By Barney Lehrer with Jesse Nash
When wine lovers think about Bordeaux the first thought is often “the best wines in the world.” The second thought is quite often “too bad that I can’t afford them.” But there is no need to skip the Bordeaux region because of cost. Not all good Bordeaux wines have crazy prices. Sure a bottle of a great vintage Lafite Rothschild or Château Ausone can cost you a few months’ pay. But keep in mind that there are more than 6000 wineries in the Bordeaux region. And many make excellent wines that can cost as little as $15 or $20.
Where to Stay
Of course there are super luxury resorts throughout the region. And some Chinese entrepreneurs are now building very high-end wine resorts with golf and other amenities especially for their wealthy clientele. But there still are many moderate-priced hotels to stay with prices ranging from 80 to 150 euros per night. A particularly wonderful place is Château Beau Jardin (http://www.chateaubeaujardin.com), a beautiful small hotel and gourmet restaurant in the northern Médoc run by English/South African Michelle and her husband Jean, a French award–winning chef who trained in Lyon. Many winemakers are renting out rooms in their homes or châteaux at very moderate prices.
Or you can do what I did on a recent trip – use AirBNB (http://www.airbnb.com), which is a way of staying in people’s houses, often together with a family. I stayed in a clean and cozy room in David’s home. A former banker, David gave up the secure corporate lifestyle to open a wine bar, Le verre Ô vin in the heart of the “Place Bordeaux,” the neighborhood where most of the famous wine brokers (negociants) historically have had their offices. Unfortunately I was there on a Monday night, when the bar was closed. Next time!
Where to Drink
As for the wine – the first stops on any wine lover’s pilgrimage to Bordeaux should be the Bar à Vin run by Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) – the Bordeaux Wine Council. It’s a beautiful place in the center of the city with an extensive wine-by-the-glass wine list from all parts of the Bordeaux region. The list of 30-plus wines changes frequently, as it’s the obligation of the council to help all 6000 winemakers! And there is a good selection of wine types: sparkling, whites, rosés and reds from most regions of Bordeaux. And the prices! From 2.50 to 8 Euros per glass. I drank a refreshing crément (3 Euros) and two more than impressive Médoc reds – Château de la Pez (6 Euros) and St. Hilaire (3 Euros).
And if you really do want a taste of the “big boys” without paying for a whole bottle, it is a five-minute walk from the Bar à Vin to Max Bordeaux, what one might call a “super wine bar” in the center of Bordeaux city. Here, for a relatively small price, you can sample all of the top wines from Bordeaux. As their website states, “Max Bordeaux is more than just another wine boutique, it is the only place in the world you can taste the 48 best Bordeaux grands crus by glass!”
Where to Eat
As in most large French cities there is a wide range of restaurants in Bordeaux. If you’re looking for great Michelin stars at reasonable rates, go to Le Pavillon des Boulevards and Jean-Marie Amat, an ornate converted château right next to the ring-road highway at the Aquitaine bridge in Lormont (shown in the first photo in this article). Both these restaurants serve extraordinary food for a relatively low price of 30 to 40 euros for lunch.
Slightly lower on the price scale, but an important and unique culinary destination is La Tupina, the most famous provider of hearty “Southwest Cooking,” whose staples are “fatty duck” (La Tupina’s motto is “Tout se mange dans le canard” – “All can be eaten in a duck”), fish from the Gironde estuary and game (“Le Sud-Ouest est le pays de la chasse” – “The Southwest is the land of hunting”).
Still lower on the price scale are some quite good choices, in addition to the pizza and kebab joints that grace almost every corner. If you are looking for a satisfying and cheap meal, take a stroll on Rue Saint-Rémi, where there are many moderately-price bistros as well as those kebab and pizza places.
Château Beau Jardin
50 route de Soulac
Le verre Ô vin
43 Rue Borie
Bar à Vin
Conseil Interprofessionnel du vin de Bordeaux
3 cours du XXX juillet
Télephone : 0556004347
14 Cours de l’Intendance
Le Pavillon des Boulevards
120 rue Croix de Seguey
Restaurant Jean-Marie Amat – Château du Prince Noir
1 rue du Prince Noir
8 rue porte de la monnaie
Photos courtesy of Jesse Nash.