Bordeaux is arguably the wine capital of the world. Simply say the name and your next thought is wine. First, a bit of clarification: there is the region of Bordeaux – with its thousands of producers, nearly 60 different appellations and several different regions – and the city of Bordeaux, the sixth largest in France.

Located less than six hours by high-speed train from Paris, the southwestern City of Bordeaux provides the perfect base for touring the region. Along the way, you will focus your tasting skills and become more aware of the unique notes produced by the local old world vines. 

Americans are well aware of new world wines produced in Napa, Sonoma, and the Willamette Valley, but it can take a bit of work to hone your tasting skills to appreciate the often minerally and earthy wines produced in vineyards that have been around for centuries. 

But, I won’t call this line of study work; I’ll say it’s more like culinary play.

I’ve spent nearly three decades introducing tea to new generations of consumers. Whether the focus is on tea or wine, the same taste buds are being stimulated as our memories of tastes and aromas are awakened. Let me introduce you to a few highlights of the wine scene of Bordeaux, both city and region, that will help you understand French wine in a new way.

Cité du Vin

Some call it the Guggenheim of wine museums while other visitors liken it to a Disney World of Wine. The new Cité du vin opened in 2016 to rave reviews as it garnered accolades for both design and creative layout. The interactive museum leads you on a journey through the history, culture, and chemistry of wines from around the world. Plan on spending a couple two to three hours here as you sniff your way through wine aromas, sail inside an ancient vessel loaded with wine, watch barrels made and discover how wine families are created.

Learn the intricate aromas of wine by sniffing these sample smells captured inside large bell jars and delivered to your nose via brass piping.

Top off your adventure with a tasting in the eighth-floor Belvedere which offers an unequaled panoramic view of the Garonne River and the rooftops of Bordeaux. The museum is open every day and the price of admission is 20 euros.

The Village of St. Émilion

The UNESCO World Heritage village of Saint-Émilion’s dates back to prehistoric times with fascinating Romanesque churches and ruins stretching all along steep and narrow streets.

The Romans planted vineyards here as early as the 2nd century. In the 4th century, the Latin poet Ausonius lauded the fruit of the bountiful vine. The town was named after the monk Émilion, a traveling confessor, who settled in a hermitage carved into the rock there in the 8th century. The monks who followed him started up the commercial wine production in the area.

The limestone cellars of Chateau Gaudet, one of only two wineries located within the village.

Saint-Émilion is one of the principal red wine areas of Bordeaux along with the Médoc, Graves, and Pomerol. The region is much smaller than the Médoc and adjoins Pomerol. As in Pomerol and the other appellations on the right bank of the Gironde, the primary grape varieties used are the Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with relatively small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon also being used by some châteaux.

Chateau Gaudet became certified organic in 2010, and bio-dynamic in 2014, only the second biodynamic winery in the St Émilion region. Wine production is done totally by hand just like it was done centuries ago. Bottles have been stored in their hand-hewn limestone cellars for centuries. This family-owned winery is one of only two located within the village.

The winding and narrow streets of St Emilion are lined with tasting rooms. Shipping can easily be arranged for all the amazing Bordeau wines you want to ship home.

Founded in 1848, Logis de la Cadène is one of the oldest restaurants in Saint-Émilion. This family-run restaurant has played an intimate role in the history of the village. It was always a favorite of the Boüard de Laforest family living in nearby Château Angélus since 1782. They ended up acquiring it in summer 2013.

The creative talents of Chef Alexandre Baumard were rewarded in February 2017 with a Michelin star. After a morning of wine tasting, linger here for an elegant mid-day repaste which will inspire you for more adventures in this storybook town. Make advance reservations.

Visit a Wine Bar or Two

No visit to this city of wine would be complete without visiting a wine bar or two. 

One of the most popular is The Bar à Vin, located on the ground floor of the Maison du Vin de Bordeaux, the headquarters of the Bordeaux Wine Council. 

The handsome 18th Century building, known as the Hôtel Gobineau, pays homage to the city’s role as a port, with lines that recall a ship’s prow. The spacious grand interior offers a choice of seating areas: low tables and cozy armchairs; oak tables and chairs for a more intimate atmosphere; a bistro-style bar and high chairs or, for the summer, a sunny terrace with a view of the Grand Théâtre.

Flights of wines, along with small tasting plates of local cheeses, are the highlights here. Our party of four sampled 16 wines and a plate of bread and cheese for less than $80. I consider that a bargain in any country! 

Filled with several days of accumulated wine knowledge, we decided to put our accumulated tasting skills to the test one evening by visiting The Wine Bar at Le Boutique Hôtel Bordeaux. We stopped in after dinner and took a table in the conservatory. We asked the sommelier to bring us pours of four red wines for a blind tasting. He was delighted to participate in our educational endeavors.

After much study of our four unnamed reds, we were able to identify the grapes of two of the wines. We were quite proud of our mediocre score and deemed our adventures in wine country a success! 
Wines arranged for a blind tasting at The Wine Bar at Le Boutique Hotel Bordeaux.

While enjoying Bordeaux, we stayed at Une Chambre Chez Dupont, a selection of comfortable apartments above Chez Dupont restaurant, located in the heart of the Chartrons district and close to the river Garonne. The narrow streets here are lined with antique shops, art galleries, and cafes. The major shopping streets and walking gardens are easily accessible from this gentrified area. 

Our top floor apartment included a kitchen where we prepared tea in the afternoon and enjoyed the tasty goodies we collected on strolls through the markets and bakeries.

The Chez Dupont staff saved our return to the USA from disaster on the last morning of our stay.  My passport slipped from my jacket pocket as we left the apartment for the airport and I discovered it missing just as our Uber approached the terminal, 30 miles outside Bordeaux. 

A Chez Dupont employee found my passport on the steps and called my cell. He quickly hired a driver who raced it to the airport as I waited anxiously at the curb. 35 minutes later, a black Mercedes screeched to a stop in front of me, the window rolled down, and my passport was placed into my hands. The Air France team rushed us through security and we were able to make the flight to Amsterdam just in the nick of time. Thanks, Chez Dupont!

Chez Dupont restaurant, located conveniently in the Chartrons district offers spacious and affordable accommodations.

For more information on nibbling and drinking your way through Bordeaux, you might enjoy:

Breaking Bread in Bordeaux’s Oldest Bakery

Best Tea in Bordeaux

Tea Maestro Bruce Richardson has written and co-authored 14 books, including The Social History of Tea. He is the co-owner and master blender at Elmwood Inn Fine Teas.

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