There are several locations in France which merit the designation “la route des châteaux,” or ‘ châteaux road’ including the Loire Valley and the Auvergne. One of the prettiest is found in the Médoc region in southwest France. The Médoc is the peninsula extending approximately 80 kilometers north of Bordeaux and is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and by the Gironde estuary on the east.  The term Médoc comes from the Latin ‘in medio aquae’ meaning ‘in the middle of the water.’ Beaches, pine forests and vineyards make up this fairly rural area of France, with the vineyards being among the most prized in French wine circles.

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I recently had the chance to tour Médoc’s route des châteaux with British transplant Pamela Prior who has worked in the Bordeaux wine industry for more than 40 years. Vivacious and fun-loving, Pamela knows every inch of the château road (the D2 on a trusty Michelin road map) and was an expert guide and door opener to several exclusive vineyards.

First, she gave a short tutorial in the Médoc wine region’s characteristics. There are six AOC’s in Médoc: Listrac, Margaux, Moulis, Pauillac, St. Estephe, and St. Julien. (AOC stands for Appellation d’origine contrôllée; it’s the French government system of recognizing wine and where and how it is produced. It also applies to other products such as cheese.) The primary cépages, or grape varieties, grown here are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. Red wines, of course, are the star of the show in this region and are most often blends of several cépages.

We began our tour and tastings north of Pauillac, the capital of the Médoc. Our first stop was the charming Château Rousseau de Sipian. Its red wines are very fine and it also makes a smashing rosé which is perfect during warm summer months in southwest France. As Pamela currently serves as a wine consultant for the vineyard, she had access to the family château. We toured the 19th century mansion which has been beautifully restored. Several of the bedrooms are offered during the summer months as chambre d’hôtes and can be accompanied by gourmet meals served in the château dining room for a thoroughly enchanting stay.

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Next, we headed south on the  Châteaux Road to Château Loudenne where Pamela served as châtelaine for more than a decade. The château has kept its signature Médoc pink color and was awash in climbing roses the day of our visit. Our tasting at Château Loudenne was followed by a lovely lunch at the Café Lavinal, in a restored village on the property of Château Lynch Bages.

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Many of the big name chateaux are located in and around the town of Pauillac: Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, and many more. It’s a fairyland of white stone and steeply pitched slate roofs with glorious wines attached to their names.

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We ended our Médoc wine tour at the mythic Châteaux Margaux. Built in 1810, the stunning château commands your attention as soon as you enter the long drive. The property is unique for its outbuildings and cellars which are of the same period as the château itself. After visiting the chais (cellars and area where the wine is made), we went to the tasting room for a dégustation (sampling) of their wines. We were offered the chateau’s first wine, a premier grand cru classé aptly named “Château Margaux” from the 2006 vintage. It sells for several hundred euros a bottle—when you can get it. Most famous châteaux’s wines are snapped up even before the wines have been bottled. The next wine we sampled was the vineyard’s second wine called Pavillon rouge, a more affordable option at 95 euros a bottle. This was my favorite—it was strong yet immediately drinkable. The Châteaux Margaux 2006 needed a few more years of rest before it would soften up enough for my palate.

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All in all, it was another one of those fabulous days in France where landscape, architecture, wine, food, good weather, and good company all came together. With so many châteaux and vineyards in the area, we just touched the tip of the iceberg with our one-day visit. The Médoc merits many such days. However, I must confess that while I loved tasting the wines, I could have been happy just driving slowly down the D2 road taking in the château eye candy.

French Take-Out™ ~ La France à emporter

We have a couple of good French Take-Out items related to today’s posting to share this week…

Bordeaux at home:  First, enjoy your own taste of the Bordeaux region with Frog du Jour’s set of Bordeaux wine label placemats. Frog du Jour is a U.S. based company run by French expats who are passionate about sharing French culture through interesting and unique products from France.The set of four placemats includes authentic reproductions of Bordeaux wine labels on cotton canvas. Click here to see the other three labels and to visit the Frog du Jour web site.

Bordeaux placemats

Dijon-Dallas French Week 2010:  If you love Bordeaux wines, you probably also are a fan of Burgundy ones as well. Not to be missed is a great wine and food experience beginning next weeked in Dallas, Texas. Dijon-Dallas French Week will be held at the Y.O. Steakhouse November 11 through November 18, 2010 featuring a week-long celebration of French dining and Burgundy wines. Guest Chef, Romain Détot, of Les Gourmets in Dijon, France, will be featured and Hugues Genot, President of the Association Dijon-Dallas, will be in attendance throughout the week. Dijon and Dallas are international sister cities. The November event follows last year’s celebration held in Dijon, where Tony Street, Chef & Owner of the Y.O. Steakhouse, cooked a Texas-themed Thanksgiving feast for Gala attendees in Dijon, France.

French Week 2010 will be held November 11 – 18 at the Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse in Dallas, with the French Week Gala evening scheduled for Friday, November 12. Each evening of Dijon Dallas French Week (November 11 and November 13 – November 18), Chef Romain Détot will prepare a three-course dinner with wine pairings. Tickets are $60 per person without wine or $80 with wine. An à la carte menu will also be available. Local area students are invited to join us to meet Chef Romain Détot and experience his amazing creations. On Tuesday, November 16, students and teachers (French, culinary or otherwise) receive 25% off of the three-course dinner. Tickets for all events may be purchased online or via phone reservations at 214-744-3287. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Association Dijon Dallas.

Dallas Dijon