How to Drink Like a Somm in Bordeaux

Where to go and what to order in France’s iconic wine region.

Sommelier Richard Betts can’t sit still. He frequently travels to Mexico for his mezcal project, Sombra, and also produces wine in California, Provence, and Bordeaux. He says Bordeaux is often perceived as old and stodgy but the city has new energy to it. “Bordeaux is no longer the tweed-jacketed, Ascot-sporting provence of wealthy old guys,” he says. “Actually, Bordeaux rocks. In the shadow of its stuffed-shirt history a new Bordeaux has emerged with an eye towards accessibility, quality and fun. Make no mistake, it is still the largest appellation for world-class wine and while it’s the wine trade that fuels it all, the younger Bordelais have imbued it with a new vitality. You can just wander, get lost in the city center and stumble upon all sorts of cool cafés, bars, art, and shops.”

Betts travels to Bordeaux several times a year. Here, where he eats, drinks, plays and sleeps.


“I always stay at Maison Fredon (5, Rue Porte de la Monnaie; 05-56-91-56-37) right in the city center and a block from the river. There are only FIVE rooms, named by color, each totally unique, ultra comfy and decked out with contemporary art, books and furniture. My favorites are Red and Orange—I promise you’ll want to move in.”


“I love La Tupina (6, Rue Porte de la Monnaie; 05-56-91-56-37). The restaurant is right out the front door of Maison Fredon which makes stumbling home late night after a bunch of wine and old Armagnac a whole lot easier. When you do walk in you’re often greeted by Jean Pierre Xiradakis, the congenial owner. You’ll also be facing a huge counter of meat, fish, and vegetables, which they cook in the huge fireplace right in front of you. Before heading to your table check out the cool contraption of spinning pulleys, weights, propellers, and gears which looks right out of the middle ages as it turns the chicken over the coals. Also hanging over the coals is the simmering pan of goose fat where they cook the hand-cut fries. I eat tons of those along with all types of birds and the local specialty, lampre, which are cooked in red wine and aged for a year before serving. If you’re really lucky, they’ll also be serving piballes, which are rare baby eels and particularly delicious. Regarding the wine, there’s tons of it and the famous names can cost as much as a car so I drink from the lesser know areas of the Cotes de Castillon and Cotes de Francs where great wines can be had for very little.

I also never ever go to Bordeaux without stopping at L’Univerre du Vin (40-42 Rue LeCocq; 05-56-23 01-53), which has one of the greatest and most affordable wine lists on the planet. Fabrice Moisan has curated such a banging list—I could literally drink here every single day and be continually thrilled. The kitchen is special too turning out simple, beautiful and nourishing food.

I do most of my wine tasting on the ‘right bank’ in the communes of Pomerol, Saint Emilion, and the Cotes de Bordeaux. I find the right bank a little more human in scale with many small estates and artisan producers. Three guys, François Thienpont, Stéphane Derenoncourt and Jean Luc Thunevin are all doing great work and their various and diverse projects are worth seeking out. Of course I get hungry and thirsty out there and a very cool small place with real home-style French cooking is Clos Mirande (33570 Montagne; 05-57-74-50-16) just outside Montagne, St Emilion. It’s also a favored canteen of many of the right bank wine scene, which only further enhances the congenial vibe.

Jen grew up in Pt. Pleasant, NJ (yes, the Shore), escaped to school in Boston, and fell in love with travel when she went abroad to study in Australia. After nearly ten years of eating and drinking herself silly in NYC, she finally reached the west coast. Things that makes her happy: the ocean, books, mountains, bikes, friends, good beer, ice cream, unplanned adventures, football, live music.
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