ideal balance that would sway the palettes of the harshest critics. The somewhat arbitrary system of rank and classification, established in 1855 by Emperor Napoleon III, establishes an inherent hierarchy through different levels of grading, with the Premiere Grand Cru Classé at the top. Naturally, everything is priced accordingly.
The Gironde estuary divides the region into two distinct regions: the Left and the Right Banks. On the Left Bank of the Gironde estuary you have the cabernet-growing region with Margaux, Pauillac, Haut-Médoc, and also the sweeter Sauternes made from Sémillon grapes. The Right Bank features Merlot varietals with wineries from Saint-Émilion, Blaye, and Pomerol.
One of the most relaxing and luxurious ways to explore this fascinating region is aboard the 5-star Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection for an all-inclusive experience that includes all gourmet meals, excursions, beverages, and gratuities. Embark on Uniworld's River Royal, traversing both banks, with daily walking tours of charming cities and important winegrowing towns, to give a comprehensive and in-depth firsthand experience.
The trip embarks from Bordeaux and stops in Pauillac, centrally located in the renowned Haut-Médoc region, which is known for its strong and tannic Cabernets, and is home to some of the most prestigious chateaus such as Latour, Lafite Rothschild, and Mouton Rothschild. As most wineries presell 90 percent of their wines to merchants during en primeur, when vintages are bought in futures, most of the chateaus are closed to the public. Uniworld has access to many of these Premier Cru houses and has created intimate tours and tastings at these vineyards for their guests. The vineyards can be seen by bus or bicycle depending on your level of energy.
The next stop includes the medieval Saint-Émilion on the Right Bank, known for its Merlot grapes that capture the rich flavors of limestone and clay; it is home to the prestigious Cheval Blanc and Pétrus wineries. Though this region's most famous wineries command the highest price tags, the wines were only classified in 1955 and every 10 years the wineries must reapply for Grand Cru status, allowing for up-and-comers to rise to the same levels as the established wineries.
At the center of this medieval, walled city are the Cordeliers Cloister and abbey, with its intricate maze of underground caves that had once connected every winery in the region. This monolithic church also serves as the meeting grounds to the secret society, Brotherhood of Saint-Émilion, consisting of famous Saint-Émilion Grand Cru wine enthusiasts, such as Robert Parker. This is where elected, red-robed jurats materialize once a year to release the new vintage.
Explore the culinary capital of the Dordogne and Périgord regions known for their foie gras. Step back in time and explore the charming winding cobblestone streets of Bergerac, a picturesque medieval town named after its most famous resident, Cyrano de Bergerac, and dotted with different statues offering exaggerated versions of his most famous facial asset.
Proving that Sauternes isn't just a dessert wine, Uniworld takes you past the renowned Château d'Yquem and around the famous Sauternes region, where you can sample this beloved sweet wine from a prestigious chateau followed by an artisanal lunch and Sauternes wine pairing at Château d'Arche.
Once the boat is docked overnight in Bordeaux, the local guides will take you on an exploration to "do as the locals do" as well as an electrifying Bordeaux by Night tour. See Bordeaux by foot and taste the wonders of this culinary center, such as their famous canelés, chocolates, and sweet pastries, and explore the 18th century architecture and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
To taste the most prestigious wines of the appellation, visit Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery with top vintages from the likes of Pétrus, Margaux, and Cheval Blanc, all served in a relaxing art gallery setting. As Bordeaux offers myriad hidden gems inside this mystical city, Bordeaux Walking Tours offers tailored tours suited to your needs that go beyond just the highlights. Themes such as antiques and treasures, Bordeaux by Night, Jewish History, cultural shopping, and gourmet Bordeaux are just a few of their offerings.
After the extensive touring, relax in style aboard the luxuriously appointed Uniworld River Royale, which offers an intimate setting with a maximum of 130 guests. Their main dining room offers an extensive buffet for breakfast and lunch, as well as an à la carte dinner which changes nightly to reflect the regional dishes of the cities, or book the 10-person Claret Room for a formal multicourse pairing menu. Catch the sunset or indulge in a nightcap from their lively Gascagone bar with live music, local entertainment, and an extensive all-inclusive bar menu. In warmer months, relax on their sundeck as you sail slowly down the river and take in the picturesque scenery. Dine for lunch alfresco or in their airy and casual Blue Fox café with Cornish blue banquettes and printed tiles.
The spacious and lavishly appointed state-of-the-art rooms are decorated with a regal European flair similar to a boutique hotel, with handcrafted Savoir of England beds, European duvets, and Egyptian cotton sheets. The Category 1 rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows with a balcony to enjoy the sea air. The bathrooms feature L'Occitane en Provence toiletries, plush towels, and robes to indulge in. Everything about the Uniworld voyage embodies the joie de vivre of France and celebrates the sweet life of the region.
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