New York City was founded in 1624. While the Dutch were busy trapping furs and trading beads with Native Americas in the New World, the Old World Dutch had just finished draining the marshlands of the Médoc in Bordeaux to plant the world’s most legendary and expensive grapevines — and by the 1650s, the estates of Lafite, Latour, and Margaux were nearly finished with consolidation. But wine production in Bordeaux actually extends back even further to 50 AD, when the Romans first tried their hand at winemaking. That’s thirteen centuries of vinous culture.
Given the rich history of the fabled region, it’s not a farfetched concept to narrowly focus a wine bar’s offerings to that of Bordeaux alone. But for those who think Bordeaux is synonymous with Old World luxury and elevated prices, and thus out of reach to the average wine drinker, the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (Bordeaux Wine Council or CIVB) is hoping you’ll think — and drink — again. Out to prove there’s more to the region than classified growth, the CIVP, in concert with the Collective Hospitality Group, developed the initiative to open Bar Bordeaux in the Carlton Hotel (92 Madison Avenue, 212-889-7100), adjacent to Millesime Restaurant.
Bar Bordeaux splashed out with a grand opening last week but initially welcomed curious imbibers on December 11, 2013, with a list of 60 varied wines with accompanying small plates from Chef Laurent Manrique of next-door Millesime. I hit the party for a bubbly glass of Crémant de Bordeaux and a sip of ’04 Medoc (offered by the glass) in the attractive, slender space. The bar’s artistic centerpiece, the “Hot Lips of Brigitte Bardot” by artist and NYC native Jeremy Penn, sets a flirty tone. Overall, the vibe evoked a private fête thrown by the rich kids of Chateaux owners — but it was welcoming rather than obnoxious or pretentious.
To dig further into the unique concept of a single region bar, I caught up with Christophe Chateau of the CIVP and Remy Pedussel, sommelier and Maître-D at Millesime.
How did the idea for a bar dedicated solely to the wines of Bordeaux come about? Why did you feel there was a need for it?
Chateau: Actually, we’ve already opened a Bar Bordeaux in the CIVB building in downtown Bordeaux in 2006. It’s been very successful since the opening, and it gave us the idea to develop the concept overseas. We do think that the best way to promote Bordeaux is with the product, i.e. the wines!
How do you think New Yorkers perceive the wines of the region? For example, do consumers think they are too expensive, affordable if one knows where to look, or only red wines are worth drinking, etc.?
Chateau: Bordeaux is very well known in Northern America, especially the classified growth, but we also want to show that we have great value wines in the middle range. We also want to show that Bordeaux can be modern.
Pedussel: We have all types of guests visiting the bar. Some are people that I would call experienced Bordeaux drinkers. Other guests do not know Bordeaux well at all and come to experience it. In terms of perception, many people that are experienced drinkers still think about the five growths of the 1855 Médoc Classification when they think about Bordeaux. They think ‘reds’ and of course Sauternes, but more rarely whites and sparkling. We want to show people there are tons of affordable, extremely well-made wines in every category (red, whites, sparkling, and sweets) made by petits-Chateaux and second labels that deserve to be discovered and enjoyed.
What are the goals for the space? Will there be any educational offerings or special pairing nights?
Pedussel: We have several goals. First, we want to give New Yorkers and people visiting New York a place to drink affordable Bordeaux in a sexy atmosphere. We want to give our guests a place to learn about the wines, geography, and culture if they are interested. At this point, we have flight tastings that allow guests to try different Bordeaux back to back so they can play with the wines and experience a sense of place for each of them. We also offer some Bordeaux food specialties on our menu.
Down the road, we will run organized tastings, educational seminars, and winemaker dinners, but we must first get past this opening phase. Ultimately, we want the bar to be a convivial place for people who are interested in drinking Bordeaux and learning about its wines.
Although only open a short time, what has been the response so far to the concept?
Pedussel: The response to the concept has been very good so far. We are the only wine bar in NYC pouring wine from a single wine region; it intrigues our guests.
Can you offer tips on shopping for Bordeaux wines?
Pedussel: New Yorkers are lucky because there is an amazing diversity of Bordeaux wines imported to the New York market. That is not true in every state. When it comes to narrowing it down to value, a lot of second labels offer high quality for the money (the big chateaux have been making them for decades).
There are 8,000 Chateaux total in the regions — I would recommend looking at small producers whose wines are more available now than ever before. As for vintages, 2009 and 2010 were really great. For more tips, come see us!