There comes a time in every traveling oenophile’s journey when they are faced with an opportunity to visit one of the world’s great wine meccas. For me, such an opportunity arose this summer while traveling through the southwestern region of France.
And while much of France arguably falls into the category of “wine mecca” (the whole country, even?) the city I was so excited to drink my way through was none other than the revered wine capital of the world, Bordeaux.
Yes, you read that right, wine capital of the world!
Bordeaux produces both reds and whites, with no fewer than 14,000 vineyards producing 700 million bottles annually. The distinctive Bordeaux red even gave its name to that rich color we all know and love (except for when it’s on our teeth).
Vins de Bordeaux are some of the most renowned wines in the world, and I couldn’t wait to indulge.
Not long before this trip, I had caught wind of a new wine museum that had just opened its doors in Bordeaux. After some rudimentary research on our various wine tasting options, La Cité du Vin quickly emerged as the best choice given our limited time frame.
La Cité du Vin isn’t the only wine museum in Bordeaux, but it’s the biggest, newest, and fanciest. And many of the gorgeous estate vineyards in the area were situated a good 45 minutes outside of the city, so because we only had two days, we opted to stay local, getting around by foot and tram rather than splurging on a private shuttle.
La Cité du Vin is a grandiose building perched at the north end of the city on the bank of the Garonne River, and it can be reached by public transit from Bordeaux’s city center in a matter of minutes. It pays homage to the history of wine civilization, and even the building’s design is a nod to the libation, intended to represent “the swirl in a wine glass.” It dazzles the senses long before you’ve passed through its glittering glass doors.
Once inside, you’re taken on a high-tech journey to vineyards around the world, immersing yourself in the stories, the techniques, and the technologies that have shaped our relationship with and understanding of the grape-borne beverage we now enjoy.
The vast museum contains a veritable wealth of information, taught through a variety of interactive mediums. In fact, we underestimated just how much time it would take to see and experience it all. We easily spent three hours meandering through the installations, only to realize we suddenly needed to hustle to the top floor wine bar for our tasting (included with the price of admission) before it closed at 7 pm.
Having just finished up a strenuous week of learning to surf in nearby Lacanau, we were ready to slow things down a bit in Bordeaux. As such, we kicked off our sightseeing slowly and lazily, only arriving at the museum in the mid-afternoon after checking out some other parts of the city.
The museum has several floors, with the main exhibitions starting on the 2nd floor and rotating temporary exhibitions staged on the 1st. On the ground floor, you’ll find the gift shop and the impressive wine shop, showcasing wines not just from Bordeaux, but from all around the world.
On the higher floors, you’ll find a restaurant and a top floor wine bar (the belvedere) where you can enjoy a tasting while enjoying the view of Bordeaux from above.
The temporary exhibit on at the time of our visit (ending in January of 2017) was a photographic display by Isabelle Rozenbaum, who documented the construction of the building in exquisite detail. Each photo series was accompanied by the artist’s own writing, which was a moving and poetic addition to the starkly moving images. I lingered here longer than some people would have liked…
Once we arrived at the main exhibition halls, we received our audioguides (available in a wide variety of languages) and began meandering, using our devices to activate the commentary of each new display. It really was one of the most high-tech museums I’ve been to. I was particularly fond of the historic scenes acted out by tiny holographic figures.
We were taken on a visual journey across the most famous wine regions of the world…
We watched and listened as vintners from far-flung destinations spoke about their craft in great detail…
We flowed through the building from one exhibit to the next in much the same way wine flows into a glass. When we needed to take breaks, there were ample opportunities to sit and watch a short film in one of the many free-standing “theaters.”
La Cité du Vin invited us to explore with all of our senses; there was plenty to see, hear, touch, and smell…
And when we finally reached the wine bar, a glass of wine to taste.
The “tasting,” I will admit, was actually somewhat disappointing. I’d expected to sample small pours of multiple wines, but instead, we were allowed to choose just one wine from a selection of about 20, and only a few of them were even French! Why on Earth would I sample a Chinese wine in Bordeaux, of all places? Oh, that’s right…I wouldn’t.
With our one glass of wine in hand, we took our time enjoying the views from the tasting room. It wasn’t the prettiest view, per se (Bordeaux is rather flat) but we enjoyed meandering around the viewing platform to see what we could see, including the Garonne River to the south and the rather interesting Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas.
In spite of the less-than-stellar tasting, our overall experience at La Cité du Vin was a memorable one. I learned more about wine that day than I ever knew I could, and if given the chance, I would go back in a heartbeat to do all the things I missed on the first pass through.
Tips for Visiting La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux, France
- Opening Hours: Monday to Friday from 9:30 am to 7:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 am to 7:30 pm.
- Price of Admission: €20.00, includes tasting of a world wine in the belvedere, interactive guide, and the “Carte Blanche” exhibition.
- Fancy a visit to a real vineyard? Visit the wine tours desk.
- If you’re the type who likes to try to do it all, plan to spend a full afternoon at this museum. If I were to go back, I would budget at least 5 hours.
- I suggest bringing a snack unless you want to eat in the on-site restaurant or purchase tapas at the wine bar.
What was the best museum you’ve ever been to? Would you go to a museum that’s all about wine?