You might expect the city of Bordeaux, the heart of one of one of the world’s best-known wine regions, to have a plethora of excellent wine bars. But if you’re visiting Bordeaux and want to taste a good range of the local wines without visiting one château after another, the pickings are quite slim. Many of the wine bars, understandably, cater to local customers who want to explore the wines of France and the world more generally.
Two wine bars, both in the city centre, stand out for their Bordeaux offerings, and they are very different from each other. One, Le Bar à Vin, occupies the ground floor of the Maison du Vin, the headquarters of the Bordeaux Wine Council. Unsurprisingly, it serves only wines from Bordeaux. The other, Les Trois Pinardiers, about a 10-minute walk from Le Bar à Vin, offers an excellent range of Bordeaux wines but also from elsewhere in France. Together, these two wine bars make for a first-rate wine experience in the city of Bordeaux.
The 30 or so wines by the glass at Le Bar à Vin are effectively a tour of many of Bordeaux’s appellations. Although there are no Premier Cru wines from the 1855 Bordeaux classification—a glass would probably run to hundreds of dollars—the constantly changing list typically includes high-quality wines from such well-known appellations as Entre-Deux-Mers, Graves, Saint-Julien, Saint-Émilion, and Pomerol. Nor are less-known appellations ignored, and there are wines from the likes of Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux, Cérons, and Loupiac.
The wine bar is in an elegant, high-ceilinged salon that is more modern and versatile than one expects of an 18th-century building. There are low tables with plush armchairs, tables and chairs for large and small groups, and a bistro-style bar with stools. In the summer, there’s a terrace with a view of the Grand Théâtre. Service is friendly and attentive, and the servers—all sommeliers—are well-informed and happy to guide you through the wine list.
Les Trois Pinardiers takes its name from pinard, bulk (and sometimes mediocre) wine. The word was used from the late 1800s and popularized in the First World War, when French soldiers fetishized their wine ration, which came to more than a litre a day by the end of the conflict. They referred to their pinard, ferried to the front lines daily in hundreds of railway tankers, as Saint-Pinard, and at the end of the war pinard was attributed a major role in the defeat of the beer-drinking German army.
From pinard came pinardier, a wine-tanker that carried cheap, bulk wine from North Africa to France in the interwar period. The name inspired three young French men who conceived a wine bar that, despite the mediocre connotations of pinard, would serve quality wines by the glass in a relaxed ambiance. The first Les Trois Pinardiers wine bar opened in Bordeaux about eight years ago, and now there are others in La Rochelle and Nantes—both port cities on France’s Atlantic coast, like Bordeaux.
The ambiance of the Bordeaux bar is somewhere between rustic and bohemian, and it is thoroughly relaxed. It’s often busy, with the servers hustling glasses of wine through the three rooms inside and to the tables on the cobbled pedestrian street outside. The wine list includes a very good selection of about 20 Bordeaux wines, some from older vintages. The list changes regularly, and recent ones have included white and red wines from Margaux, Pomerol, Saint-Émilion, Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Julien, and Pessac-Léognan. Les Trois Pinardiers also offers champagnes, together with wines from Burgundy, the Rhône and Loire valleys, and Languedoc. Artisanal beers and spirits are also available. Here, too, the staff are ready with information and advice on wines, and it’s also possible to buy wine by the bottle to take with you.
Both Le Bar à Vin and Les Trois Pinardiers serve small plates that include platters of cheeses and charcuterie. It’s possible—recommended, even—to settle in for several hours of tasting through the vinous pleasures of Bordeaux at either or both these wine bars.
Photos courtesy of Les Trois Pinardiers.