Chateau Cordeillan-Bages offers chic, modern five-star accommodation close to the heart of the village of Bages

Six years ago I saw the worst of wine tasting. Back then, Vinopolis on the South Bank was offering an over-sponsored DIY experience complete with flatscreens on Vespas and rank plastic slops buckets.

The commercialism soured the glasses and, while things have come on a long way, the experience left me wary of big brands' influence beyond the liquid they bottle.

So it was in a sceptical frame of mind that I stepped off the plane at Bordeaux en route to Bages, a small village sustained and blooming because of its demi-eponymous Chateau.

Would it be a breath away from a model village? A drab theme park squeezed from the last of the vineyards' fruit?

It could have easily gone that way, but Chateau Lynch-Bages has taken its time rescuing a derelict square and sympathetically regenerating it as the perfect French hamlet.

It has a butcher and a baker as well as an attractive bistro in which to wile away those long evenings waiting for the candlestick maker to turn up.

The intention was to provide those involved in the local wine industry with a place to congregate while simultaneously creating a high-end destination for moneyed foreigners to eat and drink alongside them.

Then, after lunch, the boutiques offer an opportunity to pick up gastronomic treats and other stylish souvenirs while the workers slip quietly back to watching their multi-million-pound stainless steel fermentation equipment do its thing.

There's an engaging narrative about the owner's commitment to the town he grew up in, complete with details including establishments dedicated to his grandmothers.

But the bottom line is Bages' rebirth is a success. It oozes the kind of luxury Wharfers will relish, swerving to avoid the potholes of cheap and nasty resorts and maintaining a steady course through the heart of the region's heritage.

This marriage of old and new is exemplified by Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, a beautiful 19th century property modernised to meet the demands of uncompromising travellers.

A junior suite at Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, complete with a bottle of its own wine made with fruit from vineyards surrounding the hotel

Italian architect Anne-Monique Bonadei walked the tightrope between bland and incongruent several years ago.

It might have been done yesterday. She flooded the house with contemporary touches that keep the space fresh without overpowering the vineyards, the wine and the food.

To that end, I pop down the road to Chateau Lynch-Bages.

Wine tours can be dull. One stainless steel vat looks pretty much like another and only so much time in a one's life can be spent looking at grape crushing and sorting machinery.

Fortunately Kerstin Bauer is an old hand, combining an extraordinary ability to recall the complex history of the estate at a moment's notice with a reasonably light touch.

She comes into her own however during the wine pairing - tasting various wines from the Chateau and its affiliates with a range of foods.

The highlight for me though is the oldest part of the winery, now a museum.

The well-preserved fermentation vats are still in place, as is the large flat trolley where the women (lighter on average to avoid crushing the fruit too forcefully) would tread the grapes, sending their juice into the tops of the vast vessels.

A little de-focussing of the eyes is all that's necessary to imagine the furious industry that once went on.

Without automated temperature controls, a great deal of that activity would simply have been to heat or cool the giant barrels, either hosing them down with water or bringing in embers to place beneath while an officious foreman busied himself with a thermometer above.

It's a few steps and worlds away from the slick methods of today.

Wine tastings with Kerstin cost 75 euros per person last year - prices have yet to be announced this year.



■ Jon was a guest at Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, which is part of the Relais & Chateaux association and owned by Chateau Lynch-Bages under the auspices of JMC.

■ The hotel closes for the winter but re-opens on March 2 with rooms from 225 euros.

■ A wide range of facilities and services is available including an outdoor swimming pool and helicopter arrival by arrangement. Chateau Cordeillan-Bages makes its own wine, which is available at the hotel.

■ Chateau Lynch-Bages is a few minutes' walk down the road, adjacent to the regenerated centre of Bages, which includes bistro Cafe Lavinial, baker and grocery store Le Comptoir d'Andréa, Bages Bazaar - a wine and fine tableware shop, L'Annexe concept store and Boucherie de Bages - a butcher's shop.

■ There's also a bike hire shop for Wharfers keen to explore the vineyards on two wheels, a children's play area and a Petanque pitch.

■ The new shops also host wine and food tasting events.

Go to for more information about the hotel and dining there.


■ Jon flew from London Gatwick to Bordeaux with Easyjet, which offers return fares from around £112 with connections also available at Luton ( ).