The city of Bordeaux is in the midst of a several-year reconstruction project along its Garonne riverfront, and is currently producing magnum-size traffic jams. As it happens, the French colloquial term for a traffic bottleneck is bouchon, which also happens to refer to the cork in a wine bottle. The relationship is clear here, but there's no easy corkscrew for Bordeaux's congestion. A recommended sedative of sorts would be a bag of fresh canelés, little fluted pastry bombs of butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and rum, a Bordeaux specialty. For now, like good wine, you must simply age patiently among the city's bouchons and reroutings to get to the pleasure of pulling bouchons from some of the finest wines in the world.

Your patience will be rewarded with wine tastings, which are available in profusion at châteaux in and around every vine-enclosed community. Some require an appointment, some invite you to drop in. Every community, starting with the city of Bordeaux itself, has a winemakers' office that will set up appointments and provide directions. And a cork's throw in almost any direction will often land on a wine-tasting class. Under the guidance of a local instructor, you can admire, sniff, swirl, sip, swish, and all that.

Then, with a full taste of France, you can hop another TGV and fast forward to Paris and the 2004 world, ready to dazzle your friends with tales of life in the fast train.

marie hennechart's powerful pictures have been published in travel+leisure and condé nast traveler (uk), among others.
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