Exploring Bordeaux

A historic city is but the center of the world's most fascinating wine region
Mitch Frank
Posted: June 30, 2007

Bordeaux is a beautiful, elegant city. The heart of downtown curves gracefully along the Garonne, a waterway sailed by Dutch and English merchants centuries ago to load their boats with barrels of wine. Spared the World War II bombings that damaged many other French cities, the narrow streets are lined by some 5,000 stately 18th—century palaces and mansions built with the wealth of négociants. The gorgeous Grand Théâtre and the 14th-century basilica of St.-Michel sit at the end of narrow lanes.

But let's be honest. Wine lovers make the trip to Bordeaux for one reason, and the 300,000 vineyard acres that make this the world's largest fine-wine region lie outside town, stretching for miles in every direction. To experience Bordeaux, visitors need to get out of the traffic-choked streets and into wine country.

No matter which direction you travel, there's an appellation—from the classic reds of the Médoc to the underappreciated whites of Graves and Entre-Deux-Mers; from the unparalleled dessert wines of Sauternes and Barsac to the rising reds of the Right Bank's Pomerol and St.-Emilion. And then there are the many other appellations that are finding new life, thanks to ambitious winemakers. The fact that it would take a lifetime to explore them all may be a visitor's most thrilling discovery.

Until recently, however, Bordeaux did not put out a welcome mat much, primarily because it didn't have to. "Château owners did not really feel it was necessary to open their doors to the public, because most of them didn't sell their wines directly," says Corinne Conroy, head of marketing for Margaux's Château Brane-Cantenac. "The Médoc was somewhat of a godforsaken territory back then, with few restaurants and practically no accommodations."

But in the past few decades, as New World wines have taken some of Bordeaux's share of the world market and as wineries in California and other regions have perfected the art of the wine-country getaway, the Bordelais have come around to the idea of extending a welcome to visitors.

A few entrepreneurial pioneers have led the way within the past 10 years. Jean-Michel Cazes, owner of Château Lynch-Bages in the Médoc, has bought up large parts of the village of Bages and opened a luxury hotel, a Michelin two-star restaurant, a café, a bakery and a wine school—all within a few blocks. To the south, in Pessac-Léo-gnan, Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte's owners tore up a section of their vineyard to build their own resort, spa and gourmet restaurant.

These outposts of luxury have brought new energy to Bordeaux's culinary scene. While southwestern France is blessed with the best ingredients—abundant oysters, fish and lamb, and copious lobes of foie gras—travelers were once limited to good but fairly stolid country restaurants. But several trendsetting chefs have opened up shop in recent years, perhaps inspired by their creative cousins south of the Pyrénées, in Spain.

Thierry Marx at Château Cordeillan-Bages is the spiritual leader of this bunch, combining innovative techniques with fresh ingredients and a whimsical sense of presentation. Every year he closes the restaurant for a few months to spend time in Asia soaking up new ideas. The results have convinced many in Bordeaux that he will soon earn his third Michelin star. Other creative local chefs, such as Michel Portos of Le St.-James and Franck Salein of La Grand'Vigne, are also turning heads.

Bordeaux is a vast region, but wine travelers can easily think of it in terms of three subregions: the north, comprising châteaus of the Médoc along the Gironde; the south, home to Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Sauternes, Barsac and Entre-Deux-Mers; and the east, also known as the Right Bank, where you'll find Pomerol and St.-Emilion together with the latter's promising satellite appellations. Each region could easily fill a whole trip, but a great intro to Bordeaux might include a stay of one to three days in each area. And despite the city of Bordeaux's legendary traffic, don't neglect the old part of town. A day spent strolling near the waterfront and visiting its wineshops and restaurants is well worth it.

The climate is fairly mild year-round, but it can get chilly and damp in the winter. The best times to visit are March through November. Most residents take two weeks of vacation in February, plus the entire month of August. Harvest season is the most beautiful time of year, but the châteaus cannot welcome visitors. They're far too busy.

The listings that follow highlight some of the best restaurants and hotels in each region, but there are many others. The profiled châteaus were selected because they are among those that readily welcome visitors. Many other châteaus also offer tours and sometimes tastings. Larger estates in the Médoc have become especially visitor-savvy, with tours in several languages and for big groups. Some, such as Château Mouton-Rothschild, have adjacent museums or works of art. Others show guests around only if someone on the winemaking team has 30 minutes to spare. Smaller properties, particularly in Pomerol and St.-Emilion, are less likely to admit tourists.

Every winery requires an appointment to visit. A polite e-mail should do the trick, but don't ask to come on weekends, and be sure to arrive on time. Many do not sell their wines directly, but the city has several good shops for liquid souvenirs.

Note: In the listings that follow, prices have been converted from euros to dollars using the exchange rate at press time ($1 equals 0.73 euros) and rounded to the nearest dollar. The listed establishments accept major credit cards unless otherwise indicated. Telephone numbers should be preceded by 011 when dialing from North America. Always call restaurants and châteaus ahead of time to confirm that they will be open during your visit.

MÉDOC

As you drive north from Bordeaux, you can easily forget what the Médoc is about. Industrial parks and suburbs stretch for several miles then give way to fairly nondescript terrain that slopes gently down to the Gironde. The area was, after all, a marsh until Dutch engineers drained it in the 17th century. The towns too are rather drab.

But then the D2, the Route du Châteaux, gently winds through the small village of Issan, past the towers of Château Palmer. Soon, the stone wall of Château Beychevelle rises on the right, followed by the neoclassic silhouette of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. The road is a drive through wine's hall of fame, past the tower of Château Latour, the turrets of Château Pichon-Lalande and Château Pichon-Baron, the pagodalike roofs of Cos d'Estournel, not to mention endless vineyards filled with stony gravel. It's like a living fairy tale.

The Haut-Médoc is a long stretch of land, running 20 miles from Margaux in the south to St.-Estèphe in the north. (The D2 can be maddeningly slow; anyone in a hurry should head west toward the Landes forest and the N215.) The best location to stay is near the middle, in Pauillac. The region's largest town, Pauillac has shops and a charming waterfront. Médoc châteaus are probably the most visitor-friendly in Bordeaux, but appointments and some advance planning are musts. Besides the two spotlighted below, good stops include Brane-Cantenac, Palmer, Pichon-Longueville-Baron, Lynch-Bages, Kirwan, Léoville Barton and Cos-d'Estournel.

The Médoc is not known for its nightlife, so it's best to enjoy a leisurely dinner at a top restaurant. To take a break from wine during the day, you can visit beaches on the Atlantic Coast or explore Fort Médoc, built in 1690 at Vieux Cussac to keep invaders from getting upriver to Bordeaux. Oyster shacks and fishing huts line the water in places. Or you can drive north to enjoy the views where the Gironde meets the ocean at the Pointe de Grave.

WHERE TO STAY

Château Cordeillan-Bages
Route des Châteaux, Pauillac
Telephone (33-5) 5659-2424
Web site www.cordeillanbages.com
Rooms 25
Suites 4
Rates $205-$658

Even if it weren't home to the best restaurant in Bordeaux (see "Where to Eat"), Cordeillan-Bages would be the top hotel option in the Médoc. Located just south of Pauillac, this converted 17th-century Carthusian monastery sits about halfway between St.—Estèphe and Margaux. Jean-Michel Cazes, owner of nearby Château Lynch-Bages, and his sister Sylvie Cazes-Regimbeau transformed it more than a decade ago. The old monastery is home to the restaurant and many of the common areas—sumptuously decorated salons with leather chairs and bookshelves—where you can enjoy coffee in the afternoon or Cognac after dinner.

A modern two-story wing, designed by Anne-Monique Bonadei, houses most of the rooms, which are sleek and contemporary. Each room has a big, comfortable bed, Wi-Fi, a flat-screen TV and a spacious modern bathroom. Breakfast includes fresh, tasty bread and pastries from the Cazes bakery, Bab d'Andrea, just down the street. The family also runs a wine school for interested guests and will organize visits to Lynch-Bages and other châteaus. When you need a rest, you can relax poolside or in the hotel's peaceful gardens.

 

WHERE TO EAT

Château Cordeillan-Bages
Route des Châteaux, Pauillac
Telephone (33-5) 5659-2424
Web site www.cordeillanbages.com
Open Lunch, Sunday, and Wednesday to Friday; dinner, Tuesday to Sunday
Cost Menus $110-$199

If you spend enough time eating out in Bordeaux, sooner or later someone will ask, "Have you dined at Cordeillan-Bages?" The entire region seems to be waiting for Michelin to award chef Thierry Marx a third star. Marx is the indisputable standard-bearer for cutting-edge cooks in Bordeaux, and a third star would provide validation for all who are inspired by his style.

Dinner in Marx's dining rooms is a three-hour tour de force. While the two rooms are small, tables are not crowded. Decor is sleek and modern. The food is daring, beautifully presented and delicious. Diners can order two or three courses, but endless extra dishes soon arrive: a spoonful of cauliflower mousse topped with caviar, foie gras emulsion topped with pistachio foam, soy risotto with truffle oil. The seared foie gras, paired with peach confit, Port reduction and sea salt, provides a perfectly balanced array of flavors. Venison comes in three styles: a spring roll, a venison "éclair" and "deer in a blanket."

Marx obviously delights in presentation. Eel arrives cooked in a hollow brick, which the waiters break apart with a mallet. Smoked Aquitaine beef filet is placed atop Merlot vine shoots, then wrapped up in cellophane and presented as a gift basket. But the quality of the food keeps dinner from becoming a culinary circus.

The weighty wine list includes selections from every corner of France. The Champagne list alone comprises 200 different labels, such as Krug Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Clos du Mesnil 1988 ($960) and vintages of Moët & Chandon Brut Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon and Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil stretching back to 1959.

The list of Bordeaux wines, organized by vintage and by appellation, leans heavily toward the Médoc. It's broad, with a few selections from almost every major château, and deep verticals from choice properties in Pauillac, including Châteaus Mouton-Rothschild (the 1955 goes for $2,700), Lynch-Bages and Pichon-Longueville-Lalande. The list also has an impressive array of half-bottles, magnums and double magnums.

Restaurant Le Lion d'Or
Place de la Republique, Arcins en Médoc
Telephone (33-5) 5658-9679
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $18-$34

Chef Jean-Paul Barbier was a rebel when he opened his little bistro in this town just north of Margaux more than two decades ago. His food hasn't changed much since, but that's just fine. This is a great place to enjoy traditional regional cuisine—roast pigeon with foie gras, simmered tripe in white wine sauce, grilled veal kidney.

The true main course is Barbier himself, whose gregarious personality fills the classic bistro dining room. He loudly welcomes you, personally slices and serves smoked fish or filet mignon tableside, and stops to chat with diners and make sure everything is perfect. The wine list is solid, if unremarkable, featuring wines from a few dozen lesser châteaus plus a dozen from top estates, such as Ducru-Beaucaillou 2003 ($178) or Léoville Barton 1999 ($134). Some wines have eight to 12 years of age on them. You can order a glass of Lillet Blanc, Bordeaux's special aperitif, to start and hope one of Barbier's winemaking friends walks in. The verticals of top Médoc wines stored in special racks alongside the tables belong to them.

NEARBY CHÂTEAUS

Château Margaux
Margaux
Telephone (33-5) 5788-8383
Web site www.chateau-margaux.com
Visits By appointment only, Monday to Friday

Bordeaux fans will recognize Margaux's stately 19th-century château building as they turn onto the long tree-lined lane leading to the estate. This first-growth, one of the more beautiful properties in the Médoc, has undergone a resurgence ever since the Mentzelopoulos family purchased it in 1977 and made serious investments in the vineyards and the chai. The results can be seen during an hour-long tour, which encompasses two barrel cellars, a huge room of wooden tanks for fermentation, the winery's own cooperage and an impressive wine library with bottles more than two centuries old. At the tour's conclusion, your guide might pour a taste of a recent vintage, but that's not guaranteed.

Château Mouton-Rothschild
Pauillac
Telephone (33-5) 5673-2129
Web site www.bpdr.com
Visits By appointment only, Monday to Friday

Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Château Mouton-Rothschild's owner for much of the 20th century, was one of the more charismatic and energetic figures in Bordeaux's history, and his influence is still evident during a tour of the château, now owned by his daughter Baroness Philippine. This is probably the most visitor-friendly of the first-growths. A tour takes about an hour and starts with a film that tells the history of Mouton, celebrates its famous labels and then presents a tidal wave of brands in the Baron Philippe de Rothschild wine empire. Afterward, guests are escorted through the winery, which includes the old cellars and an extensive wine library. A cathedral-like barrel cellar on the ground floor is the highlight of the tour.

The labels on display were designed by 20th-century artists such as Picasso, Dalí, Braque and most recently, Prince Charles. (The artists typically received 12 cases of wine from the château for their work.) Visitors can also tour a museum of wine-themed art, which the baron collected over the decades. Located in an old barrel cellar, the museum has on view an impressive array of tapestries, chalices adorned with precious jewels, sculptures, pottery and other artifacts from the past 3,000 years from almost every continent, decorated with grapes and scenes of bacchanalian revelry.

Graves Entre-Deux-Mers

This vast stretch of varied, beautiful landscapes starts within Bordeaux itself. The vineyards and wineries of Châteaus Haut-Brion and Pape Clément are located in the sprawl of Bordeaux's suburbs. South of the city, the landscape becomes far more picturesque, with the rolling hills of Graves and the endless pines of the Landes forest. If you stay in Graves, you'll never be far from the city. Farther south, Bordeaux's sprawl eventually gives way to little towns, such as Barsac, and to charming country restaurants.

Head south on the autoroute for about an hour (try to set out early). When you start driving through morning fog, you're in Sauternes, where the cold Ciron tributary feeds into the warm Garonne, producing the mist that encourages development of noble rot. On the other side of the Garonne lies Entre-Deux-Mers, probably the most naturally beautiful part of the region, with tiny hamlets tucked into shady valleys and farmland. Here you may see a rustic road-sign invitation that reads "Visite, Dégustation, Vente" (Visit, Tasting, Sale).

Each of these regions could occupy you for a day or more. The châteaus, while not as tourist-savvy as their siblings in the Médoc, are usually friendly and welcoming. In Graves and Entre-Deux-Mers, properties are scattered. In Sauternes, all are located within a few square miles. In addition to the châteaus mentioned below, visitor-friendly estates include Pape Clément, Carbonnieux and Smith-Haut-Lafitte in Graves and Guiraud in Sauternes. For a different sort of wine, head to Podensac and the Lillet production facility, which makes a fortified wine that is the region's special aperitif. In the summer, you can do as the Bordelais do and drive west through the Landes to the Arachon basin, a beautiful beach area with enormous sand dunes.

WHERE TO STAY

Les Sources de Caudalie
Chemin de Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Martillac
Telephone (33-5) 5783-8383
Web site www.sources-caudalie.com
Rooms 40
Suites 9
Rates $260-$822

It's about a 15-minute drive south of the city of Bordeaux to Les Sources de Caudalie, which looks like a Zen incarnation of a French village, nestled in the gravel vineyards surrounding Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte. The château's owners, the Cathiard family, tore out vines in a low-lying area to open the hotel in 1999. The five guest buildings, built from salvaged material from old wineries, each have a different feel, including a manor house, a rustic boathouse, and even a grand suite built on stilts that is elevated above the small pond at the center of the property. Rooms are comfortable, with decorative touches, terraces with vineyard views, and modern bathrooms.

Despite the allure of nearby châteaus, you may never want to leave the chic hotel. A "vinotherapie" spa offers wine-themed treatments and sells scrubs and soaps made from grape skins and must. In addition, chef Franck Salein oversees two restaurants, La Grand'Vigne (see "where to eat") and La Table du Lavoir. An elegant bar and a club stocked with Cognac and Cuban cigars are also on the grounds. There's even a three-hole golf course and a helicopter pad.

WHERE TO EAT

La Grand'Vigne
Les Sources de Caudalie, Chemin de Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Martillac
Telephone (33-5) 5783-8383
Web site www.sources-caudalie.com
Open Lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Sunday
Cost Entrées $41-$55
Best of Award of Excellence

Even if you're not spending the night at Les Sources de Caudalie, chef Franck Salein's restaurant provides a strong motive for stopping by for dinner. The three intimate dining rooms are located in a stately stone-and-glass greenhouse that looks out at Caudalie's pond. Salein, originally from Languedoc, took over the kitchen in 2000 and has made it his own. His food strikes a nice balance between creativity and classic flavors. He emphasizes the pure flavors of his fresh ingredients, which include thinly sliced, ethereal scallops on pureed potatoes with a hint of olive oil and sea salt, or a decadent "andouill-ette" of veal topped with foie gras and truffles.

Available to wash all this down is wine from a 16,000-bottle cellar, which comprises more than 700 selections. The list focuses on France, with lengthy verticals of top Bordeaux, which include Château Haut-Brion 1989 ($1,980) and Château Cos-d'Estournel 1982 ($1,400), but it doesn't ignore the rest of the world. The staff is wine-smart and can guide you to good bargains from less appreciated vintages, such as Château Beau-Séjour Bécot 1997 ($130). The staff also handles the service impeccably—their manner is classy but warm whether they're fetching an aperitif or wheeling out what is one of the best cheese carts in Aquitaine.

L'Auberge des Vignes
23 Rue Principale, Sauternes
Telephone (33-5) 5676-6006
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $16-$34

This cozy country restaurant is the perfect place to stop for lunch after a morning spent tasting dessert wines. Located in the picturesque town center of Sauternes, L'Auberge des Vignes is always busy with winemakers, families and grizzled old Frenchmen taking a break from working the vines. They're all here for one reason: the hearth, where the owner regularly stacks vine canes, cooks them down to embers, then grills massive entrecôtes of beef over the fire. The steak is very tasty, especially with a generous side of pommes frites and the vegetable of the day. Other hearty foods fill the menu, including foie gras with Sauternes and fig confit, escargot and seared duck breast. The wine list is small but solid, with a page of everyday Bordeaux reds and plenty of Sauternes.

La Maison du Fleuve
20 Chemin Seguin, Camblanes et Meynac
Telephone (33-5) 5620-0640
Web site www.maison-du-fleuve.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily; off-season, call for schedule
Cost Entrées $22-$41

Hidden in a tiny hamlet a 20-minute drive south of Bordeaux, in the marshlands along the Garonne, La Maison du Fleuve is a challenge to find. But the reason for its location becomes obvious once you enter one of the dining rooms and discover the beautiful river views that stretch all the way north to the twinkling lights of Bordeaux. The location, the large model boat in one corner, and the various photos of river life herald Maison du Fleuve's seafood focus.

Briny local oysters are served in generous quantities, along with scallops, hake and sea bass. Fresh, buttery-rich cod is grilled on a plank and covered in diced vegetables, olives and a light sauce. For dessert, chocoholics should order the decadent soufflé. Sadly, the merely adequate wine list is pricey, with an uninspired selection of simple Bordeaux reds and Entre-Deux-Mers whites. But corkage is only $15, so if you find a good bottle during the day, bring it along.

NEARBY CHÂTEAUS

Château Haut-Brion
Pessac (Pessac-Léognan)
Telephone (33-5) 5600-2930
Web site www.haut-brion.com
Visits By appointment only

It's odd to drive through an unremarkable Bordeaux neighborhood and suddenly discover 100 acres of sloped, gravel vineyards. Sprawl has claimed the land surrounding this first-growth, but this is the same estate Thomas Jefferson and John Locke admired more than 200 years ago. Today it is expertly managed by Jean-Philippe Delmas. The tour is brief—30 minutes to explore the winery and barrel cellar, followed by a tasting of a recent vintage, poured from Haut-Brion's old-fashioned bottles (the sloping neck was prevalent before more modern glassmaking techniques were implemented). The wines offer a perfect way to discover the contrast between elegant Graves reds and their powerful Médoc brethren to the north.

Château Suduiraut
Preignac (Sauternes)
Telephone (33-5) 5663-6190
Web site www.suduiraut.com
Visits By appointment only

Located just downhill from Château d'Yquem, Suduiraut enjoys an ideal spot in Sauternes and is gracious to visitors. The Suduiraut family first settled in the area in the 1500s, but the large, imposing château dates from the 17th century. During the same period, André Le Nôtre, who designed the royal gardens at Versailles, planned the nearby gardens. A tour of the chai—straightforward but instructive—details the painstaking process of making Sauternes, from repeated passes through the vineyard to gentle fermentation in oak barrels and lengthy aging.

Château Thieuley
La Sauve-Majeure
Telephone (33-5) 5623-0001
Web site www.thieuley.com
Visits By appointment only

Thieuley is one of the more dynamic producers in Entre-Deux-Mers today, and a visit is a way to discover some of the excellent wine that is being made in this sometimes overlooked appellation. Francis Courselle built the winery around a few small plots of vines. Now he has handed it off to his two daughters, Sylvie and Marie, who personally show visitors the facilities (though Francis still pokes his head in). The "château" is really a small, stone manor house, but a tour around the no-frills winery, followed by a tasting, is quite enlightening.

The Right Bank

On the Right Bank, past Libourne, Pomerol's wineries occupy a flat plateau of clay. Beyond that, the town of St.-Emilion sits nestled in a horseshoe between two steep limestone hills. St.-Emilion is the most picturesque town in the region, with its steep, cobbled streets and turreted towers. Crowds of tourists fill the streets on sunny days, enjoying red wines or the popular local macaroons.

At the heart of the town, where the hills meet, is a rocky limestone catacomb where the hermit Emilion lived in the eighth century. A beautiful church with a towering spire, l'Église Monolithe was later carved out of the cliff face. A visitor will want to spend an afternoon exploring the town's nooks and crannies.

The Right Bank's energy is different from the Left Bank's. Many of Bordeaux's more ambitious, groundbreaking vintners— garagistes—have come from this region in recent years. The wineries in Pomerol and St.-Emilion are smaller than their Médoc counterparts, and many don't offer tours. But the ones that do offer tours make the trip worth it—just be sure to call in advance for an appointment. To the north and west, St.-Emilion's satellite appellations, such as Côtes de Castillon and Côtes de Francs, offer a chance to see several up-and-coming wineries.

WHERE TO STAY

Hostellerie de Plaisance
Place du Clocher, St.-Emilion
Telephone (33-5) 5755-0755
Web site www.hostellerie-plaisance.com
Rooms 17
Suites 1
Rates $370-$808

Note: Hostellerie de Plaisance was being renovated when this report was written, but it reopened in April. This review is from former Wine Spectator senior editor Per-Henrik Mansson's 2003 visit.

This Relais & Châteaux hotel lies in the heart of the historic town. It juts out, like a ship's bow, from a cobblestoned square that offers alfresco dining and great views of the vineyards. The most expensive rooms afford private balconies or terraces that overlook the tile rooftops of this village. The largest accommodations are a couple miles outside town at Résidence Pavie, situated in the vineyards above Château Pavie. The quality of the cuisine in the hotel's elegant dining room has been up and down over the years, but promises to be better after renovations are complete.

Hauterive St.-James
3 Place Camille-Hostein, Bouliac
Telephone (33-5) 5797-0600
Web site www.saintjames-bouliac.com


Rooms 15
Suites 3
Rates $233-$534

The sleek, modern design of this hotel, by French architect Jean Nouvel, may not be to everyone's taste, with its concrete walls and floors, contemporary art, open bathrooms, skylights and modern furnishings. But everyone loves the location. Bouliac, a picturesque town perched on a slope overlooking the Garonne, lies about 35 minutes' drive west of St.-Emilion. The views from any room or from the pool are fantastic. Michel Portos' Michelin one-star restaurant is downstairs, and two more casual restaurants and a wine boutique are down the hall. The staff is eager and helpful.

WHERE TO EAT

Le St.-James
3 Place Camille-Hostein, Bouliac
Telephone (33-5) 5797-0600
Web site www.saintjames-bouliac.com
Open Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost Entrées $44-$116; menus $103-$130

Chef Michel Portos was not welcomed by the Bordelais when he first arrived at this Michelin one-star in 2003. The previous chef Jean-Marie Amat had been much loved, but was fired. Portos, however, has won his neighbors over, thanks to his modern, tasty cuisine. Plenty of dishes are available à la carte, but the staff pushes hard for the ever-changing tasting menu. What's on it? "It's a surprise, monsieur." Recently, the surprises included a fresh, enormous oyster, lightly seared and placed in a shell on a bed of rice noodles. Cubes of foie gras in duck broth followed, smelling like the world's best chicken soup, and then langoustine tails, covered in spring roll wrappers and orange salt.

The dining room is a bit stark, with two black walls and white tables and floors. But the other two walls—floor-to-ceiling glass— offer a view of the river valley and city below. The wine list reads like a syllabus of Burgundy and Bordeaux prestige bottlings. Lengthy verticals include Raveneau Chablis and more than 25 selections from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The all-encompassing Bordeaux pages cover a range of price points: Château Latour 1982 ($1,585), Château Batailley 1990 ($190), Léoville Las Cases 1955 ($1,350), Pétrus 1989 ($4,100) and Pavie 1998 ($400). At the back of the wine list, you'll find two pages of wines from other countries. Service is solid, if a bit awkward.

L'Envers du Décor
5 Rue du Clocher, St.-Emilion
Telephone (33-5) 5774-4831
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $16-$25

Located just off the square perched at the top of St.-Emilion, this restaurant and wine bar attracts locals as well as tourists (unlike most of the tourist-oriented cafés clustered around the base of l'Église). The bar is a great place to stop for a glass of wine, with its list of 600 French selections, many by the glass. You can also opt for the warm dining room, or the terrace outside, which backs up against a 14th-century church. The menu focuses on local specialties—foie gras, lamprey and rib steak, for example—but the dishes don't seem tired, thanks to carefully sourced fresh ingredients.

NEARBY CHÂTEAUS

Château Angélus
St.-Emilion
Telephone (33-5) 5724-7139
Web site www.angelus.com
Visits By appointment only

Angélus has been producing outstanding wines for much of the past two decades under the watchful eye of owner Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, whose family has owned the vineyards since 1909. Located about a mile west of town, Angélus' vineyards, planted mostly with Cabernet Franc and Merlot, are on the lower slopes of the hill. The walls and the small, simple winery buildings are made from the same limestone rocks found in the vineyards. A tour includes a look at the cellar and the vineyards, where many organic practices are employed.

Château Canon-La Gaffelière
St.-Emilion
Telephone (33-5) 5724-7133
Web site www.neipperg.com
Visits By appointment only

This small château is managed by the energetic Stephan von Neipperg, a German count who owns several other properties in St.-Emilion and nearby appellations. His aged vines lie where the slope leading down from St.Emilion begins to level off. Above ground, the winery looks rather small and modest. Underneath is a large complex of barrel cellars and storage rooms. The end of the tour leads to a large, welcoming tasting room.

BORDEAUX CITY

Don't think we recommend avoiding the city of Bordeaux completely. The city's history is inseparable from the wine trade, and an afternoon or evening strolling its streets is well worth it. The heart of town is along the waterfront, stretching back from the quays. The oldest neighborhoods have tiny medieval streets, leading to squares like the one that surrounds the giant Gothic cathedral. There are several underground parking garages along the waterfront, and a new tram system shuttles people around the historic heart of town.

WHERE TO EAT

La Tupina
6 Rue Porte de la Monnaie
Telephone (33-5) 5691-5637
Web site www.latupina.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $21-$75

If Cordeillan-Bages' kitchen is the heart of cutting-edge cuisine in Bordeaux, the hearth at La Tupina is ground zero for traditional food. Walk down the tiny street in the old part of town and through the front door any night of the week, and chef Jean-Pierre Xiradakis will have a roaring fire going, surrounded by massive piles of fresh meat and vegetables, so much you'll think he must have emptied every farm between Bordeaux and the Pyrénées.

After years of acclaim, La Tupina has a somewhat touristy feel to it. But it doesn't matter when the plates start to arrive—seared foie gras with grapes and verjus, massive steaks, roast chicken and an incredibly decadent roast lamb that falls apart at the touch of a fork. In case that's not enough, everything comes with an order of pommes frites cooked in goose fat. The wine list offers a nice selection of Bordeaux, with about 150 selections, focusing on lesser appellations such as Côtes de Blaye and Fronsac.

Chez Greg
29 Rue Esprit des Lois
Telephone (33-5) 5631-3030
Open Lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday
Cost Entrées $21-$41

Previously located on the waterfront, this hip restaurant moved last fall to new digs just across the street from Bordeaux's beautiful Grand Théâtre. The move hasn't dampened enthusiasm for it; this is a place to see and be seen. The decor is suitably chic—black and white with silver wine shelves on the walls and curtains made of leather and silverware. The food, a pleasant mix of traditional and modern, includes a dish of crispy Asian-style fried shrimp served over lettuce and carrots with a citron vinaigrette. Fresh oysters and sushi are also available. The kitchen sears an entrecôte with marrow bone nicely, accompanying it with sea salt and red onions. Many French wines come by both bottle and glass.

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