The wines of Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe
By Jane Anson
This Guide was last updated on 05 March 2010
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The 'Route des Châteaux', the D2 road snakes through the vineyards. Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is in the background. © Mick Rock/Cephas
Starting perhaps at Château Beychevelle in Saint Julien and finishing with Château Montrose in Saint Estèphe, everywhere you look in the northern Médoc, you are surrounded by châteaux whose names are revered by wine lovers the world over; that truly look the part with their fairy-tale turrets and row upon row of low, well trimmed vines. Not only that, but you can physically see the terroir – beautiful gravelly soil that looks bone dry even if you’re driving through a rain storm. And if Bordeaux was the Masai Mara, the stretch of road that winds through Pauillac is where the big game hunters would prowl: of the ‘Big Five’ First Growths, three of them - Latour, Lafite and Mouton - are here.
After years of being tightly shut off to anyone but professional buyers and journalists, wine tourism is beginning to open up, and many châteaux are open to visitors, although you will still find that an advance appointment makes things easier. And, the village of Bages, near Pauillac, has created a little gourmet enclave for lunch or dinner. It might take a while to get here from downtown Bordeaux, but no true wine lover comes to Bordeaux without at least a half day pilgrimage up to the home of stately, long-lived, world-class Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Médoc is a strip that hugs the banks of the Gironde along one side and is edged by Les Landes, a large forest of pine trees on the other, which protects it from being buffeted by storms. From north to south it runs from just north of Saint Estèphe right to the suburbs of Bordeaux.The vineyards are notably flat, rarely reaching altitudes of more than a few metres above sea level. The most northerly area, the Bas Médoc starting just north of Saint-Estèphe, as its name suggests, is at slightly lower altitude and flatter than that of the Haut Médoc. The finest vineyards are situated on gravelly soils often located on ridges and formed with large pebbles which are well-drained and therefore are ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot thrives better on the low-lying vineyards with a higher proportion of clay.
Northern Médoc has a mild maritime climate influenced by the Gulf Stream, with average annual temperatures of 7.5°C minimum and 17°C maximum with winter frosts being rare. There is however plenty of rainfall coming in from the Atlantic with 900mm of rain per year, mainly in the spring. The summers are usually dry and hot with the good weather often extending into autumn.
The Médoc is located between the left bank of the Gironde estuary and a forest of pines, with the Atlantic coast to the west. The fastest route from Paris, by car, is to take the A10 which takes you straight to Bordeaux. To reach the Médoc you can either take the faster more direct N215, or the more scenic D2 which passes through all the famous-named villages. By train, the TGV Atlantique service, reaches Bordeaux in less than three hours from Paris, five hours from Lille and seven from Brussels. From the city centre take the Bordeaux-Pointe de Graves train. Also the local bus company Citram Aquitaine services this area. The closest major airport is found at Bordeaux-Mérignac.
Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB),
1 Cours du XXX Juillet, 33000 Bordeaux
Tel: 05 56 00 22 66
Maison des Vins et du Tourisme,
La Verrerie, 33250 Pauillac
Maison du Vin de Saint Estèphe,
Place de l’Eglise, 33180 Saint Estèphe
Tel: 05 56 59 30 59
Maison du Tourisme et du Vin,
Espace Paul-Daumains, 33180 St-Seurin de Cadourne
Tel: 05 56 59 84 14
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