In this season of top-flight horse racing, there will be no Triple Crown winner. Personally speaking, however, I recently completed a trifecta of my own: visiting what are arguably considered the three top wine regions in the world.
It took me more than two decades to check off wine’s Holy Trinity, and along the way there have been countless trips to Spain, Chile, Argentina, even Oregon, Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, Portugal, Italy—you name it. But until a few weeks ago, I’d never been to Bordeaux. It felt wrong that I hadn’t visited France’s most important wine region, like a steakhouse that serves more fish than meat.
Well, no longer is there that gaping hole in my list of wine experiences. Along with having explored Tuscany in the 2000s and before that the Napa Valley, I have now properly visited winedom’s Big Three. And while I’m not going to say much about the wines of Bordeaux (I’ll leave that to my colleague Roger Voss, who lives in the region and has long provided ratings and reviews), I will say that from a rookie’s perspective, Bordeaux is all that it’s cracked up to be.
Let’s start with where I stayed, which was the newly renovated Château Canon, owned by the Wertheimer family (who also control Chanel) and furnished by the American interior designer Peter Marino. This classic chateau is surrounded by stone walls that frame Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines. Walking through theses vineyards on the way into the UNESCO-protected village of Saint-Émilion to eat lunch at the winemaker hangout L’Envers du Décor or dinner at the Michelin-starred Hostellerie de Plaisance, life is enchanting, the epitome of what fabled wine culture is all about.
I also ventured to the Left Bank commune of Margaux to visit Château Rauzan-Ségla, a favorite of Thomas Jefferson more than 200 years ago. While not on a design par with Canon, this Chanel-owned property boasts classic Cabernet Sauvignon-driven wines that age well for decades. The one thing I will say about the wines of Canon and Rauzan-Ségla is that they are in good hands going forward. Nicolas Audebert, who I know from his time running the LVMH-Château Cheval Blanc joint venture in Argentina called Cheval des Andes, is the general director of both chateaux. Audebert is trilingual, cool, calm and collected. He will not only market the wines of Canon and Rauzan-Ségla with aplomb, but he is also a talented winemaker who will ensure that they are the best they can be.
Known for producing stellar red wines, Bordeaux is really much about water, be it the Garonne, Dordogne or Gironde rivers that form the region’s wine boundaries or the Atlantic Ocean to the west, which influences Bordeaux’s maritime climate and yields some very tasty seafood. Boating along the Bassin d’Arcachon, which is surrounded by tony towns like Cap Ferret and Arcachon, one sees thousands of wooden pilings sticking up from the water. These are the oyster beds that yield so many tons of the delicious bivalves. One can choose to eat these world-class shellfish at any number of waterfront stands, but Chez Hortense in Cap Ferret is a proven hot spot for fresh oysters, mussels and grilled whole fish like turbot.
In the city of Bordeaux, where the long-awaited Cité du Vin will soon open as a testament to Bordeaux’s wine culture, the choices of where to eat are nearly endless. I recommend Garopapilles, which sells wine up front and serves Chef Tanguy Laviale’s superb prix-fixe menus in back. For a classic haunt, try Brasserie Bordelaise, where the entrecôte, roast chicken, fries and aforementioned Arcachon oysters are just what the wine doctor ordered.