A year after the opening of the Cité du Vin, visitors to Bordeaux are spoilt for choice when it comes to appreciating one of France’s premier wine regions. They can ride through the vineyards on a bicycle, tour them in a London taxi, or take a tasting cruise on the Garonne. The tourist board has created a handy downloadable tour of Bordeaux’s latest wine bars, but where do those in the know go for a verre de vin? I asked 10 connoisseurs to let me in on their favourite places.
Perfect bargain: Bar at the Bordeaux Wine Council
Imagine the perfect wine bar. Add a few neo-classical columns, an Aubusson tapestry, airy rooms in Bordeaux’s 18th-century “flatiron’” building, Maison Gobineau, contemporary furniture and an immaculate parquet floor. Then discover that because the bar is run by the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux, the wine costs a fraction of what it does elsewhere. Bordeaux reds start at just €2 a glass and you can spend all day there, chatting to the staff and gazing at the sculptures, or the sensual stained glass windows. The queue in the evenings can be long, but in the afternoons it’s possible to walk in and have a glass of Bordeaux Supérieur for €2.50, a 2011 Château Ladignac Cru Bourgeois for €3, or a tannic, rust-coloured clairet for less than the price of a cafe au lait. And the best job in the world? The chief sommelier is Englishman Martin Schofield, who worked at the Garrick Club in London, and Soho’s L’Escargot, before moving to France.
• 3 cours du XXX juillet, baravin.bordeaux.com, Mon-Sat 11am to 10pm
Recommended by Guillaume Leygues, caviste at L’Intendant Grands Vins de Bordeaux
Branch out: Vins Urbains
Jan and Christelle Bussière opened Vins Urbains, in the Saint-Pierre district, two years ago. Jan had been a sommelier but wanted a little place of his own, and with 20 years in the business he knows almost all of his suppliers personally. “We only open in the evening – people don’t drink at lunchtime any more!” he says. Only about 30% of their wines are from Bordeaux. “Things have changed; locals are happy to try wines from other regions now. Maybe it’s a little bit thanks to the internet: you have to move with the times.” They serve a trio de croque monsieurs consisting of layers of ham and white truffle, foie gras and onion confit and yakitori prawns, which “goes well with a nice dry white”. They also have a huge stock in the cellar, visible through a grille in the floor, with 400 wines and a vaulted room for private parties and tastings.
• 27 rue des Bahutiers, vinsurbains.fr, Tues-Sun from 6pm
Gwendal Jugan of La Ligne Rouge
Chefs’ hangout: Le Flacon
The logo is a leaping hare carrying two flacons (bottles) of wine in a saddlebag (inspired by the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland). The pace at the bar is quite relaxed, with owners Valérie Mata and Gilles Devasse and bar manager Najette Zahri happy to discuss wine options – the list is presented on an electronic table, as it changes regularly. Food items such as tapas, specialities from the Ardèche, or their mango and passion fruit crumble are chalked up on the wall, and the back of the bar is covered in slate-size blackboards listing their suppliers. With very intimate, 1950s decor and seating just 22, this has become a popular hangout for late-finishing chefs and, like many wine bars in Bordeaux, stays open until 2am. “We have around 200 wines, and glasses range from €5 to €7.50, including a good selection of natural wines,” says Mata. They’re planning another bar in Bordeaux’s lively St Michel district this year.
• 43 rue de Cheverus, on Facebook, daily from 6pm
Christophe Castel, manager of wine dealer Cousin et Compagnie
Secret speakeasy: Symbiose
Lucas, Félix, Simon and Thomas were all 26 when they opened this cool riverside cafe-restaurant last year. They do a little bit of everything: serving, cooking, pouring, mixing, decorating, and the accounts. The food is inventive, with clever combinations of nuts, vegetables and fish, often cooked in spirits. Current favourite is a whisky, chocolate and salted butter tart. But all is not as it seems… walk through the blond-wood restaurant to discover a speakeasy hidden behind a grandfather clock. After the restaurant is closed, a trail of candles leads to a darker, edgier world of cocktails, local wine and a sideline in Japanese Nikka whisky. They carve fist-sized cubes of flawless ice in front of you, and on the walls are cave paintings in charcoal, 1950s Italian lights, and a cabinet of curiosities from their travels (they have all worked in bars in London and Paris). A giant rusty sawmill blade runs the length of the bar.
• 4 quai des Chartrons, on Facebook, bar Tues-Sat 7pm-2am, restaurant weekday lunch, Tues, Weds dinner
Amanda Boucher, bar manager, Pas de Loup, Paris
Beach bar: Les Chantiers de la Garonne
An abandoned boatyard, Les Chantiers has been renovated by the Darwin Eco-système project owner Philippe Barre into a spectacular riverside venue, complete with sandy beach, seafood cafe, sailing club and microbrewery. The bar is made from salvaged girders and the benches and tables are all recycled wood. It’s a place to dream of revolution and watch the more staid activities of Bordeaux’s wine cruisers on the opposite bank. “In summer, it’s the only site on the Garonne where you can swim in the river, as the current is so gentle,” says Barre. The Darwin site, now the third most-visited place in Bordeaux, houses the Magasin Général – France’s largest organic restaurant and deli – a skateboard park and co-working units.
• 21 quai de Queyries, on Facebook, Tues-Fri noon-2pm and 6:30pm-11.30pm, weekends 11am-11pm
Christophe Tissinier, manager of wine tour operator Bordeaux Excellence
Foreign vines: La Ligne Rouge
Gwendal and Ludivine Jugan opened their wine bar last January, relocating from smaller premises across the riverside square in Saint-Pierre. They specialise in little-known wines from foreign domains. “We have some great bottles from Croatia, and our bestseller last year was a Serbian red. We also have an English sparkly!” says Gwendal. He is modest, welcoming and happy to pluck any bottle from his shelves and recount its interesting history. “A lot of our clients work in Bordeaux wine and they come here because they want something a bit different.” Prices by the glass range from €4.50 to €7. They also serve tapas and big plates of cheese and charcuterie on a pavement terrace or in the red-columned interior, a gallery for fans of imaginative wine labels.
• 6 rue de la Porte Cailhau, laligne-rouge.com, Sun-Weds 6pm-11pm, Thurs-Sat 6pm-1am
Jonathan Turban, Bordeaux Wine Trails
Local taste: Le Boutique Hôtel
Manager Mike Germon organises blind tastings almost every afternoon in this light, stylish hotel bar, where all glasses of wine cost €7. “We change the wines every day, but have around 230 to choose from.” The conservatory and sunny courtyard have leather sofas, illuminated shelves of wine bottles, fairy lights, bamboo and a tasting salon. In winter there’s an open fire and the bar hosts a soirée vigneron on the first Thursday of the month, when local producers bring in their wines, and a soirée concert on the third Thursday. “Our customers usually start off with Bordeaux wine, and then we help them experiment with other styles they like,” says Germon.
• 3 rue Lafaurie de Monbadon, hotelbordeauxcentre.com, Mon-Sat 6pm-11.30pm, Sunday 11am-3pm and 7pm-10pm
Thibault Lemierre, creator of Bordeaux’s Urban Wine Trail
By the glass: Le Millésime
In a quiet backstreet behind Place de la Bourse, Le Millésime claims to be the only bar in the city where you can order the premiers grands crus classés by the glass. Its long bar is lined with double magnums and ice buckets, and it flourishes as a restaurant-bar with a generous, classy after-hours ambience. “We always have a mixed crowd in,” says Fred Heraut, who opened Le Millésime in January 2015. “We wanted to create a place where we’d like to go ourselves: it’s cool and relaxed, with stone walls, a bar serving great wine and tapas, and a DJ on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.” The chef specialises in posh mini burgers, which go very well with a glass of 2012 Château Chasse-Spleen (€11), 2004 Mouton-Rothschild (€70) or a regular glass of Bordeaux for €5.
• 4 rue du Puits Descujols, le-millesime.net, Mon-Sat 6.30pm-2am
Anne-Sophie Perrier, concierge, Bordeaux’s Le Grand Hotel
City chateau, Les Carmes Haut-Brion
The only wine chateau in Bordeaux itself offers tours, tastings and a glass of claret in its spectacular new chai (winery) designed by Philippe Starck. The vineyard is just a few minutes’ walk from a tram stop and is surrounded by townhouses, whose residents can peer over the 4.35-mile wall at the park, pretty château and chai, which looks like a cruise liner upturned in the pond. Through its giant sliding door, hi-tech meets traditional building methods, with cement, steel and wooden vats in the vinification hall. Downstairs, lines of oak barrels and terracotta amphorae store the wine in the ageing room, which is, in fact, underwater. There is a strong sense of being on a James Bond film set, especially the remote-controlled piston entrance to the roof, but the wine is among the most prestigious in Bordeaux.
• 20 rue des Carmes, les-carmes-haut-brion.com les-carmes-haut-brion.com
Najette Zahri, bar manager, Le Flacon
Rooftop bars: Mama Shelter & Le Grand Hotel
The choice between Bordeaux’s two highest rooftop bars depends on your mood. Mama Shelter’s is a lively, heaving deck of cool after-workers playing table football and sipping wine under the hotel’s hallmark racks of illuminated rubber rings. Le Grand Hotel’s “La Night Beach” is a more sophisticated viewing station, perched above Gordon Ramsay’s Le Pressoir d’Argent restaurant (with its 38-page wine list) and luxury suites that share a panorama of Maison Gobineau, forgotten terraces, church steeples, distant cranes and bridges over the Garonne. Le Grand is open till 1am and has a red carpet running up the stairs. Mama Shelter’s terrace is surrounded by glass panels, and has a pizza oven and art deco circular tower soaring above the skyline (the building was once the headquarters of the French gas board). Waving from one rooftop to the other is optional.
• Mama Shelter, 19 rue Poquelin Molière, mamashelter.com, April-Oct, Mon-Weds noon-6pm spring and summer, Thurs-Sat noon-10pm, Sun 4pm-8pm; Le Grand Hotel, 2-5 Place de la Comédie, intercontinental.com
Christophe Tissinier, bordeauxexcellence.com
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010