Wednesday, March 21, 2012
In the Wine Capital of the World: the City of Bordeaux, France
The city of Bordeaux is a jewel, with vestiges from the Roman era and medieval town gates. However, the 18th century was its golden age. Victor Hugo once said: “Take Versailles, add Antwerp, and you have Bordeaux.”
Bordeaux is often referred to as "Little Paris". Baron Haussmann, a long-time prefect of Bordeaux, used Bordeaux’s 18th century, big-scale rebuilding as a model when he was asked by Emperor Napoleon III to transform a then still quasimedieval Paris into a “modern” capital that would make France proud.
The city was ruled by the English for a long time, which is why Bordeaux seems to have an "English flair". After the marriage of Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine, Bordeaux came under English rule between 1152 and 1453. It was then that the British first developed their taste for Claret, as the red Bordeaux wine is called in the UK.
The city has recently been classified by UNESCO as an “outstanding urban and architectural ensemble”.Bordeaux has a million inhabitants, including a lively university community of over 60,000.
Bordeaux is a flat city, built on the left banks of the Garonne. The Garonne merges a dozen kilometers below the city with the Dordogne to form the Gironde, which is biggest estuary in France.
The two main entertainment spots are: (1) Formerly inhabited by wine merchant warehouses, the docks (les quais) are now home to gardens, bike and skate paths, boutiques, museums, cafés, bars and restaurants. (2) La Victoire is the other area for entertainment: Historical monuments meet student life and bars. Most of the pubs and bars of the town are here. Virtually, all the shops in the surroundings of this area are bars.
Bordeaux City’s Vineyards
The outskirts of the city of Bordeaux are the birthplace of the phenomenal Bordeaux wine boom. It was here – in the Graves - that the region first gained its reputation, as early as the 14th century – hundreds of years before Dutch wine merchants and producers drained the marshes of the Medoc. In the Middle Ages, much of the Claret - as red Bordeaux is called in the United Kingdom - shipped to London was grown within in easy distance to the Quai de Chartrons in Bordeaux.
For centuries, Graves encompassed all the vineyards south of the border with the Medoc, in a great sweep around the city of Bordeaux with the exception of the sweet wine appellations of Sauternes, Cerons and Barsac, which are nestled within the boundaries of the Graves, but are independently recognized because of their outstanding noble-sweet white wines. But in 1987, the Pessac-Leognan appellation was carved out of the northern end of the Graves, encompassing Graves’ most respected producers. The four key producers in Pessac-Leognan are Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion (both in American hands), Laville Haut-Brion and Pape Clement (named after Pope Clement V, who ordered its original vineyards to be planted in the 14th century).
Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller at Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau Pape Clement
Interestingly, these chateaux are within the city limits of Bordeaux and well within the Bordeaux beltway. This is the most urban wine area I have seen in Bordeaux and perhaps in the whole world. Indeed, the vineyards of Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Laville Haut-Brion and Pape Clement are surrounded by suburban development.
The Quai de Chartons and the Negoicants
Two hundred years ago, négociant offices lined the Quai de Chartrons on the Garonne to allow for easy loading and unloading of wine barrels heading to England, but also to other parts of northern Europe. Few négociants remain in the Chartrons area now, but we plan to visit their modern equivalent, Millésima, at the other end of the city, when we come back in September.
Bar á Vin - The Wine Bar in the Maison de Bordeaux
An excellent place to enjoy Bordeaux from different regions by the glass is the Bar á Vin, the wine bar in the Maison de Bordeaux (of the Conseil Interprofessionnel Du Vin De Bordeaux (C.I.V.B.)), right across the street from the Tourist Office and just across the tramway tracks from the main Quinconces Square. However, if you interested in wines in the higher price categories, do not go there, as the Bar a Vin only serves Petites Bordeaux.
Plateau des Fruits de Mer and Arcachon
Bordeaux City is also an excellent place for fruits de mer. Remember, to the west of Bordeaux is the Atlantic Ocean and the sea-side town of Arcachon, noted for its oyster production. Near Arcachon is the biggest sand dune in Europe.
Hotel de 4 Sœurs, the Opera and Richard Wagner
We stayed overnight at The Hotel des 4 Sœurs, set in an authentic XVIIIe century bordelais building right next to the Opera. This establishment is a real institution in Bordeaux – Wagner took up residency there in Mai 1850.
In September with the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim
We will come back to Bordeaux City in September with the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim, to have lunch at the Bistro Les Negociants and to visit Millésima.
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