Bordeaux is one of the wine world's most famous, well-established names,so well known, in fact, that it can be easy to overlook the fact that the last few years have seen a new sense of dynamism come over the Bordelais, affecting not only the wines but the region itself, and the welcome it offers to visitors.
Grape Varieties and Blending
A classic glass of Bordeaux comes from a blend of grapes, but the often-complicated labels, with their appellation and classification names and no mention of the grapes within the bottle, hide the fact that Bordeaux contains some familiar names: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds, and Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for the whites. There are other grapes as well, such as Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Muscadelle, adding spice and complexity, with all the blends ensuring a perfect balance in the wines.
The Six Regions of Bordeaux
Fifty-seven appellations in total sounds confusing, but Bordeaux can be pared down to six main styles and areas: the Médoc on the Left Bank, with its long-living Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines; Saint Émilion and Pomerol on the Right Bank, with their seductive Merlot-based fruit; Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur for the easy-to-drink, great-value favourites; Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves for the crisp Sauvignon Blanc whites; the Côtes de Bordeaux for the more rustic, expressive reds; and Sauternes for the highly prized sweet dessert wines.
Wine and Food Matching
Bordeaux wines have always been made to go with food. The maritime climate and long growing season allow for delicacy and freshness to develop in both the white and red wines and keep monstrous alcohol levels at bay, making for supremely food-friendly bottles. The rich reds of the Medoc have long been paired with entrecote, often from the local Bazas beef or other local delicacies such as Pauillac lamb, while the crisp whites of Entre-Deux-Mers are perfect with oysters. The gourmet whites of Pessac Léognan in northern Graves, with their mix of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are perfect with more sumptuous fish and light meats, while the increasingly popular rosés work well with barbeques, picnics and Asian foods from Thai stir-fry to Chinese dim sum.
Three Days in Bordeaux
With a long weekend in Bordeaux, start with an École du Vin (www.ecole.vins-bordeaux.fr) morning introduction to Bordeaux and its wines. Then take the UNESCO World Heritage Site tour, viewing many of the 350 listed buildings (Bordeaux ranks second only to Paris in the whole of France in this respect). Tours are organised through the tourist office (www.bordeaux-tourisme.com). Or do a walking tour of the city's markets or of the many gourmet stops, from cheese to chocolate shops. A great area to discover on foot is Saint Pierre, with its many boutiques, bars and cobbled pedestrianised streets. In summer, much of the activity is centred around Place du Parlement and Place Camille Julian, where you can watch English-language arthouse films at the Utopia Cinema, eat French, Japanese, Italian or Thai, or just hang out in coffee shops for hours, people watching and examining your purchases.
Five Days in Bordeaux
With a bit longer to spend, you can really concentrate on getting to know Bordeaux. Don't miss the newly renovated quais, there are now trams that make it easy to explore from one end to the other. Some of the key stops are the CAPC museum of modern art at 7 Rue Ferrère (Sunday brunch in their fantastic restaurant is one of the city's best-kept secrets); the Quai des Chartrons with its cafés looking over the river; the Bassins Ã Flot for the excellent art space of the former German submarine pens, the Base Sous-Marine (Boulevard Alfred Daney); and the Miroir d'Eau, just in front of the majestic Place de la Bourse, and today Bordeaux's best open-air playground. On the Right Bank of the Garonne, the newly opened botanical gardens have a pared-down design aesthetic and open up on to the river bank, which gives wonderful views back over the sweeping 18th century skyline of the main city.
Two Weeks in Bordeaux
Make sure you get out of the city, over to Arcachon or Mimizan to do some serious surfing or to Cap Ferret for boats, the lighthouse and the oh-so-chic oyster restaurants and designer boutiques. Or head east to Saint Émilion to explore underground monuments and cavernous cellars, or to Entre-Deux-Mers for cycling, walking and exploring the pretty bastide towns. In Bordeaux itself, take the time to try a cookery course at the newly opened Atelier des Chefs (www.atelierdeschefs.com), and visit some of the wine merchants who have opened their doors to the public. (The cellars and boutique at Millesima on Quai de Bacalan (www.millesima.com), for example, are incredible.) And don't miss the wine spa at Sources de Caudalie (www.sources-caudalie.com) out in Pessac Léognan.
20 Things Not To Miss
- The Miroir d'Eau, opposite Place de la Bourse
- The UNESCO World Heritage Site Tour
- Place des Quinconces, the longest pedestrianised shopping street in Europe
- The shops of Chartrons - particularly the Patisserie Antoine
- The D10 from Bordeaux down to Cadillac; a winding road with vineyards sloping away on either side
- La Winery in Arsac (www.lawinery.com)
- The village of Bages, near Pauillac
- The cobbled streets of Saint Émilion
- Dinner at La Tupina for real bistro cooking, (www.latupina.com), or Le Chapon Fin for Michelin-starred food (www.chapon-fin.com), or L'Oiseau Bleu for romance (www.loiseaubleu.fr)
- The wine bar at the Ecole du Vin
- The Jardin Public in the centre of town, with its new L'Orangerie restaurant
- The Blaye citadel, built by Vauban.
- The D2 Route des Châteaux, passing through Margaux, Saint Julien, Saint Estèphe and Pauillac
- The monolithic church in Saint Émilion
- Canales from Bordeaux and macaroons from Saint Émilion
- Sunday brunch at the CAPC Museum of Modern Art
- The Grand Theatre, where opera is staged throughout the year in a beautiful 18th century interior
- The beaches of the Arcachon Basin, Cap Ferret and Europe's highest sand dune, the Dune du Pyla
- The antique markets and boutiques of Chartrons, Saint Michel and Rue Bouffard
- The wine-learning about it, visiting it, and drinking it.