The Bordelais (Bordeaux region) is a place of ancient towns and timeless serenity. The city of Bordeaux itself boasts magnificent architecture and fine museums (especially the Musée d’Aquitaine and Cité du Vin) and has completed a 20-year renovation of the superb 18th-century limestone buildings that comprise its core. These include the majestic Place de la Bourse (the former stock exchange designed by King Louis XV’s architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel), the opera house and miles of elegant riverside façades.
There are also three major wine areas in the Bordelais. The Médoc extends along the western bank of the Gironde estuary to the north of the city and is home to many of the most famous grands crus, such as Margaux, as well as renowned estates such as Château Mouton Rothschild. On the eastern bank, a second celebrated wine area surrounds the exquisite town of Saint-Émilion. Finally, to the south of Bordeaux, the region of Graves has produced wines such as the incomparable Sauternes from Château d’Yquem, which has produced wine from its gravelly hillsides since the Middle Ages.
A Wine Museum
La Cité du Vin (134-150 Quai de Bacalan), a dramatically contemporary multimedia exposition center, is devoted to the history, geography and art of wine. The permanent exhibition, available in eight languages, encompasses a “Wine and the Imagination” room, a separate area that covers the wine regions of the world, and a “Wine and Civilization” space where visitors can “board a ship for a sea voyage through the centuries” and discover the major river and sea routes throughout history to transport wine.
A number of workshops are offered, including “Wines and Chocolates of the World” and “Wines and Cheeses of the World,” though both are offered only in French. La Cité also houses a casual brasserie for light snacks and the more formal Restaurant Le 7 offering panoramic views of the region from the naturally lit dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows on the seventh floor. The experience finishes, of course, with a glass to taste.
Fantastic Wine Bars
A two-minute walk from Bordeaux’s Place de la Comédie, the wine bar Max Bordeaux (14 Cours de l’Intendance) serves everything from basic Graves to great premier grands crus classés by the glass. I also like Bar à Vin (3 Cours du 30 Juillet), a stylish wine bar run by the Bordeaux Wine Council in the heart of the city that pours an encyclopedic range of Bordeaux wines.
The friendly Le Wine Bar (19 Rue des Bahutiers), which has a spectacular selection of Pomerol, Margaux and Sauternes among its 60 wines by the glass; and Wine More Time, where carefully chosen wines by the class are offered at very reasonable prices (8 Rue Saint-James).
Private Wine Tours
My favorite wine that I tasted during a recent en primeur week came from Château Pichon Baron in Pauillac. I highly recommend arranging a private tour, which must be reserved in advance and is customized to your preferences. A usual tour starts in the vineyard, progresses to the winemaking facilities and cellars, and ends with a tasting of three wines. A more formal seated, commented tasting of the winery’s Grand Vin can also be booked. Reservations are required.