The Medoc, a sophisticated nectar
From trading to wine-growing estates.
In the eighteenth century, under the influence of the bourgeois and traders from the Châtrons quarter, viticulture is developed in the Médoc region along the Gironde river around the small ports of Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe… these same ports will lend their names to the fines wines. Basic trading evolves into wine-growing and the established families, many of Irish origin, buy up châteaux and vineyards: Monsieur de Pontac owner of Haut-Brion, the Lords of Margaux, the President of Ségur with his châteaux of Lafite and Ségur..
Irish promenade. Dillon, Lynch, Kirwan, Barton, Phelan… All of the oldest Médoc families are of Irish descent. Their ancestors, mostly Catholics, left their native land towards the end of the seventeenth century to escape religious persecution. They settled into the wine-trade and started buying estates in the Médoc region, moving from trading to viticulture, which made both theirs and the Médoc’s fortune.
Just above sea level. At the beginning, there were just water-logged fields, swamps and salt marshes… The name Médoc is thought to come from the Latin “in medio-aquae”, which means middle of the waters.It is here that the Garonne and Dordogne rivers meet, in the Gironde estuary, on the left bank, and where the history of the Médoc and its vineyards starts. Barriers formed by the dunes, pine forests, and vineyards on the lower levels, with a few gravely hillsides and “Moutons” from the glens that are huddled along the estuary.
The wine-growers’ Médoc region stretches from Blanquefort all the way to Saint-Estèphe and beyond, towards Lesparre-Médoc, on a bed of pebbles set on limestone-clay soil, that serve to maintain warmth and aeration of the ground. Mostly reds, lead by a Cabernet grape variety, but also Sauvignon and Sauvignon-Franc, Merlot and a “petit Verdot”, a very old vine, which is the “Mouton Noir” in the grape variety. Tannic, with powerful peppery and spicy aromas, it becomes interesting when blended in small quantities. It is said that the plots overlooking the Gironde produce the best wines. Add to that the proximity of the Gulf Stream, the iodized, oceanic air, the alluvium from the Gironde and to top it all, expertise of a very high standard.
What you should know about the great Médoc wines.
The eight controlled origin denominations (AOC) are Pauillac, Médoc, Haut Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Saint-Estèphe, Listrac and Moulis. They have followed an immutable classification since 1855, one that governs Médoc but also Sauternes wines.
At the top of the list, the premier classified grand vintages: Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Haut Brion and finally the Château Mouton-Rothschild which joined the major league in 1973, finally doing it justice. Classified vintages follow, ranked second to fifth, followed by the bourgeois and artisan vintages that are well worth tasting.
“Great estates with small doorways” Margaux, Saint-Estèphe, Saint Julien, Pauillac… Wines known as « communaux », named after their municipalities. The first great vintages reach the greatest heights. The estates are protected by sumptuous gates. Wine stores and vines feature amongst turrets, Charterhouses, and redesigned and restored châteaux following the style of their successive owners and their history. Those that allow visits are by appointment only in order to welcome the visitor properly.
Cathedrals and… Chapels In the shadow of these cathedrals, the great vintages and prestigious châteaux that we visit religiously and where we partake in divine tastings, subsist smaller chapels that lay in the estates of the Haut Médoc, with traditional wine-growers that have been working the vines for generations. These emotionally-charged wines that are labelled bourgeois or artisan vintages stretch no further than five to eight hectares. Only forty are classified. www.mesvignes.com
The Haut-Médoc, a balanced and calibrated wine with a brilliant colour.
Château de Dillon, acquired by an Irish nobleman who traded wines in the XVIIIth century. Today, it produces classified crus bourgeois wines and runs educational workshops and patronage activities by welcoming contemporary artists. www.chateau-dillon.com/index.cfm
La Winery Philippe Raoux. The owner of the Blue Wine Stores from Château d’Arsac, had wanted to showcase his Médoc and other wines by erecting an interactive and contemporary living space. The Winery, set over 12,000 square metres, was designed by the architect Patrick Hernandez in 26 hectares of grounds, and centres around Grape-Picker’s square. It is an innovating and challenging space where the revered Médoc wines flirt with art and design. The public is witness to all this, initiating themselves, learning, tasting and making educated choices. The piazza is dedicated to shows, concerts and exhibitions. You can mix with the owners during the themed dinners leading you to discover the great vintages… One of those true wine tourism concepts we love. www.winery.fr
Château du Tertre, very private and refined, this château belongs to a Dutch businessman and brings together his two passions, he who is a great art-lover and in love with the médoc. Wines that are classified Grands Crus and a landscaped garden with contemporary sculptures worthy of an interiors magazine. Visits of the magnificent wooden vat-house and the underground cellar, a rare sight in the Medoc region, by appointment. Five luxury, design guest rooms. www.chateaudutertre.com
The château d’Agassac, situated at the entrance to the Bordeaux region, dates from the XIIIth and XVIth centuries with moats and a dovecoat. It is located in a 20 hectare parc and runs guided tours around the history of wine and the château. Wine and chocolate tasting workshops and open house visits with ipods www.agassac.com
The Margaux, a wine with feminine notes, full of finesse, velvety, subtle, tannic and that ages very well. It’s not just the château! The village of Margaux is a simple village that one just drives through but it is surrounded by the noblest vineyards châteaux that are each more prestigious than the other.
Château Margaux, mythical, at the end of a long alley of poplar trees, one discovers a large and impressive neoclassical building. A premier grand cru classé as well as some secondary wines, Pavillon Rouge and Pavillon Blanc, to be discovered. Tours of the wine store and installations, but no tastings. www.chateau-margaux.com
Château des Graviers, a small chapel with an artisan wine classified Margaux.
Le Savoie,a very nice classical table. 1, place de la Trémoille. Tel.: +33 5 57 88 31 76.
Château La Tour de Bessan is owned by a woman from the Médoc area who is a creator of wines. A trained oenologist, Marie Laure Lurton, manages the three châteaux that were bequeathed to her, including La Tour de Bessan, and produces a Margaux denominated bourgeois vintage. You can visit the futuristic looking wine store and the medieval vineyard. www.marielaurelurton.com
Château Siran. In the XIXth century, it belonged to the Count and Countess of Toulouse-Lautrec, the grandparents of the painter. In 1859, the château was bought by the Miaithe family. Today, the fifth generation continues in the winemaking tradition of the family, producing an S de Siran wine in Margaux appellation and a Saint-Jacques de Siran, AOC Bordeaux Supérieur www.chateausiran.com
Go and have lunch at the “Lion d’Or“, an institution, where all the grands crus owners like to meet. They each have a locker with their napkin rings and wines. One enjoys a dish of lamprey, shad or lamb with a nice bottle of wine. Place de la République. Tel.: +33 5 56 58 96 79
Just before Pauillac, on the estuary, a succession of small islands that are being rehabilitated. Islands, lived on in the fifties, that have today been overtaken by fauna and flora.
On the private island of Patiras, one will find a contemporary lighthouse and the small vineyard that produces a small “palu” wine, simple wines to drink immediately. A pastoral stopover.
Château Lamothe-BergeronDeemed to be one of the leading Cru Bourgeois Supérieur wines of the 19th century, a status retained today, Lamothe-Bergeron has always been a benchmark Haut-Médoc wine. The vineyards overlook the river, enjoying a soil full of gravels that keep the grapes warm and offer an excellent drainage.
The wines are overseen by Hubert de Boüard, the owner of Château Angélus in Saint-Emilion. They deliver rich, dark, sensual taste of very mature fruit. They balance classical elegance and an all-consuming sensuality, doubtless because they are equal parts Cabernet and Merlot.
Rather unusual but very pleasant here, you get first to the Castle! Plunge into history before the terroir! Then we take you to the “observatory” that overlooks the vineyards while explaining the nature of the soil and the conduct of the vine. In the winery, in half-darkness, a video on winemaking is projected directly onto a tank,. The visit continues with the room of barrels. Another film is projected on the glass wall showing Hubert de Bouard and his wine master, Laurent Very, blending the wines. We feel as winemakers the time of the visit! The visit finishes in an ultra modern tasting room to sample wines depending on the package chosen.
49 Chemin des Graves. tel.: +33 5 56 58 94 77
Pauillac wine, the excellence of a wine with complex notes that ally delicate aromas to a tannic and powerful bouquet.
At the heart of the Médoc, the greatest concentration of Premier Grands Crus, Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour…The village stretches along the docks that line the estuary.
Château Mouton Rothschild, first in class. Its name, mouton, does not derive from the sheep as one might think, but instead comes from “mouthon”, which in the old Languedoc language meant small lump. On this land of platitude, some of the vineyards are on small hills for wines at the summit. As for Rothschild, the name of the owner Baroness Philippine, it is known the world over. The Mouton Rothschild was promoted to the rank of Premier Grand Cru classé in 1855. The wine store, designed by Richard Peduzzi, is a must –visit with its main room that is 100 metres long with no pillars. Moving the bottling process to the château was an innovative idea of baron in 1926. Since 1945, each vintage is decorated with a label designed by a famous artist: Chagall, Picasso, Kandinsky…
The museum is a must see, it is unique and displays a collection of antique objects, tapestries, on the theme of the vine and wine. Visits by appointment and tastings to be paid for. www.bpdr.com
Château Pichon-Longueville. The very aristocratic estate of the AXA group. A château that dates back to the XIXth century and comes with a futuristic looking wine store and circular vat. The buildings inspired by neoclassical architecture are meant for entertaining and tasting. A whole stage set up to showcase a second grand cru classé and a second wine Les Tourelles de Longueville. One of the first estates to have obtained a certification for the protection of the environment.
Château Latour Pauillac, whose wines already had garnered a strong reputation in the Middle-Ages. The XVIIth century dovecote that remains lets you guess how important the château then became. A magical estate for unique wines. www.chateau-latour.com
Château Lafite-Rothschild, a must see whose premier grand cru classé is a Pauillac.
Anchored in the Bordelais vineyards since 1868, its medieval roots can be traced to the name ‘Lafite’, which comes from the word ‘hite’, mound in the old gascon language. In the ownership of the Ségur family in the XVIIth century, its vineyards are structured and its wine enjoyed by the Marshal of Richelieu, governor of Guyana. The ‘Lafite’ is to Versailles the fountain of youth, the wine of the king Louis XV, of Madame de Pompadour and of the Countess du Barry. In the XVIIIth century, Thomas Jefferson, future president of the United States and a great amateur of wines from the Old World, considers it the best in the world. In 1868, the baron James Rothschild takes over the ownership of the estate and today it is the baron Eric who continues the work of the dynasty by adding modernity and creativity: a sleek wine store designed by Ricardo Bofill in association with great photographers such as Avedon and Doisneau. Visits by appointment. www.lafite.com
Château Gaudin, by Mrs Capdevielle artisan winemaker, a small family run estate in AOC Pauillac, including the Collection vintage, which is very good value for money. The Château organises activities such as bottling accompanied by regional fare. Visits and free tastings. www.chateaugaudin.fr