BORDEAUX: WINE AND DANDY
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