First published Decanter, summer 2012
As the reawakening of the city centre of Bordeaux continues, a new wave of wine bars are ensuring you can not only try the best-known names of the region without always heading out to the chateaux themselves, but also try an increasingly interesting selection of wines from further afield.
Most of them have opened within the last few years, often by local Bordelais with connections to the wine trade – such as Wine & Soul in the buzzing district of Chartrons, opened in a cosy stone cellar by Jeremy Renard, the son of Dominique Renard, director of Bordeaux Millésimes, or by locals such as Antoine Schmidt, who opened Chez Tonino as an informal neighbourhood bar and wine shop. Schmidt is from Bordeaux, and spent a year working at Cheval Blanc back in the 1990s, around the same time that Pierre Lurton came onboard, and has a degree in viticulture, but has also worked in Paris, Spain and the US in fields other than wine. He has now returned to Bordeaux, and offers between 300 and 400 references – every one of which can be opened and drunk by the glass at the bar, accompanied by simple tapas of Serrano ham, Brébis cheese and foie gras. Both bars have an excellent range of Spanish, Italian and West Coast US wines, and allow clients to either drink on site, or take the bottles away (although it’s worth noting that Wine & Soul charges 20 per cent for on-site consumption, while Chez Tonino adds only €1 per person per bottle).
This being Bordeaux, it’s pretty much a given that most visitors are going to want to try local wines, and if you are looking to try some of the biggest names, right up to the First Growths, the best place to head to is Max Bordeaux. Well located along one of the smartest shopping streets in the city, this is also primarily a wine store, and all bottles are available to take away, but its point of difference is the Enomatic machines, where at least 40 classified wines are lined up for tasting in samples of either 25, 50 or 75ml, with prices ranging from €2 for a small sample of La Parde de Haut Bailly 2007 up to €25 for a similar sized tasting of Haut Brion 2006 or Cheval Blanc 2007. Enomatic machines also make an appearance at Bu Bar, a popular hangout that opened in July 2011, with 32 wines by the glass – complete with a key to help with the wine’s dominant flavour profiles. Low key and fun, with a great-value lunch menu.
Even the ‘official’ Bordeaux wine bar, which sits on the ground floor of the Bordeaux Wine Bureau’s head office, has a sense of energy. Located in the distinctive flat iron building, the CIVB Wine Bar has between 30 and 40 different appellations represented (from the 60 in the region), and the wine list changes every few weeks. This has got to be the best-priced bar in the city, with prices by the glass ranging from €2 to €8, and you can often enjoy some winemaker spotting, as it’s a choice spot for meetings held over a quick glass and plate of charcuterie or local cheeses. If you ask, the bar staff are also very happy to put flights together to demonstrate the affect of different terroirs on grape varieties, or on the difference between Left and Right Bank wines and so on – this is a valuable resource, and worth a look. No coffees or tea here though – only wine, water or grape juice.
Staying with the local theme, and the Côtes de Bordeaux get an in-depth treatment at Le Bar-Cave de la Monnaie, a bar owned by Jean-Pierre Xiradakis of iconic local restaurant La Tupina, where the list concentrates almost entirely on the Côtes and smaller appellations of southwest France. A similar idea, and worth the trip, is Comptoir de Genès, a bar serving only wines made by local producers in the Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux appellation, served up in a contemporary, airy bistro with an excellent market-fresh menu. A good 50 minutes drive from Bordeaux, a few miles past Saint Emilion, but an excellent concept that could be happily repeated across the region.
Locals who are hoping to get a break from Bordeaux, and visitors who may just want to strike out a little further, also have a choice of bars that offer wines from beyond the borders of the Médoc and Saint Emilion. Aux Quatres Coins du Vin, has exposed-stone walls, Enomatic machines and a welcoming feel. Here there are 32 wines in the machines at any one time, plus around 200 others available to drink or take away. As the name suggests, the emphasis is on wines from around the world, although it is in the non-Bordelais region of France where owner Chloé Allano scores most heavily, with some excellent Dagueneau Pouilly Fumé and Domaine Jamet Côte Rotie. Not far away, L’Oenolimit, again located in the narrow streets of Old Town, was opened by Olivier Raynaud and Mathieu Oudot in 2011, and is again particularly strong on the Loire and the Rhone – and holds regular tastings and masterclasses, often with visiting winemakers.
Other owners choose to specialize in a particular region or country, such as Giancarlo Savini, the Italian owner of Le Wine Bar. Savini serves up Italian-style food, and lists (at fairly reasonable prices) a wide range of Italian names such as Felsina, La Serre Nuove, Ornellaia, Tenuta San Guido, Sassicaia, Masseto, and Tignanello – along with plenty of more modest offerings. Le Wine Bar has 60 wines by the glass, and over 250 references in total, and offers an attractive round cellar underneath the main bar which can be reserved for private meals. Further excellent French and international wines are available at Wine More Time. The philosophy of owners Alexandre Lahitte and Jean Astruc is to sell single estate wines that are not currently distributed in Bordeaux, and they have stacked up a wide selection from across Europe and the States. Worth knowing that there is also a large selection of craft beers here.
‘The inspiring thing in Bordeaux now is that we know new competition is arriving all the time,’ says Astruc. ‘All of a sudden the wine bar scene is hot.’ Set to stir things up over the next few months is Stéphane Baron, F&B director at the Grand Hotel & Spa, newly arrived from London where he worked at both Sanderson hotel and Soho House. He plans to open in June 2012 a laid-back rooftop bar with views over the Opera House, and a large cocktail and wine list. And with the new Mama Shelter hotel due to also have a rooftop bar from April 2013, and the wine bar at the Wine Cultural Centre opening in January 2014, it’s safe to say you’re not going to go thirsty in Bordeaux any time soon.
L’Onolimit, Place Fernand Lafargue, www.loenolimit.com
Le Wine Bar, 8 Rue Saint-James www.degustation-groupe33.com
Wine & Soul, 23 rue du Couvent 05 57 09 86 23, www.wineandsoul.fr
Aux Quatre Coins du Vin, 8 Rue de la Devise, www.aux4coinsduvin.com
Wine More Time, 8 Rue Saint-James, winemoretime.blogspot.com
Chez Tonino, 209 Rue Fondaudège, https://www.facebook.com/people/Chez-Tonino/100001235130247
Max Bordeaux, 14 Cours de l'Intendance , www.maxbordeaux.com
CIVB Wine Bar, 3 Cours du 30 Juillet, http://baravin.bordeaux.com/
Bu Bar a Vins, 25 rue du Pas Saint George, www.baravin-bu.fr/
Comptoir de Genes, 33350 Saint Genes de Castillon, www.comptoirdegenes.com
Le Bar-Cave de la Monnaie, 34 rue Porte de la Monnaie www.latupina.com/pages/barcave.php