Bordeaux is one of France’s underrated cities. Reviewing cities for weekend breaks, one travel writer wrote that he would rather stay at home and clean the fridge than go to Bordeaux! As one of the capital cities of wine, a UNESCO world heritage city, and as one of the stops in my honeymoon itinerary in 2009 – I have a soft-spot for Bordeaux. Much smaller than Paris, the city is cozy, charming, and pedestrian-friendly. I was in Bordeaux again for two weeks earlier this month – my first trip their since 2009. This time it was the winter and I happened to be visiting alone. So, what does a wine professional do after a hard day’s work tasting wine? Well, in my case I often decided to head downtown to the area around the ‘Grand Théâtre’. The Grand Théâtre itself is an architectural gem. But who has the time for architecture when wine bars and wine shops beckon.
First stop – the L’Intendant wine shop, opposite the Grand Théâtre. This is a spectacularly designed wine shop – the centerpiece of which is a spiral staircase that winds up the narrow profile of the shop. Wrap-around shelves with bottles of wine curl up to the top of the building along the staircase. Most of the wine stocked in this store is Grand Cru Classé. In other words – it is wine that other people (like rich Chinese) buy and drink. Given the prices of these wines – the shop is a feast more for the eyes than for the taste buds.
For affordable luxury, head back across the road to the Bar à Vin – a wine bar run by Bordeaux’s official wine body CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionel du Vins de Bordeaux). Presented as a tribute to Bacchus and housed in an old historical building, the bar is all about stained glass meeting contemporary chic. High ceilings, murals and stained glass windows set the tone of grandeur, while the modern furnishings and chic décor adds casual charm. The hip crowd starts streaming in around six in the evening for an aperitif before heading out for dinner. Then there are the most important elements of any wine bar – the wine selection, service, glassware and staff. In each of these the Bordeaux’s Bar àVin does very well. The wine list is short but every wine is available by the glass and all major Bordeaux appellations, wine styles and quality levels are represented. The pricing is more than fair – the place is probably the best bargain in Bordeaux. Most wines start at €2 per glass including tax and service, and the serving size is a generous 150 ml. The most expensive wine was the Grand Cru Classé Château Lafon Rochet 2007 at €8. I started with the crémant, and then had a glass each of a white, red and sweet wine. With a plate of cheese and cold-cuts thrown in my bill was a grand total of €18. For this price I would just about manage a sniff at a glass of house wine and nibble at a tiny snack at any Delhi 5-star hotel.
The taste buds satisfied, it is time to head out to wine shops where mere mortals can actually afford to buy (and not just gawk). Fortunately, there are two excellent wine shops right around the corner: Vinotheque and Bordeaux Magnum. Both have an excellent selection of Bordeaux wines and limited selection of wines from other regions. These are the places to load up to excellent value wines – those in the price range of €10-20 in my opinion.