If you ever needed another excuse to visit the fabulous city of Bordeaux (as if!), then this is it.
The Cité du Vin opened its doors in June this year, the culmination of a huge project of three years’ construction with a spend of 82 million euros.
This is not just another wine museum or wine centre plying their wares, but in their own words, it is a cultural centre dedicated to wine as a universal, cultural, living heritage.
In my own words, it is mind-blowingly brilliant. For anyone interested in wine, this is a ‘must see’ place.
Although the Cité du Vin is located in Bordeaux, for me the wine capital of the world, it has a truly global perspective, certainly not just about French wine. Wines and wine-making from just about every wine producing country in the world are represented and explained, although perhaps justifiably, there is a slight bias towards the wines of France. It is above all an educational and knowledge centre, but the ‘Wow!’ Factor is not just from the tremendous information available, but concerns the way it is communicated.
This is design and high technology at its absolute best - truly a cultural centre fit for the 21st century. Every visitor is equipped with what is described as a ‘journey companion’. Looking much like a smartphone, and linked to a specially designed open headset, it is programmable in 8 languages and connects via infra-red to the various elements in the centre. As you journey through the centre at your own pace, one minute you may be on a boat, travelling the oceans with a cargo of Madeira to learn the origins of this particular wine, the next you may be sitting at the dinner table with chef Hélène Darroze, discussing food and wine pairing. Sounds crazy, but it is brilliantly done.
It is the interactive element of the centre which is so well designed and conceived, whether it be learning about the historical context of world wine culture, or perfecting your ability to describe the colour or aroma of a wine.
The digital equipment is astonishing – more than 300 infra-red detectors, 200 screens, 20 movement detectors, 40 aroma machines, 50 video projectors – the list goes on. Apart from this interactive area, there are many other areas, such as a reading library, tasting work-shop, exhibition centre and conference centre.
On the eighth floor of this futuristically designed building, is a viewing platform with stunning vistas over the city of Bordeaux and the Garonne river. Here, all visitors are given a free glass of wine, included in the entry price, with a choice of red and white wines from around the world. And on the seventh floor is a gastronomic restaurant called ‘Le 7’, worth the visit in its own right. With the moto of “to do it well, you have to do it very well”, this is achieved at every level, food, decor, wine and service. The cuisine is modern, tasty and inventive, with many influences from around the globe, and a kitchen brigade led by the young, talented chef Benjamin Massot. The wine list is on your own i-pad and comprises over 500 wines from 50 different countries, with a selection of 40 served by the glass.
With an entry price of 20 euros, this is the wine-lover’s dream ticket and worth every cent. In the words of presidential candidate, mayor of Bordeaux and founder of the Cité du Vin, Alain Juppé, “ the iconic centre pays tribute to one of the major elements responsible for the city’s prosperity over the centuries”.
If you intend to visit Bordeaux, this place is unmissable. If you don’t intend to visit Bordeaux, change your plans.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.