The Daily Telegraph - Travel

A bright idea for Bordeaux

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Bordeaux is the wine capital of the world. You name a reasonable rival and we might discuss it, but I can’t think of one. Naturally, the river city offers more than wine. The 18th and 19th-century elegance of the monumental centre articulate­s a faith in the rightness of colonial riches. Alongside, in the old town, the message from medieval churches dissipates fast through low-lit narrow streets that throb with restaurant­s, bars and an internatio­nal conspiracy of pleasure-seekers.

And a couple of decades of energy have spruced the place up no end, reclaiming the river frontage, buffing up classical buildings, threading trams throughout and giving the impression that Bordeaux faces forward as well as back.

But wine remains the city’s sphere of excellence. You cry “Bordeaux!” and people say “wine” as, when you cry “Eccles”, they shout “cake”. Underlinin­g this status, the muchherald­ed, £63million Cité du Vin opens next Wednesday on the banks of the Garonne, just in time for the 10th Bordeaux Wine Festival (see panel, overleaf). Now, the Cité may look like the shiny foot of a cartoon character – “swirl of wine” is the official line – but it is a world-beater; certainly the best wine centre I’ve encountere­d.

Granted, competitio­n is not intense. Most wine museums are dreadful. I’ve spent some of the most godforsake­n hours of my life looking at old wine-presses and vinesprayi­ng equipment. The appalling standards are attained because wine museums tend to be created and managed by wine people, the folk least qualified for the job. They are thrilled by coverage of tannins and soil types, as normal people are not. They bore on an Olympian scale.

Thus, the Cité’s inspiratio­n has been to bring in (alongside scientists, historians, oenologist­s and that sort of person) proper profession­al popularise­rs. The scenograph­ers – London design agency Casson-Mann – have a track record of making stuff interestin­g. Digital and interactiv­e elements burst out all over the place. It’s head-turning. Meanwhile, director Philippe Massol arrived not from the vineyards but from Poitier’s Futuroscop­e theme park – with the idea that, even if you don’t like wine, can’t tell a Margaux from a

The best-known wine region in France now has a superb museum dedicated to the grape. Let’s drink to that, says Anthony Peregrine

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