We arrived in the graceful, relaxed city of Bordeaux at the end of our French tour feeling happy but exhausted from a week of heavy-duty sightseeing. As wine lovers, we were excited to explore the world of Bordeaux, but heading out of the city to the châteaux — many of which require appointments and expect you to purchase a bottle or two — seemed daunting. Fortunately, our hotel, the exquisite Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa, turned out to be within a two-minute walk of two bars devoted to the glories of the local wine.
Wine connoisseurs should turn right out of the hotel and walk to Max Bordeaux, a sleek tasting bar with uplit tables and a shower of wine glasses raining from the ceiling. Several temperature-controlled cases contain everything from basic Graves to the greatest Premiers Grands Crus Classés. All these wines can be sampled by the glass in portions ranging from 25 to 75 milliliters, accessed by a card loaded with euro. If you have doubts about which wines to choose, a wall-mounted iPad offers fact sheets and wine critics’ tasting notes about every single wine, in English (the staff is also willing to assist, of course). We inserted our card into a case, pushed a button, and voilà! We had a €30 taste of 2004 Château Latour in our Riedel glass.
Following that remarkable 25 ml, we moved on to tastes of the 2004 Château Margaux, 2006 Château Cheval Blanc and 2006 Château Ausone. For €120, we were able to taste four of the greatest red wines in the world, in succession. It was an amazing opportunity — where else would we have this chance? All four showed amazing finesse on the palate, with supremely velvety mouthfeels and long finishes. We loved the ravishing fruit and earth of the Latour, the rich cocoa-raspberry qualities of the Margaux, the racier sexiness of the Cheval Blanc and the lusciously full, dramatic flavors of the Ausone. But all these wines seemed a little too young. When we go back, we’ll focus more on some of the less expensive but more ready-to-drink choices, such as the 2005 Château Giscours or the 2003 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron de Pichon-Longueville.
Those interested in simply having a fun time with Bordeaux wines should make a left out of the Grand Hôtel, cross the harmonious Place de la Comédie and visit Bar à Vin. Whereas we had Max Bordeaux almost entirely to ourselves, Bar à Vin buzzed with locals and tourists enjoying value-priced wines with plates of charcuterie and cheese. Generous half-glass pours of seven wines set us back a total of €15 (because Bar à Vin’s goal is to promote local wines, the prices are startlingly low). The Crémant de Bordeaux and the Graves were duds, but the 2006 Clos les Grandes Versannes (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru), 2009 Château les Grands Sillons (Pomerol) and Château Lamourette (Sauternes) tasted absolutely delicious. Since the prices are so reasonable, there’s no reason not to order the best wines on the menu.
Spirits connoisseurs should not miss Cognac Only, a gem of a boutique five minutes on foot from the Grand Hôtel. This family-owned store has an incredible Cognac selection, including numerous minibar-sized samples ideal for those interested in taking a risk on something new. We came away with an elegant teardrop-shaped bottle of Baron Otard VSOP (hard to find in the United States), and a small bottle of Château de Beaulon, distilled from Folle Blanche in the manner of pre-phylloxera Cognacs (hard to find anywhere). Several well-priced vintage Cognacs are also available.
For those interested in visiting some of the beautiful châteaux of Bordeaux region, the Travel Office can easily arrange appointments and tastings. But for those who wish to simply relax and enjoy the 18th-century charms of the city, a huge array of great local wines is available just steps from the Grand Hôtel.