By Wink Lorch
The name Bordeaux conjures up different things to the wine lover: a red or perhaps a white wine; a large and world famous wine region; and to those in the know, a great wine city. After years in the world of wine, I can’t help but know something about the wines, though I’m far from a Bordeaux expert; I have experienced several short trips to Bordeaux’ wine regions, but until early this November I knew virtually nothing of the historic city of Bordeaux.
Bordeaux seems to be enjoying a new lease of life as current mayor Alain Juppé (ex-Prime Minister of France) encourages the administration to continue its programme of investments in renovating and revitalising many old quarters of this very classical French city. On the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites since 2007 the main sights range from fine buildings to churches, museums and the spacious Jardin Public including the botanic gardens. It’s worth staying in the heart of the city – offerings vary from the very smart and pricey Regent Grand Hotel opposite the Grand Théatre down to some very reasonable options. If you have a car it’s definitely best to leave it safely parked up somewhere, for it’s a lovely city to walk around, and if you get tired you can just jump on the ever-expanding tram system.
It’s not only the old town and the rather grand public buildings that have had makeovers, but also the fascinating Chartrons quarter by the Garonne river. The Quai des Chartrons is lined with old warehouses which used to form the offices and warehouses of the traditional Bordeaux wine merchant families or négociant firms – their nickname was l’aristrocracie des bouchons (the cork aristocracy). Today the Chartrons district buzzes with cafés, craft workshops and is a prized residential area. It is also home to Bordeaux’ wine museum, notable for the fascinating section devoted to how the trading of the négoces (as the word is abbreviated) worked, something that to some extent still effects the way top Bordeaux is sold today.
Few négociants remain in the Chartrons area now, but you can visit their modern equivalent, Millésima at the other end of the city near the station (the other strategic area for merchants to be based from a transport point of view). A fine wine mail-order/internet specialist that sells a full range of Bordeaux wines from the most expensive châteaux downwards, you can tour the huge cellars of Millésima to gaze on row upon row of wooden boxes (they hold around two million bottles of very expensive stock). You can also pre-book an educational tasting of whatever wines you wish to taste …. providing you pay the cost, of course. For anyone in Bordeaux for a spell of time, Millésima also has a wine school offering a programme of tasting events, including sessions matching food with top Bordeaux châteaux wines.
As you might expect, the city boasts a growing number of wine shops and not all are focussed on Bordeaux. In the old town, Cousin & Co has wines from all over France and a few from other countries with friendly staff and friendly prices. A tiny shop Vins et Plus in the up-market Triangle d’Or shopping area offers a rotating stock of 60 wines focussing on organic and small producers. And, among the several shops specializing in top Bordeaux, I looked in on newcomer Max Bordeaux, who’s originality is their offer of a large range of First and Second Growth Châteaux to taste from enomatic machines – a chance for a sip of the greats at a reasonable price.
Apart from wine shops, the city offers an array of food, fashion, antique and household shops; weekly markets; cafés and restaurants of all shades and prices; and naturellement, there are also plenty of bars to stop at for a glass of wine. The Bordeaux Wine Information Centre has its own wine bar on the very grand ground floor of its offices, close to the city’s main tourist office. Whilst perusing the plentiful information about the wines of the region, you can relax with a monthly changing range of wines by the glass and a snack at any time of day.
Staying there at the invitation of Great Wine Capitals who were holding their AGM in Bordeaux and presenting their prestigious Best Of International Wine Tourism Awards, even in the November rain I just loved this city of wine – the very first ‘Great Wine Capital’. I would urge anyone planning a visit to discover the wines of the Bordeaux region, to allocate some quality time right in the heart of the city.
For more details of some of the places I visited and further recommendations, do take a look at our travel guide to Bordeaux City and its Négociants, written by Jane Anson who also writes the fascinating New Bordeaux blog.