In many ways, a story can always be written and at times, be told. If I have to start mine, I’d like begin in the region of Bordeaux.


Now, this is a story about passion, patience and tradition. Like stories of this nature, there are mêlées involved, and women, and men of surprising talent; as well as body parts, like the nose and palate are put to the test.

In most stories of this nature, the landscape will have castles, vast stretches of land for the grapes to grow, undulating hills on the east and serpentine rivers. If you were to locate the south-west of France on the map, you would probably think that in this region close to the Atlantic Ocean, it could be a perfect setting for a fairy tale. After all Bordeaux is long known as ‘La Belle Endormie’ or The Sleeping Beauty.


b chateau
Once upon a time, along came the modern prince, Bordeaux’s mayor Alain Juppé and finally freed La Belle Bordeaux from the spell. The former French prime minister laid out his cape of leadership throughout the city and Bordeaux re-emerged with vigor from its languishing days. Not to mention its revitalized UNESCO-listed old town, seamless hi-tech public transport system and a lively university hub that seemed to keep this maiden from sleeping again or conceivably never.


“Take Versailles, add Antwerp, and you have Bordeaux”, the French poet and novelist Victor Hugo once put it. While it’s hard to keep a still gaze on its grand pediments, cornices and Roman inspired verandas; on closer inspection, here is a region whose best kept secrets are served in a bottle.

The idea to visit this wine region of France first came to me in midflight while traveling from Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur to Paris. Of course, there’s the promise of a beautiful spring waiting on the banks of the Garonne River. But after some festive sips of champagne and wine on Qatar Airways during my 14 hour flight (with a layover in Doha), I felt the timing couldn’t be better.


Eager to learn more about Bordeaux’s secrets, I seamlessly connected and hopped on a train in Charles de Gaulle Airport via TGV Atlantique service. As codeshare partners, my Qatar Airways ticket became my train pass and was punched to my next destination. In a streak of silver and blue, we raced towards the Atlantic, covering 310 miles in a quick three hour rail journey while imagining a life in the fabled wine chateaus. Wouldn’t it be grand to casually drop lines like ‘I’m staying at Mouton’ or ‘Can I meet you later at Lafite?’ or ‘I’d better head back to Margaux before noon’. To be invited and spend a week at one of the great chateaus is surely a reason in itself to visit Bordeaux.


While most chateaus and country estates like to keep themselves private, the Bordelais are pragmatic by nature. They have successfully converted vacant barns and empty spaces into profitable guests receptions along with tasting rooms, catering halls and even small museums with souvenir shops. Of course wine tasting doesn’t come, without a brief brush of history. So how did Bordeaux become a legendary French wine region I asked?


Wine merchants were exempted from taxes and the royal privilege helped them to provide clarets to England.
Wine merchants were exempted from taxes and the royal privilege helped them to provide clarets to England.
The wine cultivation probably began after 43 AD, when the Romans established the first vineyards for its soldiers or so I was told. But the highlight of Bordeaux wine came after the union of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet, ruler of Normandy and Loire Valley. When Henry Plantagenet ascended to the English throne as King Henry II, it paved the way for trade and the wines of Bordeaux gained popularity to the English market and eventually to the world.


Remembering my 2007 Chateau Cantenac-Brown, Grand Cru Classe, Margaux that I drank on my Qatar Airways flight, it became clear to me why some labels of Bordeaux wines carry English names like Barton, Palmer, Lynch and certainly Brown. Wines do speak for themselves I said loudly to myself before the lecturer ushered us to move along to the next chateau.


Clearly, if this was Fetes des Fleurs which is held in springtime; or Ban des Vendanges (harvest) in the fall, or perhaps Vinexpo, the big wine trade show that runs every two years, there probably would be, no room left for me to put my wine glass down. I’ve heard for years that while some private and corporate jets are double-parked at the Bordeaux airport, chartered helicopters hover from one vineyard to another, transporting distinguished visitors. Much to my surprise, over a hundred chateaus in Bordeaux are now owned by wealthy Chinese. China very recently, became the world’s fifth largest wine consumer; bagging the top consumer of red wine title last year and having swigged 1.865 billion of bottles.


I was never good at judging wine, but I trust what appeals to the heart. After all, like most wines of substance, the relationship becomes emotional. I tried to recall my mental notes on the wines I tasted. If by chance some of them are not quite right, I could certainly blame the wine itself for blurring my recollection. I think Margaux is voluptuous and elegant and the exact opposite of St. Estèphe which is masculine and structured. St. Julien is refined and well balanced while Pauillac is quite powerful and classic, I should say. Though I’m confused which wines belong to the Left bank and which ones are from the Right bank? Most Bordeaux wines are red and known as claret. However, there are also dry and sweet whites, that when opening a bottle, you feel like you are embracing an old friend.


It started to get dark and the welcoming spring breeze added an excitement in the air. The city lights twinkled from a distance. For some reason, it was almost tempting to walk along the banks and follow the river leading towards the ocean. Which river? The Garonne or Gironde? I didn’t know, but on lucid interval I could only make out, that this is definitely the river that gave Bordeaux its fortune and fame, linking the city to the Atlantic and to the rest of the world.


Ah yes, the world! Of which I am now on the other side. Thinking about my Qatar Airways flight back home, there will be 14 hours for me to contemplate. While memories of Bordeaux linger, I will take comfort from a glass of another Margaux. Will I be tempted to try the sweet Chenin Blanc Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux of the Loire Valley? Or give in to the South African Shiraz Bellingham 2011, The Bernard series? Perhaps New Zealand’s Pinot Noir in Villa Maria will be a welcoming change and if not, there will always be the vintage 1974 Tawny Port Kopke Colheita in Douro Valley, Portugal.

I think wine takes us through time. There is history in every bottle. When poured, you start to appreciate its story. Once tasted, only then you will understand that it allows you to see the world in a completely different light – of wondrous flavors and varying degrees of sweetness. Cheers!


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  1. I’m not a great wine connoisseur, let alone one who knows enough to enjoy the experience with the respect it deserves. Perhaps it would be a good excuse to spend some time in the Bordeaux region, learning more about the wines and wine-growing associated with this famous area of France.
    Excellent article, full of passion about the true taste of good wine.

  2. I should listen to Hugo and make a trip to Bordeaux. If he compares it to Antwerp, then I’m sure I’ll love this place. Whilst I’m not a wine drinker I can appreciate the craft and quality that goes into making it, your pictures are gorgeous as usual. Esp the last one resonated with me as it transported me back to warmer summer nights with soft orange lights.

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

  3. As a wine lover myself, this piece was clos to my heart,
    I’ve drunk the wines of the region but have never ventured there, so I think it’s about time I did.
    The Qatar flight then TGV ride sound luxurious and also very convenient as there is a connection at the airport.
    My favourite wine is St Emilion but am definitely open to trying the others anytime.

  4. What a glorious and enticing intro to Bordeaux, a region that, as (amateur but very enthusiastic) wine drinkers, we are aware of, but actually know very little about. Love the Hugo quote about the old town – we had no idea it was UNESCO listed. For us, the wine would be the draw and it was fascinating to learn of the history of the vineyards and winemaking. And we would certainly want to experience the *tasting* – to appreciate the variety but mainly to enjoy quaffing quality wines in such a lovely environment. Santé!
    Mitch & Colin from Very Tasty World

  5. I’ve spent some time exploring the south of France and the east as well as many trips to Paris, but Bordeaux and that whole side of the country I have yet to visit. I’m not a wine drinker so perhaps that’s why it hasn’t been catapulted to the tip of my list yet but I would like to try it more and this definitely looks like an area of France that is deserving of some of my attention. How can you say no to those poetic descriptions of Bordeaux and the stunningly beautiful countryside

  6. I knew Bordeaux had history, but didn’t realize it dated back to 43AD that is quite old! Sounds like you had a delightful time trying the various wines and seeing where they took you. I really want to do a wine tour of France, so Bordeux would definitely be a stop. Such a wide variety of wines!