With Vinexpo, the world's most important wine trade fair, starting soon, my mind flew back to my most recent visit to the wonderful city of Bordeaux.
It is the world’s wine capital, one of France’s most beautiful and historic cities and famed for its restaurants. Bordeaux, a five-hour drive south-west of Paris, or three hours on the TGV train, is notable for its 18th-century architecture and is surrounded by vines. Wine has been made in the surrounding areas here since the eighth century.
Here you’ll find some of the most expensive red wines in the world; usually made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or a blend of the two, while the world’s greatest dessert wines are made in and around the hamlets of Sauternes and Barsac.
Even though some of the countryside may be unspectacular, there is a higher concentration of great wine names here than anywhere else in the world.
You will almost certainly need to make a reservation, or in some cases wangle an invitation, to visit the big names: Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Margaux, Chateaux Latour on the left bank, Petrus and Chateau Cheval Blanc on the right bank and Chateau d’Yquem in Sauternes.
This is an area where the wines are usually long-lived and designed for cellaring, so quaffing is not encouraged. There are, nonetheless, several excellent wineries that do encourage visitors and offer informative winery tours and tastings. Among them: Cos de Estournel, Prieure-Lichine and Lynch-Bages. British-owned Chateau de Sours also welcomes visitors and has on-site accommodation.
St Emilion is probably the most attractive of all the Bordelaise villages and should not be missed – the Hosetellerie de Plaisance has two Michelin stars while Chateau Grand Barrail is a great place to stay and there are plenty of wine shops offering tastings. For more affordable wines, the Canon-Fronsac, Fronsac (try Chateau de Carles) and Cotes de Castillon appellations are worth investigating.
In town, Bar a Vin at the Maison du Vin de Bordeaux offers a selection of around 30 wines for tasting.
Where to stay and eat: Chateau Cordeillan-Bages in Pauillac (right) is a gracious – and expensive – boutique hotel with just 28 rooms in a chateau that dates back to the 18th century and is part of the Relais & Chateaux group. The extremely comfortable rooms are surrounded by the vines of Pauillac and Jean-Luc Rocha cooks arguably the best food in the region in the restaurant here. www.cordeillanbages.com.
The Regent Grand, on the place de la Comedie, is among the smartest addresses along with the Pullman and Burdigala, while top restaurants in the city include Le Chapon Fin, Les Pavillon des Boulevards, Le Gabriel with river views and Jean Ramet, while there’s good value at La Tupina, Le Bistro de Gabriel and Le Bistro des Negociants.
Just out of town check out long-time favourites Jean-Marie Amat and Le Saint-James but avoid the area around the St Jean railway station, which can be unsavoury.