Travel to the oenophile’s Mecca along the fertile Garonne River, to sip your way through of one the world’s most preeminent red wine capitals; Bordeaux, France
Water is my Lorelei*, – the waves, the air, a tiny breeze coming off of the river, sea or ocean lure me to its sandy shores – hopefully, though, not to my ruin. So it was with France’s Garonne River. It whispered to me, implored me to dip my toes into its lapping waves… Wait, who are we kidding? The Garonne is alluring; but this is Bordeaux, the red wine capital of the world - a region so renowned for the garnet liquid it produces that à la Madonna or Becks, it has earned the honour of one-name distinction. Forget the river…
“…Please, Bring Me My Wine!”
Now, I’m no wine expert; call me an enthusiastic amateur. But whether or not you can sniff out a perfect bouquet or spot great legs, the point is to actually drink the Bordeaux, preferably by the glass; a feat that proved not as easy as expected in the city of wine. With a nose to the barrel though, I discovered a few places in walking distance of the Garonne to sit and sip a little nectar of the vine.
Max Bordeaux: I was overcome with intense emotion the moment I walked into the crisp, temperature-regulated wine gallery, Max Bordeaux (14, Cours de l'Intendance; +33 (0)5 57 29 23 81; http://maxbordeaux.com, firstname.lastname@example.org). So strong was my desire that I wanted to rub myself up against the wine refrigerators to become one with the libations within. Assuming that this would be frowned upon and concerned that I might knock over the displays, I had to content myself with purchasing the 25€ sample card, to sip my way to oneness one Haut-Médoc to Pauillac at a time.
Since October 2009, Max Bordeaux has offered guests its art gallery atmosphere in which to taste vintages from venerated producers such as Château Yquem and Château Margaux before committing to the cost of a bottle. Tastings come in three portion sizes at a cost of 1 - 15€ per sampling. The staff allowed me to babble on in bad French or switch to English when necessary. And it was through these bi-lingual exchanges that I learned of Max Bordeaux’s plans to expand in the next couple of years to New York, London and Tokyo.
Le Wine Bar: When I looked at the menu at the Grand Bar Castan (2, Quai de la Douane) and saw that the only wine offered by the glass is not château something-or-other, but merely “red” and “white”, I knew I was in trouble. Scenically located across from the Garonne, the bar’s beautiful marquee and spacious patio looked welcoming though. How bad could the wine be? Wow, one sip of my “red” wine yielded an instant headache! But, if it weren’t for that lackluster wine sullying my palate, and my need to abolish the taste, I wouldn’t have found Le Wine Bar (19, rue des Bahutiers; +33 (0)5 56 48 56 99; http://www.lewinebar-bordeaux.com). Leaving the main drag running along the water, I turned onto the narrow streets of old Bordeaux in search of better wine. While walking I thought, “I’m in Bordeaux; why haven’t I seen any wine bars?” And voilà, there it was.
Opened in spring 2010, Le Wine Bar’s Italian proprietors, Giancarlo and Emmanuel, admit that they might be living dangerously, offering a plentiful selection of international wines, weighted with Italian, in a French wine city. To enhance the wine experience, Le Wine Bar serves Italian specialty cheeses and meats such as parmesan and prosciutto. Giancarlo, the wine captain and Emmanuel, the master of la cucina, have created an elegant yet homey place to sip and snack, making each customer feel like an invited guest. When Emmanuel slipped me some homemade garlic bread and Giancarlo pointed out the Clos du Val, a respected California wine, listed in his Wine Bible, I knew I was home. Le Wine Bar has an ample selection of 4 – 10€ per glass wines, with pricier vintages available. The nibblings average about 10€.
Le Café Via Luna: Honestly, it was the whisky advertisement in front of Le Café Via Luna (9, Place Jean Jaurès; +33 (0)5 56 44 17 08) that caught my attention. Tired after pounding the Bordelais pavement, my feet throbbed and my throat was parched. Whisky sounded like the perfect way to ease all sufferings. At first glance, I couldn’t decide if I thought the orange and brown plastic patio chairs were funky chic or tacky. But it was across from the river, offered tapas, and when in the former Roman Aquitaine capital, Le Café Via Luna had me at “fine selection of wines by the glass.”
Another fairly new Bordeaux establishment, Le Café Via Luna impressed not just by offering both whisky and wine, but with their service, as well. My server guided me through the available wines, yet brought me a glass of Château Fieuzal 2005, a vintage they typically only served by the 45€ bottle. I was also pleased that the pour was more generous than most other places I had yet visited. Munchies such as saucisson (sausage), candied peanuts or cod beignets come with the drinks bringing a value-added feeling to the lounging experience. A glass of wine plus a tapa such as grilled vegetables or Manchego cheese platter can run 7-12€.
Faites Dodo – Sleep it Off
A little wine consumption can make for a tipsy and sleepy wine town guest. Thankfully, there are some centrally located places where imbibers can sleep off any Bordeaux-induced stupor.
L’hôtel Tour Intendance: Stumbling distance from the main drag, Cours de l'Intendance, is the rustic chic L'hôtel Tour Intendance (14-16 rue de la vieille tour). This two-star hotel is clean and conveniently located to many bars, cafés and the Garonne. Rooms range from 78€ - 158€ and include a bathroom, television and free WIFI. Breakfast and parking are available but neither are included in the room cost. The hotel locks its front doors at night but provides guests with an after-hours entry code.
The Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux: Those with deeper pockets and a desire for elegance should check into the Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux (2-5 Place de la Comedie). This five-star hotel offers 150 rooms decorated in styles from 19th century to modern day France. To my humble checkbook, room rates run in the if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford-it range of 250 - 750€ a night. WIFI is free while breakfast and parking are available, and pets welcomed, for an additional charge. If being centrally located and mere paces from the Grand Theatre aren’t enough for you, the Regent Grand is currently “guarded” by a golden cow.
Allez, Allez – Go, Go!
Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport (BOD; http://www.bordeaux.aeroport.fr) is about 12km outside of Bordeaux proper. Cabs into the city are expensive but Jet’Bus (http://www.bordeaux.aeroport.fr/fr/info/jetbus-navette-aeroport-bordeaux) offers an affordable way; 7€ one way, 12€ round trip, to reach central Bordeaux. A trip takes about 45 minutes.
* Lorelei/Lore-Ley is the mermaid or siren, which folklore says lured fisherman and sailors to their deaths with her song. This legend is inspired by “Loreley”, a rock along the banks of Germany's Rhine River. Loreley marks the river's narrowest point between Switzerland and the North Sea.