Bordeaux Wine City: A find thing, La Cite du Vin

Its impressive modern architecture towers above the Bacalan quays north of the city centre and when La Cite du Vin (Wine City) opens in June it will complete the remarkable transformation of Bordeaux as a gourmet and wine tourism destination.

The spectacular new centre on the banks of the Garonne River is projected to attract 450,000 visitors a year and is the latest in a number of ambitious tourism projects that have seen the traditionally conservative and insular wine capital of the world throw itself open to an ever-increasing number of visitors.

Philippe Massol, the director of La Cite du Vin, says the new centre is "not a museum, or a winery, or a fair, but a true city of wine with a world of cultures – just as the name says". The new boot-shaped project is pitched to be somewhere between a theme park, a museum and a cultural space. A ground-floor wine bar, tapas eatery and wine shop will feature wines from more than 80 countries around the globe.

And the Cite du Vin is just one of a number of attractions in a wine region in which there are grandiose new cellar doors, chic new hotels, luxury vineyard retreats, a wave of city wine bars and a new welcoming attitude.

Bordeaux, always a city of culture, has undergone a complete "relooking" over the past decade with mayor Alain Juppe overseeing urban renewal on a grand scale and extending the city's tram network.

Wine is king here – and Bordeaux wants to get out the message that is no longer stand-offish, although a declining number of the major wine chateaux do still require introductions and appointments.

A visit to Bordeaux, a city noted for its 18th century mansions, has always been a must for serious vinophiles – but Bordelaise producers were often criticised for not being accessible, often only opening their doors for wine professionals.

Now they are catching up with world leaders in wine tourism like Stellenbosch and Franschhoek in South Africa, Mendoza in Argentina and the Napa Valley in California.

From the Medoc region – home to names like Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Latour – to Sauternes in the south-east, where the world's greatest sweet wines, including Chateau d'Yquem, are grown and made, Bordeaux is encircled by vineyards – 115,000 hectares in total.

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The Medoc and Graves regions alone produce 100 times as much wine as all the grands crus of Burgundy put together. The Medoc, on the left bank of the Gironde River, is home to some of the most famous villages in the world of wine, including Margaux, Pauillac and St-Estephe. The region's long-lived reds are known to the British as claret.

Emblematic of the old and new theme is the ultra-modern tasting centre and observation tower at Chateau Gruaud-Larose in Saint-Julien Beychevelle in the Medoc. Looking so out place, it was controversial when first completed but has now gained acceptance.

The 21-metre tower, all bright metal and angles, is adjacent to and a counterpoint to the very elegant Chateau, which was built in 1725. Here, for a fee, you can enjoy wine tastings matched with chocolates or cheese; and enjoy older vintages served by the glass from an Oenomatic dispenser.

With its 360-degree views, the tower offers panoramic views of the Gironde estuary and the entire Gruaud Larose vineyard.

Chateau Margaux's new winemaking facility, visitor centre and vinotheque, designed by prize-winning British architect Norman Foster, is another example of Bordeaux's building boom, while at Chateau Montrose, an 11-metre-high barrel cellar is the crowning glory in a revamp of the estate's buildings that has cost an estimated $90 million.

Chateau Pedesclaux in Pauillac is home to a dramatic glass-surrouned structure that is reminiscent of I. M. Pei's Pyramid at the Louvre in Paris.

Chateau Lafite-Rothschild offers a blend of neoclassical architecture and a new cellar, flooded with light and supported by sixteen columns, designed by the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill.

Chateau La Tour de Bessan is also an architectural tour de force and striking Chateau Haut-Selve in Graves was created by designer Sylvain Dubuisson. Cos d'Estournel, meanwhile, has a distinctly Asian influence after its recent makeover.

Chateau Cheval Blanc in St-Emilion has a new cellar that features two enormous waves of white concrete that rise out of the ground. Once again the old and the new merge beautifully and the Christian de Portzamparc​ design has won several awards.

The cellar at Chateau Faugeres, created by designer Mario Botta, is a partly buried stone plinth with a covered terrace above it, looking out over the vineyard and the 18th century chateau.

Nearby Chateau La Dominique, offers both public and private tastings and is home to a new restaurant, La Terrasse Rouge, part of a cellar designed by Jean Nouvel. It is a thoroughly modern affair with sweeping views over the vines of both St-Emilion and Pomerol and a menu featuring oysters and south-western specialities.

Here you are in merlot country because, as a general rule of thumb, the wines from the left bank of the Gironde are made largely from cabernet sauvignon, while those on the right bank (Saint-Emilion/Pomerol) tend to be softer and to be merlot/cabernet franc-dominated.

Dining out has become more welcoming, and international, in the city as well as among the vines, with Joel Robuchon overseeing the menu at La Grande Maison. Gordon Ramsay at the Le Grand Hotel de Bordeaux at Le Pressoir d'Argent and local superstar Philippe Etchebest at le Cafe de l'Opera a Bordeaux.

La Grande Maison picked up two Michelin stars in the 2016 guide, while Ramsay picked up one.

La Tupina, in a quiet city side street, serves rustic and full-flavoured dishes from the south-west of France in a cosy ambience. It is my favourite. Le Chapon Fin, Le Gabriel and Brasserie l'Orleans are traditionally popular, along with L'Embarcadere for mouth-wateringly fresh fish, Garopapilles for modern cuisine and Dan for fusion food, while there are also several great dining choices among the vines.

Les Sources de Caudalie – part of the Small Luxury Hotels group – is a wine resort and spa in Martillac, south of the city next to Chateau Smith Haut-Lafitte has two excellent on-site restaurants and a wine bar.

There are also two excellent hotels with fine dining in the wine hamlet of Saint-Emilion; the Hostellerie de Plaisance and Chateau Grand Barrail, while Les Belles Perdrix at Chateau Troplong Mondot (which got a first Michelin star in the 2016 guide) and Logis de la Cadene are also both highly rated.

Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, surrounded by some of the world's best vineyards at Pauillac and next to Chateau Lynch-Bages, cannot be beaten for its location, while just outside the city centre, Le Saint James in Bouliac is another hotel renowned for food, its wine list and modern architecture.

In the Medoc, in the middle of the wine country, Le Saint Julien​ is a must visit for fresh, grilled dishes and the fine dining at Cordeillan Bages remains as good as ever. Lavinal in Pauillac is a fine traditional bistro as is Lion d'Or, which is located in Margaux. If you're in Pessac Leognan, there is Chateau d Leognan.

Chateau Pape Clement hosts regular wine workshops, while Chateau Giraud is a hugely welcoming Sauternes producer offering tours and tastings.

For a chance to sample some of the region's wines without leaving the city, visit The Bar a Vin, which is located on the ground floor of the Maison du Vin de Bordeaux, the headquarters of the Bordeaux Wine Council, set in an 18th-century building in the centre of town.

The Musee du Vin, which highlights the history of wine in the region, is also well worth a look.

Wine bars in Bordeaux like L'Univerre, La Ligne Rouge, Aux Quatre Coins du Vin or Wine More Time all offer tastings of both local labels, and (a recent innovation) imports from around the world. Aux Quatre Coins de Vin has a range of about 40 wines available by the glass (tasting pour, half glass or full glass) via Oenomatic machines (the selection included a Tapanappa red from South Australia). There is something in everyone's price range and the bar snacks are outstanding.

For the most relaxed gourmet experience visit the Marche des Quais market on Sundays and enjoy fresh local dishes with wines and ciders.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Etihad Airways and partner airline Virgin Australia offer daily one-stop flights from Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney to 20 destinations in Europe, via Abu Dhabi, including flights to Bordeaux via Paris. See etihad.com.

TOURING THERE

Barrique 33 Wine Tours offers bespoke vineyard tours from half a day to a week. Knowledgeable bilingual guide Claude Guigon uses comfortable vehicles; see barrique33winetours.com.

STAYING THERE

Les Sources de Caudalie, a superb five-star luxury hotel is set in the heart of the Graves vineyards and features two restaurants, the Michelin-starred La Grand'Vigne and La Table du Lavoir, an upmarket country inn, as well as Rouge Wine Bar. The on-site Vinotherapie Spa offers treatments based on vine products; see www.sources-caudalie.com/en.

Hotel Burdigala is one of the best addresses in Bordeaux with helpful service and comfortable, well-equipped rooms, along with outstanding breakfasts; see burdigala.com

Mama Shelter, with quirky decor by Philippe Starck, is a good budget option right in the centre of the city; see mamashelter.com/en/bordeaux/.

Winsor Dobbin was assisted by Scenic, Accor Hotels, Les Sources de Caudalie and Etihad Airways.

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