Since opening in 2016, La Cité du Vin has become a must-visit attraction for tourists in Bordeaux. Sophie Kevany asks director Philippe Massol to select his highlights from the permanent exhibition and workshops...
There is a multitude of things to do in Bordeaux these days: from running or walking city tours, to formal and informal wine tastings, boat rides, châteaux visits, restaurants and just plain old wandering around, popping into old churches or more wine bars.
Visitors will inevitably have many demands on their time but, no matter how busy they are, most will wonder at some point whether they should make their way to La Cité du Vin. It’s that big golden swirl that can be seen on the horizon from almost anywhere in town. The short answer is yes – even if it’s only for an hour or two.
To make things easier for visitors on a tight schedule who need to plan their visit carefully, Decanter asked La Cité du Vin’s director, Philippe Massol, to name his top 10 attractions. After all, no one knows the space better than he does…
For those keen on seeing the permanent exhibition, Massol recommends arriving early, rather than waiting until the end of the day for the free wine tasting that comes with the €20 permanent exhibition ticket. If you have more time, choose a day when a conference, workshop or special event can be included in the visit. If you also have children in tow, there are several family-oriented workshops, and a special route around the permanent exhibition for children aged six and up.
The first visiting exhibition, on until 24 June, will be ‘Wine and Music, harmony and dissonance’ exploring the association between wine and music from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. The second visiting show will run from 5 October to 6 January 2019 and showcase this year’s guest wine region, Porto, particularly the UNESCO World Heritage Alto Douro region.
1. The World Wine Tour (permanent tour)
Visitors are swept away on a highly visual ‘helicopter’ tour, flying over 20 different winemaking regions to see the surprisingly varied types of vineyard conditions and management styles that can be found around the world.
2. The Buffet of the Five Senses (permanent tour)
Intimidating as it can seem, wine tasting is primarily about finding the right words to describe the different flavours and aromas that a taster experiences. The Buffet of the Five Senses helps you understand individual sensory profiles, and find words to describe what you do and don’t like, by drawing on a range of stimulants and your own memories, emotions, imagination and preferences.
3. The Gallery of Civilisations (permanent tour)
This gallery offers an overview of the different ways wine has been woven into our culture, history and personal relationships – from sacred Egyptian rites to Athenian banquets – and displays the artefacts and objects associated with those traditions.
4. All Aboard! (permanent tour)
Join four different merchant ships on a panoramic screen. First cross the Mediterranean on a Roman cargo boat, then take a 14th-century voyage from Bordeaux to England. For the third leg of the journey, sail to Japan on a 17th-century Dutch ship, and finally, join the crew of an 18th-century English ship, full of Madeira, making its way across the Atlantic.
5. The Banquet of Legends (permanent tour)
This imaginative short film shows various famous figures meeting in Paradise (including Pliny the Elder, Winston Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock and French writer Colette) to share stories and discuss the various merits of their favourite wines.
6. The Belvedere
Up at the top of La Cité du Vin is a glass-walled tasting room, with a 360° view of the city below. Anyone who has bought a ticket to the permanent tour will be able to try one glass free of charge. There are plenty of different wine styles, which are served by friendly and knowledgeable bar staff.
7. Gourmet Cinema
This cinematic workshop combines film, food and wine. At each event a guest chef prepares a special menu and a selection of wines inspired by a particular movie. After watching the film, visitors can taste and discuss. To encourage interaction, dishes are served in small portable portions, rather than at a sit-down dinner. Check the website for details of upcoming screenings.
8. Markets of the World
This daily multi-sensory workshop is basically an educational game. Visitors are asked to taste four glasses of wine, origin unknown. As you taste, scenes from the wine’s country of origin play on panoramic screens, while the aroma of a typical national dish is released into the room, along with local sounds. The aim is to guess what wine you are drinking. The workshop introduction advises participants to: ‘Forget everything you know about wine tasting: its codes, customs, restraints and psychological barriers. Start over and just listen to yourself… You are totally capable of feeling, perceiving and analysing what you’re drinking.’ Imagine someone saying that to you in Bordeaux 20 years ago. Or even five.
9. Wines and Chocolates of the World
Designed in partnership with Hasnaâ Chocolats Grands Crus, this hour-long evening workshop pairs grand cru chocolate with specially selected wines from around the world, while examining their different (or similar) aromas, flavours, terroirs, heritages and cultures. The workshops are delivered in French and take place on the first Thursday of each month from April to November.
Offering one of the most diverse selections of wine in the world, the Latitude20 wine shop lists bottles from about 70 (at last count) countries. For visitors more interested in wine-related books, games, beauty products, stationery, tableware, accessories and souvenirs, there is also the sleek 250m² concept store: La Cité du Vin Boutique. Both are free to enter.
Sophie Kevany is a wine and business journalist based in Bordeaux