Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Moseying Around Monbazillac – a Mini Sauternes

June 15, 2011 – On Wednesday morning we had a lazy breakfast, then packed and cleaned our apartment before checking out. We headed towards Bergerac and the Monbazillac AOC which was only a 30 minute drive from Le Bugue. On the way we passed an amazing site of over 100 white swans on the Dordogne River. We stopped to take photos and marvel at their beauty. They appeared to be feeding in the river, and were in a section that was covered with the tiny white flowers that grace the river in such an exotic fashion. An artist was sitting on the river bank painting the swans, and we both thought of Mom who would most likely be doing the same thing.

As it was around 1:30pm when we approached the city of Bergerac, we decided to go directly to Monbazillac for lunch before the restaurants closed at 2pm. We ended up at the charming Restaurant A La Grappe d’Or where the owner personally greeted us. Having spent the last 3 days in the Dordogne over-indulging in foie gras and duck, we decided we wanted anything but duck or goose. We had to laugh when the first 3 main courses on the menu were duck, duck, and duck (canard prepared in 3 different ways). Michelle jokingly said the next item must be “goose.” It was listed as Brochette La Gourmand, and I suggested it might be grilled beef or lamb on a stick. However, when we asked the server, we had to laugh when she told us it was grilled duck heart on a brochette – of course! We finally found a fish and chicken dish that was delightful, and the daily soup and terrine were served in large bowls family-fashion – very tasty!

After lunch we drove the few kilometers to one of the most famous wineries in the region – Chateau d’ Monbazillac originally built in 1322 (see photo). As we drove along the small and charming roads, I couldn’t help but compare the region to Sauternes and found it equally appealing, though different. It has low rolling hills like the Sauternes and Barsac region, but the sauvignon blanc and semillion vines are more widely spaced and they are allowed to grow higher. There are also fewer large chateaux, but many small domains. The Dordogne river provides moisture to the area so that in good vintages they achieve the noble rot needed to make the fabulous botrytis wines.

Chateaux d’ Monbazillac

Chateau d’ Monbazillac is one of the most impressive wineries in the region. It is perched on a hill with a commanding view of the valley below. A historical site, it provides a large shaded parking lot and an impressive tasting room (complimentary) and wine shop. You can also wander through the vineyards and around the castle free of charge. If you choose to enter, the cost was only 6 euros, and we enjoyed the self-guided tour with English descriptions of more than 16 furnished rooms. As the temperature was hovering in the high 80’s that day, we were happy to find that all the buildings were air-conditioned.

I enjoyed tasting (spitting) the sweet wines of Monbazillac. They included their own brand as well as a few neighboring estates. Coming from Napa/Sonoma where tasting fees are getting extremely high, it was amazing to find that they are willing to let you taste as many wines as you want complimentary. We tried 4 different vintages of the Monbazillac, and I ended up buying the 2008 Chateau Monbazillac because it had a higher acid and more subdued fruit than the 2007 (even though I knew 2007 was a better year). The Monbazillac wines seem to be lighter in texture than Sauternes, but still enjoyable. They had the typical mushroom/honey nose of botyris (except the 2003 when the summer was so hot no botrytis occurred), and satisfying apricot/peach and honey on the palate.

After our tasting, it was time to head back to Bordeaux to catch our 8pm flight to London. We savored driving through the lovely country-side with winding roads, flowers, horses, and pale yellow limestone houses. Eventually we hit the interstate and made it to the airport with two hours to spare. I had to agree with Michelle, who told the BA rep when we checked in, “I am not ready to leave France.”

Upon reaching Gatwick, we took a bus to our hotel and went down to the very British pub to have a very British beer. The next morning, we took a taxi to Heathrow, had a late breakfast and both caught our flights back home. I was able to fly Business Class on the way back, and though I missed the pajamas and nice sheets of First Class, it was still nice to be able to sleep on a flat bed.

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