Art & The Vine: La Cite du Vin & The Wines of Bordeaux

La Cité Du Vin

Glass bell jars emitting aromas, interactive maps loaded with video-game technology, and sleek tasting rooms…Welcome to Bordeaux’s new Cité du Vin, which mayor Alain Juppé has proclaimed a “Guggenheim to wine.” Devoted to the history of wine civilization, the Cité du Vin is a glorious, high-tech immersion in the world’s wine cultures. There are 19 sections on approximately three levels with straightforward yet technologically impressive guides to nine major wine regions; cleverly appointed aroma stations, where you can pump air into a glass dome filled with items that mimic the nose of different types of wines, such as lemon peels and burnt rubber; and a variety of entertaining and educational programming. There are high-tech touch screens and two-dimensional cinema screens that showcase various wine regions as well.  And, the ticket fee includes a tasting at the rooftop bar which features wines from every corner of the globe.  So, Farmguy tried a red wine from China, and I had a rosé from Algeria.  Both were lovely!

This shimmering architectural feat which sits on the banks of the Garonne was designed by Paris-based XTU Architects to resemble “the swirl in a wine glass.”  With a price tag over $90 million, the project was first initiated in 2009 and required three years of construction work.  Comprising more than 13,350m2 spread over ten levels and reaching a height of 55 meters, La Cité du Vin is an amazing work of art in itself!

If you visit, plan on being there for at least four or five hours—possibly longer.  The spacious, sunlit restaurant, aptly named 7, is located on the seventh floor—right below the rooftop bar and affords breathtaking views of the city. It’s the perfect way to end your visit.


A Little Background:

Because choosing a French wine can sometimes be a bit confusing, especially since the labels are written in another language and the grape varietal may not be mentioned, I thought it might be helpful to share some basic information about classification systems and quality standards.  For this post, I’m focusing on the region of Bordeaux.


  • Most of Europe uses a wine classification system based upon appellations (regions/areas) and quality standards/requirements.

  • European wines typically don’t tell you the varietal of the wine. Instead, by law, only certain varietals may be grown in certain regions.

  • In addition, the Europeans use a quality ranking system on most of their labels indicating quality— from a simple table wine to a very high quality collectible wine.

  • Once you understand the regions and ranking systems, it’s very easy to understand what type of wine/grape you are buying as well as its quality.

 A Few Important Points:

  • Divided by the Garonne River, Bordeaux contains many famous appellations. Appellations to the west of the river are referred to as the Left Bank.  Appellations to the east of the river are referred to as the Right Bank.

  • Almost all wines made in Bordeaux are blends of numerous varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and occasionally, Malbec. The blend will depend upon the specific appellation.

    • Left Bank Appellations: Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Pauillac, Margaux, Graves and Pessac-Léognan.

      • By law, the wines of the Left Bank must be predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon.

      • In Pessac-Léognan, only white wines are produced.  They’re blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon–referred to as Bordeaux Blanc.

    • Right Bank Appellations: Pomerol and Saint-Émilion.

      • By law, the wines of the Right Bank must be predominantly Merlot.

    • There are so many different appellations in Bordeaux. If you remember Pomerol and Saint-Émilion are Right Bank, then you essentially know everything else is Left Bank.

  • The most southern part of Bordeaux is Sauternes. Here, some of the most expensive sweet wines in the world are produced.  The wines are made primarily with Semillon grapes, although some Sauvignon Blanc may be blended that have been infected with botrytis or noble rot.  This is a fungus that attacks the grapes causing them to shrivel.  This loss of water causes the sugar levels rise.  The grapes are painstakingly picked by hand, grape-by-grape, usually over a 2-month time period.


    • Napoleon had all the Chateaux classified/ranked in 1855. Those original  classifications and standards are still in place today.  Specific language is used on the label to indicate quality.

    • Each level of quality has legal requirements that must be followed. These standards can include age of the vines, yield (how many grapes per acre), how long the wines are aged in oak, and how long the wines are aged in bottle before release.

    • In most European vineyards, “interfering” with Mother Nature isn’t allowed. Vineyard managers can’t irrigate, spray for pests, or use netting to protect grapes from hail damage.  The belief is that the wine should be a true reflection of the terroir (soil, sun, rain, temperature) of each year (vintage).

      • Chateau on the label simply means the wine is made from their own vineyards. Some producers will buy grapes from land they do not own.

      • Grand Vin on the label indicates this is the main/best wine of the Chateau.

    • Rankings listed below are from lowest to highest and will appear on the label.

      • Bordeaux: Indicates a basic quality and that it simply comes from anywhere within the Bordeaux region.

      • Bordeaux Superior: Similar to Bordeaux ranking, but it requires a slightly higher level of alcohol.  Higher alcohol is typically a result of riper fruit.

      • Cru Bourgeois: The chateau must apply each year to use this label on its wine.  These are usually very solid wines and of a decent value.

      • Grand Cru Classé: Wines with this designation on the label are generally considered the best of Bordeaux.  Their prices will also reflect their quality status.

    • Saint-Émilion has its own classification system and the chateaux must reapply every ten years. The rankings for the rest of Bordeaux don’t change.

      • Grand Cru

      • Grand Cru Classé

      • Premier Grand Cru Classé B

      • Premier Grand Cru Classé A

Examples of white, red, and sweet wines from Bordeaux: 

2015 Château Carbonnieux Graves Pessac Léognan Bordeaux Blanc: $30

Lively, bright, ripe citrus notes with a kick of lime, freshness for lift and a sweet, citrus peel and honeysuckle finish.  This Chateau was visited by Thomas Jefferson in May 1787 to order wines to be shipped to Monticello.  On that visit, Jefferson planted a pecan tree on the property that is still alive today.

2012 Château Corbin  St. Émilion Grand Cru Classé: $35

The 2012 Corbin is a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc that was cropped at 37.5 hectoliters per hectare. It exhibits lots of black raspberry and blueberry fruit, black cherry, licorice, and a hint of truffle.  A medium to full-bodied texture with impressive purity and balance. Combining elegance and flavor authority, it once again demonstrates its very good terroir of just over 30 acres northwest of the medieval town of St.-Emilion. Proprietor Anabelle Cruse-Bardinet comes from an historic family of wine producers. Drink this 2012 over the next 10-15 years.

Château Raymond-Lafon Sauternes 2010: $50 ($375 mL)

The Raymond-Lafon 2010 has a complex bouquet with lemon peel, almond, and quince aromas. It’s well-defined with an impressive sense of energy. The palate is well-balanced with a viscous opening and well-judged acidity. It builds toward a rounded, pineapple and marmalade-tinged finish. This has good weight and presence with plenty of strikingly fresh acidity to keep everything balanced.  And, it’s right next door to Château d’ Yquem (retired estate manager of Chateau d’ Yquem owns it now).



Last photograph:  Farmguy & Farmgirl with friend and winemaker, Gabriele Rausse at Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Bordeaux.

October 2017

Gabriele Rausse is widely considered the “grandfather of Virginia wine” as he was among the first in the Commonwealth to successfully grow grapes and make wine.  Besides owning his on vineyard and winery, he has consulted and helped establish approximately fifty vineyards in Virginia.  Gabriele has also worked at Monticello as Director of Gardens and Grounds for many years and is an expert on Thomas Jefferson.


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