Wandering Traveler

An amuse bouche at Bordeaux’s Dubern restaurant

Edible Adventures in the city of BORDEAUX

Bordeaux medieval structures

Photos & article by Virginia Miller

A week loaded with fatty duck, foie gras, canneles, and, of course, wine… such was my time in Bordeaux (see last issue on Bordeaux winemakers).

Try tasting numerous wines from morning till night in weather just shy of 90 degrees. Though I was craving a good cocktail and a salad by week’s end, I was complimented by locals who deemed my eat-everything-(with gusto)-approach as “very French”. Another local informed me that with picky eaters (I’m sorry, that includes vegetarians in their book), they are polite, “but we do not invite them back. We’d invite you back.”

Local specialty, canale, found everywhere alongside macarons & French sweets

The city of Bordeaux (founded in the 3rd century A.D.) is a pleasant surprise. Having undergone a series of renovations and renewal over the past fifteen years, its Beaux Arts architecture, narrow, cobble-stoned streets, and new tramway, enliven the ancient, narrow streets, the historic district closed to cars. As the 6th largest city in France, it is bustling and full of things to do, yet approachable and walkable.

I fell most deeply into its charms getting lost wandering cobblestone streets, happening upon exquisite, hand-crafted shoemakers, elegant boutiques and home decor shops, enchanting tea cafes, countless bars and restaurants, opening into animated squares lined with tables. Basically some of the prime joys found in European cities are present in this small, bustling city that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The grand Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux

As a base from which to explore vineyards of the storied region, Bordeaux is packed with sidewalk cafes, restaurants and bars (though give up now, ye cocktail lovers, on even getting a drink that resembles a cocktail – an Americano with Campari, sweet vermouth and soda is as good as it’s going to get).

View from my Bordeaux hotel room

Forget even finding much cognac, armagnac, calvados or other French spirits. As I was told in many a bar, those products are not made in their region specifically (even if produced merely an hour away) so they don’t offer them (!?) Every bar stocked plenty of Bacardi, Jim Beam, and other big brand, sub-mediocrity, however. Havana Club and Coke was the only drink that didn’t do me wrong. The Cuban rum’s inaccessibility in the US makes the otherwise average rum even more appealing.

This is wine country after all, and they’re sticking to that. Thankfully, the wine is excellent and I had many an affordable  bottle with heartwarming French meals.

Bordeaux from the main plaza in front of the Opera House at sunset



Beauteous cheeses at Jean d’Alos Fromagerie

I wanted to sample every last cheese in the pristine, renowned Jean d’ Alos cheese store. Clean and spare, cheeses are elegant, some looking like candies in colorful herb molds. Fabulously smelly, this little store is a French cheese lovers’ paradise (exporter is Patricia Dubourg, patricia[at]fromages-jean-dalos.com).


Darricau’s charming shop

Owner, Nathalie, and chocolatiers, Michel & Lawrence, created La Maison Darricau, a charming, romantic little shop serving memorable chocolates. Truffles are creative, made fresh daily, and consistently lovely. I enjoyed Violette, Médoc (filled with wine from the region), Gingembre (ginger), Basilic (basil), Setchuan (Szechuan pepper), Datte (date with curry), and the excellent Prunoux (prune, almond paste, Armagnac).


Despite an odd policy of no photos and seemingly disinterested staff, Maison George Larnicol, is a shop I was drawn to multiple times for bins of Les galets des Glénan (mini-chocolate discs topped with crystallized ginger, mango, apples or nuts), Les rochers des Glénan (clusters of dark chocolate, almonds,  orange), and Noisettes enrobées (dark chocolate-coated hazelnuts).

Chocolate & kouignette at George Larnicol

Their macarons are delightful and intensely flavored, particularly passion fruit. They are also known for their kouignette, mini kougin-amann, a Breton  sticky cake, layered with caramelized sugar and salted butter (these became trended in SF last year). The store is conveniently located off the city’s main square across from the Opera House/Grand Theater.


Amorino: Italian gelato in Bordeaux

Granted, it’s a European chain with a shop in NYC, but Amorino, founded by two Italians who know gelato, is far and away the best ice cream I had in Bordeaux. It’s real deal gelato (try Amarena cherry). They won me over with Speculoos. Speculoos is a Belgian cookie redolent of cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, pepper and spices, rather like a spiced graham cracker. It tastes amazing combined with their fresh banana ice cream.

Bordeaux’s striking architecture



Table settings at colorful, festive Wine & Soul

The newer Wine & Soul was my favorite meal in Bordeaux. Run by a gracious young couple, the decor is reds and blacks with LPs as table settings, soulful tunes in the background, and a vintage Marx Brothers movie poster.

The food is French with a Spanish tapas approach and Italian nods. Caprese salads and shrimp cocktail stand alongside beef filets.

Ridiculously good Camember roti

The best dishes? A ridiculously good baked Swiss style Camembert roti, oozing with onions over potatoes; and beef tartare a l’italianne, basically classic raw beef tartare tossed with Parmesan cheese, garlic and basil. Delicious.

Wine stand outs: a mineral, crisp pear-inflected 2010 Chateau de Malrond (100% Semillion) and a mushroom, butter 2010 Chateau Dubois Challon.


Warm, rustic spread at La Tupina

La Tupina is rustic Bordeaux cooking. The region claims foie gras. Here it is thick, buttery and rich. Stone walls, a French country kitchen, and massive hearth greet you upon entrance. In front of the blazing fire is a board laden with giant cuts of beef, duck, whole fowl.

Generous cuts of meat

The food is served a la carte or family style and is a hearty pleasure from start to finish. Scallops with cep mushrooms and duck fat fries earn additional points.

Wine stand outs:  Crisp, passion fruit notes of 2010 Chateau D’ Haurets, rare coastal wine, 2008 Chateau Laroche Joubert Cotes du Bourg.


With flirty, French waiter, elegant upstairs rooms, sidewalk seating and 30-35 Euro prix fixe menus, Dubern is a worthy dinner destination. While sipping a dry, light, seafood-friendly 2006 Benjamin de Chantegrive from nearby Graves, I savored a Tartare de la Mer of salmon dourade and local Cap Ferret oysters to start. Oysters were served with rye bread and a side of duck sausages. Nice.

Dubern’s salmon tartare

My main course was monkfish medallions done tandoori style with a cool cucumber raita. Local French pastry cannele came came in threes, sliced in the middle and filled with ice cream. Already full, I could not finish the generous dessert.

However, I did finish the creamy, citrus glass of 2007 Chateau Reynon, produced in nearby Cadilliac.



Hanging from the ceiling at Max Bordeaux

Max Bordeaux is the ultimate tasting room, which they call a “wine gallery and cellar”. Their non-stuffy approach makes tasting and learning about Bordeaux wines and appellations fun.

The rarity? They have some of the best (and most expensive) wines of the region available by the taste. Buy tasting cards in increments of 25 Euros, and they will help you max out your sips accordingly. I visited affordable producers around the region, but at Max Bordeaux, I was able to sample some of Bordeaux’s Grand Crus Classés, upper tier wines.

Another excellent Bordeaux wine shop, L’Intendant, across from the opera (Grand Theatre)

It’s a must-visit when in the town of Bordeaux.

Here are some amazing wines I tasted here, including their by-the-bottle price:
2005 Aromes de Pavie, Saint Emilion Grand Cru:  earthy, dry, dusty, gentle spice (70 Euro)
2007 Chateau La Conseillante, Pomerol:  elegant, tart berry, violets (100 Euro)
2007 Chateau Palmer (read about my dinner with their winemaker last year), Margaux: acidic, spice, smooth, complex nose, earth, medium finish (200 Euro)
2007 Chateau Pichon-Longueville: Cru Classic Paulliac (170 Euro)
2007 Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint Julien: long finish, vanilla, cassis, acidic (100 Euro)
2004 Chateau Guiraud 1er Cru, Sauternes:  organic (60 Euro)
2004 Chateau Climens 1er Cru, Barsac (85 Euro)


Sexy La Comtesse off a narrow, cobblestone street

Wandering the Rue Parlement St Pierre led me to La Comtesse, a sexy bar, reminiscent of old Paris in absinthe greens with dim corners for conversation and cocktails.

I perked up at a chalkboard listing Gin Fizzes and Cuba Libres. My intrepid digging led me to the one place in the city I could finally get a real cocktail… or so it first seemed. Though they had an actual cocktail menu, they served them the same way I’d faced around town: sometimes in an ice cream-type glass, always with a bad, neon maraschino cherry and a straw (?)

The Gin Fizz wasn’t anything like a real gin fizz, more a strange mix of Aperol and gin. Thankfully, the bar is full of Old World charm so I wanted to linger in conversation for hours.


Ending the night at Cafe Brun

You’d not go wrong ending every night in the city of Bordeaux at Cafe Brun.

With personality to spare, the bar is packed with quirky locals, random visitors, exuding a festive, eccentric spirit. In dark woods, the worn space is well-loved, feeling a bit like Parisian-meets-Irish-pub.

There’s live music, spirits, beers, and French ciders. Here you catch the playful side of Bordeaux.


Bar at Cafe Opera

Cafe Opera is along the left side of the stately Opera House. Dripping chandeliers and breezy, columned walkways mark the elegant space.

They serve solid food, though I would recommend the bar as a stylish stop for a a glass of wine (like sips from nearby Pessac-Leognan: a tart apple 2010 Domaine du Grand Maison, or full-bodied 2006 Chateau D’Eck) or a pour from their decent (for the city) spirits selection.

Bordeaux’s striking Victory Arche

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Wandering Traveler

Virginie Tinon shows us “noble rot” (botrytized) grapes at her winery in Sauternes

The Face of Bordeaux

Top-level executive, Jean-Francois Quenin, fulfilled a lifelong dream moving to Saint-Emilion, studying wine, revitalizing an aging chateau

Photos & article by Virginia Miller

Watch out: Bordeaux will surprise you. Many wine industry friends and sommeliers I talk to think of Bordeaux wines as pricey, out of reach, inaccessible…. or as some of the best in the world.

Visiting numerous winemakers throughout the region during their recent harvest, I was surprised by the number of quality, affordable wines from each part of region.

I witnessed traditional chateaus and multi-generational family winemakers alongside forward thinking, modern wineries and career-changing winemakers entering the field later in life.

Here are a few of the faces, chateaus and wines of Bordeaux that made an impression on me. All recommended wines are available in the US, many through K&L Wine Merchants and JJ Buckley Fine Wines.

CHATEAU de PRESSAC, Saint-Emilion

Probably my favorite winery and couple of my Bordeaux travels is Jean-Francois and Dominique Quenin at Chateau de Pressac. Jean-Francois bursts with joy over the work he does at his stunning chateau, first built in the Middle Ages. A career changing top-level executive who went from major corporation (Darty, a huge European electronics company) to winemaker, he’s also St. Emilion’s Wine Council President.

Jean-Francois and his wife exude a tender love for the land. They hosted an unforgettable lunch in their chateau, sampling me through other winning wines from the region besides their own.

Recommended wine: 2008 Chateau de Pressac exhibits ripe cherries on the nose, with cassis, a silky texture and balanced acidity. $28

Chateau de Pressac: the most beautiful setting I visited, Pressac sits atop a ridge with a view over Saint-Emilion. Though renovated in the 1800’s, parts of the structure date back to the Middle Ages.


Chateau Paloumey‘s female winemaker, Martine Cazeneuve, is inspiring. A teacher turned winemaker, she restored the land’s vines to award-winning status (formerly Cru Bourgeois Superieur), her vino served in many Michelin-starred restaurants. Her passion for wine, art and the Medoc region shines from both her and in her fresh, modern winery lined with paintings. Martine and staff also educated on the Medoc region and its brand new classification and rating system, with a tasting of numerous wines from the region, mostly priced under $25.

Recommended wine: Though I like the smooth, soft 2007 Chateau Paloumey, the 2009 Cru Bourgeois Grand Vin de Bordeaux, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend, exhibits the most promise, tasting of dusty strawberry, balanced acidity, minimal oak, and a hint of smoke. $20-25

Teacher Martine Cazeneuve bought Paloumey in 1989. She lives in the original chateau, building this modern tasting room lined with paintings of local artists.

 CHATEAU OLIVIER, Pessac-Leognon

Chateau Olivier has a storied history, dating back to the 12th century when its striking, moat-surrounded chateau was built. Winemaker Laurent Lebrun uses forward-thinking winemaking techniques, replanting vines and maximizing the land’s varied, rich soil of gravel, sand, clay, and limestone.

Recommended wine: 2009 Chateau Olivier Blanc is a blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc, 23% Semillion, 2% Muscadelle grapes. On the nose it is refreshingly grassy and bright with lemon peel, translating to acidic citrus and hint of herbs to taste. $38.99

2005 Chateau Olivier is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc. Earthy berries hit on the nose, with a taste of wood, dark chocolate and berries in this balanced, elegant red. $45

Chateau Olivier has been owned by the Bethmann family since the 1800’s. The family still lives in a romantic 12th century Chateau surrounded by a moat. Here owner Jean-Jacques de Bethmann walks to his home.


Delightful couple Victorie and Phillipe own a winery in Bordeaux’s Entre deux Mers region, but after turning 40 decided it was a time for a new challenge. They took on a tiny, 5 hectares plot of land in ultra-expensive Saint-Emilion. Their Chateau D’Arcole land has never seen chemicals and is certified organic, a rarity in the region. Victorie and Phillipe restored the humble winery from the ground up. In soil of gravel and sand, they planted 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet grapes.

Recommended wine: I like their 2009 Chateau D’Arcole Grand Cru best, with soft, fresh berry on the nose, and a round, earthy, dried berry profile. $20

Victorie & Phillipe are forward-thinking St. Emilion winemakers with rare organic certification, and screwcap bottles on their US imports (not allowed in St. Emilion)


The magnificent Chateau Clement Pichon

On an idyllic estate with a magnificent 1885 mansion, ponies, ponds and statues, sits Chateau Clement Pichon, with merely 25 hectares of vineyards and modern, sleek production facilities.

Owned by Clement Fayat of the huge Fayat Group, the peaceful grounds will soon launch five guest rooms and host outdoor parties by a fountain with full view of the mansion where the Fayat family resides.

Recommended wine: 2008 Clement Pichon is 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cab Franc. With high acidity and a light body, it’s elegant but easy, everyday drinking. $16.99


Jérôme Cosson, Chateau D’Arche’s technical director

In the famously “sweet” region of Sauternes, I met two winemakers, the soft spoken, hard working Virginie Tinon, a 1st generation winemaker for Vignoble Tinon wines, and the gracious Jérôme Cosson on the peaceful grounds of Chateau D’Arche, with on-site lodging and a talented chef.

Both châteaux pick grapes completely by hand. I had the privilege of harvesting “noble rot” (botrytis) grapes with the workers at Chateau D’Arche. Painstaking work it is, with multiple picks required as the grapes rot at various stages, requiring multiple “picks”.

D’Arche’s on-site chef walked us through numerous mostly savory food pairings with their wines, showcasing Sauternes wines as more than just dessert wine.

Recommended wine: Chateau D’Arche‘s 2008 Chateau Costeau is 100% Semillion (from grapes in the Cadillac region of Bordeaux) with honey, peach notes but a vivid acidity keeping cloying aspects at bay. $15

Invigorating fall view over the vineyards at Vignoble Tinon, Sauternes

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