Wine, wine, and more wine!

Wine, Wine, more Wine – and some really good food!

When you think of France (outside of Paris), isn’t that what comes to mind? For wine lovers like my husband and me, cruising the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde Rivers in the Bordeaux wine region, with vineyard visits and wine tastings at nearly every stop was perfect!

We traveled in late September, early October, which is probably the best time of year to visit! The vineyards are alive with activity as the grapes are harvested, juice is extracted, and the winemaking process begins. What fun it was to be right there in the vineyards and at the chateaux learning about the history of the wines, the grapes, the terroir, the effects of the weather on the wine, the appellations, and the entire winemaking process from vine to glass from master.

The Uniworld River Royal was our home for their “Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux” cruise. This was the last cruise for the River Royale, as it went in for extensive full-ship renovation to become the newest Uniworld Super Ship, the S.S. Bon Voyage. The crew, headed by First Captain Ludovic Falezan, Hotel Manager Celina Sousa, and Cruise Manager Emmanuelle Bonneau, was first rate, friendly, responsive, and accessible. The service was top-notch! Each evening before dinner, the ship’s sommelier spoke to us about the wine pairings for dinner, always featuring wines from the Bordeaux region, of course.

On embarkation day, we shopped the street market on the boardwalk of Bordeaux where our ship was conveniently docked. In the warm autumn evening, we strolled the boardwalk before dinner. After a glass of Bordeaux wine on the top deck, we were treated to a fantastic dinner, including perfectly prepared, tender and tasty pork tenderloin wellington.   The food on this cruise did not disappoint!

The next day we cruised to Cadillac where we drove through the countryside to Chateau de Cazeneuve to discover the secrets of Sauterne wines. We were treated to a delicious lunch in the chateau, paired with a variety of Sauterne wines. Who knew Sauterne wines could be so different and pair so well with such a variety of foods!

We visited Fort Medoc and a chateau (with wine tasting of course) in the Medoc region on our third day. Some of our group went on the bike ride through the Medoc vineyards with stops to taste wine along the way. For my husband, this was a highlight of the trip. On Day 4, we visited the Blaye-Bourg-Libourne area. We drove the scenic Route de la Corniche Fleurie, visiting the Citadel of Blaye and toured the Remy-Martin distillery in Cognac where we learned about the cognac-making process and sampled various vintages of Remy-Martin cognac with gourmet appetizers and snacks. The bus ride back to the ship was very quiet as we all dozed, pleasantly relaxed and happy.

A highlight of the trip for me was a cooking class at Chateau Ambe Tour Purret in Saint-Emillion. We sampled the house Savignon Blanc while we cooked our four-course lunch. We were treated to wine pairings of the reds produced in house with each course. It was a wonderful afternoon with fabulous food and wine – and an adorable, knowledgeable French chef. C’est Magnifique!

Other highlights included bike tours through the town and vineyards of Libourne and the old city of Bordeaux. The bike guides were knowledgeable and made sure to stop for photos and pointing out the more interesting and important sights. Seeing how integrated the vineyards are with the daily lives of residents, especially in Libourne, was mind-opening.

I recommend this river cruise for wine lovers, of course — but also for foodies and people who enjoy touring on bikes through the French countryside.


By:  Phyllis Smiley