Many people visit the region of Bordeaux in order to do tours and tastings in its iconic wineries, but the city of Bordeaux itself offers easily accessible opportunities to sample the best bottlings. An array of inviting wine bars will tempt neophytes and experienced connoisseurs alike. I love visiting wineries, but wine bars have distinct advantages. It’s never necessary to take a tour — one only needs to see so many fermentation tanks in life — and it is possible to compare wines from various producers and/or subregions side by side. Also, it’s often an opportunity to try the wines with food, which is how most are meant to be consumed.
Relaxing in wine bars over surprisingly well-priced glasses of Bordeaux is one of the great pleasures of the city. Here are my favorite venues in which to do so.
A bar run by the Bordeaux Wine Council sounds like it might lack character, but Bar à Vin has both atmosphere and a broad selection of Bordeaux wines. Within easy walking distance of the Yndō Hôtel, this bar occupies a beautifully renovated 18th-century building. Its interior combines neoclassical architectural elements with contemporary furnishings, as well as stained-glass windows and an Aubusson tapestry. Because Bar à Vin’s goal is to promote local wines, the prices are startlingly low, drawing a lively crowd of both locals and tourists. Since it’s been a few years since my last visit, I had a look at the bar’s current wine list to see what I would order now. Since prices are so reasonable, there’s no reason not to order the best wines on the list. For full glasses (15 centiliters) of vintage Crémant de Bordeaux, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé, Pomerol, Pessac-Léognan, Saint-Estèphe Cru Bourgeois and Sauternes — six superb glasses — the cost would be just 40 euro, or approximately $48 (plus tip). Snacks of cheese, charcuterie and chocolate are also available. Closed Sunday.
Bar à Vin
3 Cours du XXX Juillet. Tel. (33) 5-56-00-43-47
A stone’s throw from the Place de la Comédie, the sleek and quiet Max Bordeaux has an altogether different atmosphere. Inside, a series of temperature-controlled Enomatic cases house a dazzling selection of exquisite Bordeaux selections. All the wines can be sampled in portions ranging from 2.5 to 7.5 centiliters, accessed by a card preloaded with euros. If you have doubts about which wines to choose, a wall-mounted iPad offers fact sheets and wine critics’ tasting notes in English (the staff is also willing to assist, of course). Insert the card, select the desired pour size (2.5 centiliters is about two sips), and voilà! You have a taste of one of the greatest wines in the world. On our last visit, we tried Latour, Margaux, Cheval Blanc and Ausone, in succession.
As of this writing, the selection is more limited than usual due to current events. At the moment, patrons must content themselves with the likes of Angélus ($30), Montrose ($11) and d’Yquem ($30). The prices indicated are for a 2.5-centiliter taste. There may well be other places in the world where one can try 1995 Château d’Yquem for $30, but I am hard-pressed to name any. Closed Sunday.
14 Cours de l’Intendance. Tel. (33) 5-57-29-23-81
More locals than tourists visit this convivial wine bar, with seating inside at picnic-style tables and highboys, and outside along a lane in the old quarter. I like to come to Wine More Time for a late-afternoon snack or light dinner of cheeses and charcuterie. There are usually one or two gems on its by-the-glass list — on my last visit, I had a firm, fruity and fine-grained glass of 2014 Tour de Pez from Saint-Estèphe for $10 — but the real treasures are only available by the bottle, making it especially fun if you have a small group.
If I brought two or three people to the bar tonight, I would start us with a bottle of 2018 Château Le Sartre Pessac-Léognan Blanc ($28). This winery has long been one of the best dry white-wine values in Bordeaux, and its quality was reaffirmed when Bernard Magrez purchased the estate in 2017. Then it would be on to a well-aged 1996 Château Troplong Mondot Saint-Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé (good luck finding such a wine for $95 on an American restaurant’s wine list), and for dessert, a 2017 Château d’Anna Sauternes (a steal for $20). That sounds like an awfully nice evening to me! Closed Sunday.
Wine More Time
8 Rue Saint-James. Tel. (33) 5-56-52-85-61