Just over two years ago, a museum dedicated to wine opened amid much fanfare in Bordeaux, France. La Cité du Vin is housed in an ultra-modern building that is a glaring contrast to its historical backdrop of one of the most famous wine regions in the world. Designed to conjure up the image of wine swirling in a glass, the building itself stands out while drawing you in, immediately making a statement that this is no ordinary museum.
On a cool spring day in Bordeaux, as a part of the Iberian Wine Tours Bordeaux to Rioja tour, we hopped on the tram and took the short trip along the Garonne River, and as we got closer to our destination, glimpses of its glistening cylindrical column flickered between the buildings. The sunlight reflected off its blue and gold windows, and as much as we had seen pictures of this instantly iconic building, we were still awestruck by its unique and dramatic architecture.
As we stepped inside La Cité, we were greeted by a large staircase and provided an individual headset with which to commence our self-guided tour. You would think that with 19 different sections divided among 3 floors covering 40,000 square feet, it might feel a bit overwhelming. Amazingly, quite the opposite is true. The displays have been thoughtfully laid out so that you can wind your way through both the permanent and temporary exhibits without getting lost. And, more importantly, without missing anything. The headsets allow you to hear their very educational narratives that accompany the visual displays you pass as well providing the audio for their numerous film screens.
The permanent World Wine Tour takes you on a journey through a full history of winemaking from grape to glass via interactive and touch-screen displays, featuring videos of winemakers and growers explaining the winemaking process step by step. As you begin the Tour, there are giant video screens that play Imax-like footage allowing the viewer to virtually fly over various wine regions from around the world. The diversity of these regions is on full display as you sail along the Duoro River framed by the steep slopes of Portugal’s Duoro Valley, soar over the dramatic mountains that surround Argentina’s Mendoza Valley, then ease along the gentle slopes of vineyards seemingly dropping into the lake in Canada’s Okanagan Valley.
If you’ve ever struggled to find the right descriptor while tasting wine or never really understood certain associated aromas with what’s in your glass, the Five Senses tour is not only incredibly educational, it’s also a lot of fun. This exhibit features several glass domes with sample of items often used to describe wines on a regular basis. From pencil shavings and almonds, to cinnamon powder and lychee fruit, there were more than a few “a-ha” moments among the participants as they pumped air into their particular station and received a whiff of a specific scent.
After training and stimulating your five senses, you’ll probably work up an appetite and find yourself craving something to eat. Restaurant Le 7 (on the 7th floor of course), will happily oblige though eating there is not included as part of the tour. We didn’t end up dining there and instead chose the more casual café on the bottom floor near the entrance. What IS included with the price of admission is a glass of wine at the Belvedere, the observation deck at the very top of the building which also serves as tasting room. Your choices are substantial featuring several wines from around the world that, regardless of your choice, will be paired perfectly with the nearly 360-degree views of the city of Bordeaux.
As you wind up your visit, we recommend a stop at Latitude20, their in-house wine shop, offering wines from more than 60 countries worldwide. Whether you plan to buy a bottle or not, it’s well worth a look just to see how beautifully they’ve displayed their collection of wines. Situated in the cylindrical part of the building, you will find yourself surrounded by rounded walls filled with wine rising several feet overhead.
While wine (and museums) can often be associated with pretension, La Cité du Vin is the furthest thing from intimidating or unwelcoming. Regardless of your level of experience, you will find more than enough to pique your curiosity and interest. Oenophiles will revel in the sheer amount of information available, and wine enthusiasts will appreciate the inviting and playful atmosphere that is explored at one’s own pace.
134-150 Quai de Bacalan
33300 Bordeaux, France
(33)5 66 16 20 20