BORDEAUX: WINE AND DANDY

Tom Chesshyre

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - TOM CHESSHYRE THE TIMES Tom Chesshyre was a guest of Atout France and Bordeaux Tourisme.

It’s 11pm in Bordeaux and the night is young. We’re at a wine bar named Aux Qu­a­tre Coins du Vin, stand­ing by a wine ma­chine. The ma­chine is sim­ple: in­sert a plas­tic card with credit bought at the bar, press one of the many but­tons and, hey presto, wine comes out.

“A taste of black truf­fle; 2005: a very good year,” says Chris­telle, one of the wine as­sis­tants who of­fer ad­vice for those who are not con­nois­seurs. “A bordeaux su­pe­rior — that’s a type of ap­pel­la­tion.”

We nod in a man­ner we hope ap­pears knowl­edge­able, roll the liq­uid in the glass (copy­ing oth­ers), be­fore down­ing our small “tast­ing size” wines. It’s tres bien in­deed.

We press another but­ton, sam­pling a fine red with a taste of “black fruit, liquorice and cas­sis” (from Chateau Franc Mayne), fol­lowed by a de­li­cious glass of Chateau Clinet. “Very strong, smoked and round in the mouth,” says Chris­telle. We mur­mur our ap­proval.

Bordeaux is world fa­mous for its wines, so what bet­ter way to see the city than on its new “ur­ban wine trail”. It has been cre­ated by Bordeaux Tourism to of­fer visi­tors a guide to the labyrinthine city cen­tre’s many bars; rec­om­mended es­tab­lish­ments can now be found on its web­site.

It’s a great way to give struc­ture to a short break in France’s wine cap­i­tal, along with a visit to a vine­yard and a tour of the vi­brant new side of the city open­ing up by its docks and along its west bank. Bordeaux is in the midst of a boom, with a raft of chic ho­tel open­ings in­clud­ing Le Bou­tique Ho­tel, Mama Shel­ter and Yndo (where we are stay­ing), a mag­nif­i­cent new bridge across the river Garonne (opened in 2013) and a grow­ing net­work of trams to make zip­ping about eas­ier than ever. Add to this a fu­tur­is­tic wine mu­seum just opened, and faster trains from Paris ar­riv­ing in 2017 (cut­ting the jour­ney from 3hrs, 20mins to 2hrs), and the op­ti­mism is pal­pa­ble.

We take a tour of the sights in a bum­ble­bee-coloured vintage Citroen 2CV named De­siree, its fab­ric roof rolled back. The car is owned by Mar­tine Macheras, a for­mer English-lan­guage teacher who set up her busi­ness a cou­ple of years ago. “It has been hard to start with, but now tourists are com­ing,” she says, echo­ing the up­beat mood we en­counter through­out our stay. We’re soon pootling along, ex­am­in­ing the re­mains of a Ro­man am­phithe­atre, pass­ing a park next to a square where mayor Alain Juppe has an apart­ment (Juppe, the for­mer French prime min­is­ter, is be­hind many of the city’s re­gen­er­a­tion plans), paus­ing to see the stat­ues of Mon­tesquieu and Mon­taigne in the wide open Es­planade des Quin­conces. Both philoso­phers lived in Bordeaux.

Mar­tine drives on, skirt­ing a park land­scaped re­cently with a foun­tain that’s known as the wa­ter mir­ror be­cause of its re­flec­tions (chil­dren are hap­pily cool­ing off in the wa­ter on a hot day), and on­wards past a statue of LouisUr­bain-Au­bert de Tourny (who in the 18th cen­tury over­saw much of the de­sign of the el­e­gant build­ings that re­main in Bordeaux to­day), to rue Notre Dame in an old­fash­ioned neigh­bour­hood with a cou­ple of wine bars in­clud­ing Mar­tine’s fave, La Con­serverie-Con­verserie, and a hand­ful of ex­cel­lent an­tique and col­lectibles shops.

We see the shell of the soon-to-open wine mu­seum, cross the new Jac­ques Chaban-Del­mas bridge, and our tour comes to an end at the Pro­jet Dar­win cen­tre on the west bank. Pro­jet Dar­win is the per­fect place to un­der­stand the new side of Bordeaux emerg­ing in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the faster trains from Paris (it is ex­pected many Parisians will move to the city and com­mute to the cap­i­tal).

Set in a mil­i­tary bar­racks dat­ing from the 1850s, the cen­tre con­sists of a laid-back res­tau­rant/bar, an art gallery, “well­ness cen­tre” with yoga classes, an or­ganic

food mar­ket, open-plan of­fices for start-up in­ter­net com­pa­nies and a down-to-earth at­mos­phere. We sit in a big atrium, drink or­ganic Dar­win beers and eat or­ganic burgers. “Ev­ery­thing is or­ganic!” says Philippe Barre, the cen­tre’s for­ward-think­ing founder.

But back to wine, and the real busi­ness of our Bordeaux break. Af­ter a head-clear­ing swim at the bril­liant Piscine Ju­daique, we take a taxi to Chateau Pape Cle­ment, where we learn all about the spe­cial ter­roir of Bordeaux and wine-mak­ing tech­nique. There has been a vine­yard at this lo­ca­tion since the 13th cen­tury and its name comes from a fa­mous for­mer owner, the Arch­bishop of Bordeaux, who be­came Pope Cle­ment V in Avi­gnon in 1305. We sur­vey bar­rels, vines and an­cient olive trees, one of which is 1800 years old. We learn that each vine pro­duces about one bot­tle per year, and cli­mate change is be­com­ing a threat to pro­duc­tion be­cause lo­cal grapes are not suited to higher tem­per­a­tures.

Then we taste the wine. It is red (85 per cent of Bordeaux wine is rouge) and ex­cel­lent, with “woody aro­mas, toasted bread, leather and some an­i­mal smells”, ac­cord­ing to our guide.

Af­ter­wards, we hit the wine trail again, en­joy­ing a suc­ces­sion of fine vin­tages in lit­tle can­dlelit bars be­fore end­ing at La Ligne Rouge, down by the river. It’s mid­night on Satur­day and the place is packed. “If you go home happy, we are happy,” says the owner, Gwen­dal Ju­gan, pour­ing a gen­er­ous glass of a pep­pery and smooth Chateau de Plai­sance.

And a glass or two later we do, along cob­bled streets full of late-night rev­ellers. Bordeaux is in­deed per­fect for a wine break.

Vines in the fa­mous wine re­gion, above; the cen­tre of Bordeaux, above left; Aux Qu­a­tre Coins du Vin, right

Terrace at the Mama Shel­ter Ho­tel, above; Jac­ques Cha­banDel­mas bridge, above right

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