Nov 2005
In this Issue:
The Médoc Wine Road
Médoc Wine Route, France
The "Châteaux" of Médoc
Towards the middle of the 18th century, vineyards became the predominant economy of Médoc. The powerful elite of Bordeaux chose to invest in viticulture , which in turn brought about the emergence of great aristocratic estates . . .
The Mountain People
The farm workers there were confronted with the arrival of a foreign workforce who came from the eastern Pyrénées . . .
The Maharaja of St-Estèphe

The success was immediate, as the maharajahs and nabobs in the East were crazy about this French wine. This came as a second big surprise. Louis-Gaspard d'Estournel had already been quite taken aback when . . .

Château Mouton Rothschild
Baron Philippe de Rothschild was 20 yrs old when he inherited the Brane-Mouton Estate that had been acquired by his ancestor, Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, in 1853. Whether the bottle of wine comes from a store or from your own cellar . . .
How to Best Enjoy a Great Red Bordeaux Wine
Tasting a bottle of Bordeaux is much more than a simple pleasure, it is sheer happiness...that is if you are mindful of a few basic rules . . .
La Tour d'Aspic - The beautiful towers in the Médoc vineyards are mainy used for tool storage

Médoc Wine Route, France onjour!
This month, let’s continue our journey of discovery through the vineyards of the Bordeaux region, to Médoc, an area of world renown for its exceptional wines and its many unusual châteaux. Médoc is easy to spot on a map of France: it is the little plot of land shaped like an equilateral triangle nestled between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Gironde estuary to the east, and closed off by a tributary of the river Garonne and the city of Bordeaux to the south. To the north of this peninsula, the Cordouan lighthouse, proudly anchored on its rocky islet, still marks the way for ships entering the estuary, just like it did back when Bordeaux was one of the leading ports in the world. But before continuing, please remember that you can access and read all the newsletters already published at http://www.francemonthly.com/
A Century and a Half of Excellence, from 1855 to 2005
In 1855, the World Fair was being held in Paris and Napoléon III wanted to present to Queen Victoria and the many visitors from the whole world the best products that France had to offer, among them the prestigious wines from Gironde.
Château Margaux
  Château Margaux
(Click photo to enlarge)
The Bordeaux "Syndicat des Courtiers de Commerce", or Trade Brokers Association, was in charge of drawing up the list of the region’s best vintages. These experienced professionals counted sixty-one châteaux divided into five wine-producing categories ranked in order of importance. All they were really doing was making official a well-known list that recognized the exceptional quality of the land and the reputation of each vineyard. Indeed, this list had already been drafted as early as 1755 by their predecessors, and had been confirmed, give or take a few details, by none other than Thomas Jefferson, in 1787. He was at that time the Ambassador of the United States to France, and had traveled all over the vineyards of the Bordeaux region. He was a true connoisseur of great wines and had himself suggested a classification, very similar to that of 1855. There has been only one amendment to this list since then, which occurred in 1973, when Château Mouton-Rothschild moved up a notch, from second to first "growth" and thereby joined the rank of the prestigious Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, and Château Haut-Brion. Today, one hundred and fifty years later, this classification remains the authoritative one.
An Exception for a Leading Wine

The Pontac family was behind the revival of the great Médoc wines. Jean de Pontac received as an endowment part of the Haut-Brion Estate, south-west of Bordeaux. In 1550, he built his "château" there, and knew perfectly well how to select the very best land where he could plant vines. A passionate and wise man, he enlarged the property and exported his wines that were gaining more and more recognition, especially in England. A century later, thanks to his descendants, the reputation of the Haut-Brion Estate was at its highest. Arnaud de Pontac then had the brilliant idea of opening the "Pontac Tavern" in London. It became a very fashionable spot, while Haut-Brion earned the distinction of being the first wine from the Bordeaux region to be sold under its own name at a time when wine was still sold anonymously. In the mid 18th century, all the techniques involved in working the vineyard, in the selection of grape varieties, in the assemblage (blending wines of the same vintage), and in wine conservation were constantly improving. Eventually, a real buying frenzy took over the market, driving up the prices of wines, especially those of the best ones, the wines from Médoc. The quality and renown of Haut-Brion, although located in the Graves region, allowed it to become the only Graves wine to follow the course of Médoc wines over the decades and thus to earn its place among them. It was then perfectly natural for it to join, in 1855, the group of the "Premiers Grands Crus classés", or First Great Growths, from the Médoc.

Médoc Wine Route, France
Recipe for Nov 2005  
Wine Sauce
A sauce to deliciously accompany any red meat
Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes
8 servings
Click here to read the Wine sauce recipe in English.
Click here to read the Wine sauce recipe in French.
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The "Châteaux" of Médoc
  Towards the middle of the 18th century, vineyards became the predominant economy of Médoc. The powerful elite of Bordeaux chose to invest in viticulture, which in turn brought about the emergence of great aristocratic estates. The classification concept of "crus", or growths, took shape little by little. Wines were given the name of the vineyard owner or of the location. A century later, Napoleon III gave fresh impetus to the continued development of the wine country. Trade agreements and the improvement of means of communication contributed to the boom of the wine business
View of Château Pichon Longueville's backside - Photography F. Fatin
View of Château Pichon Longueville's backside
(Click photo to enlarge)

 
and the accumulation of wealth for the happy owners. They took advantage of this opportunity not only to improve the quality of their noble production, but also to build themselves magnificent and often extravagant châteaux. Individual artistic sensibility and wealth dictated the many various architectural styles. The château became a symbol of grandeur, the pride and joy of each and every family, as it was not only a testimony to the success of the owner, but also a tribute to the unique character of each production. Eventually, the "cru" designation was replaced with the "Château" appellation that was proudly displayed on each bottle’s label, as it still is today.
 
 
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The Mountain People
 
  In the middle of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution was under way and there was finally sincere interest in the working conditions of the laborers, but also in profitability. These trends blowing across Europe eventually reached the remote region of Médoc.
Château Pontet Canet - Photography F. Fatin
Château Pontet Canet
(Click photo to enlarge)
The farm workers there were confronted with the arrival of a foreign workforce who came from the eastern Pyrénées and agreed to work the vineyards for reduced wages. However, no one could deny that these "Mountainbillies", as they were pejoratively referred to, were courageous and productive men. In 1860, the phylloxera pest that feeds on grape roots was inadvertently introduced to France from North America. When it devastated the vineyards of Bordeaux, these same "Mountainbillies" were the ones who took it upon themselves to rid the region of this terrible blight. They fought relentlessly, and it was thanks to their tenacity that the vineyards were slowly restored to their prior glory. They were finally given their due and from then on, the "Mountainbillies" became more respectfully known as the "Mountain people". Everyone was full of gratitude for their courageous devotion. They were finally able to really settle down, start families, and greatly contribute to the development of the vineyards of Médoc. The Cazes family, still today at the head of the very prestigious Château Lynch-Bages Estate, can proudly claim that heritage.
 
 
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The Maharaja of St-Estèphe
 
  At the start of the 19th century, Louis-Gaspard d'Estournel inherited a few acres of vineyards on a hill close to the village of Cos. He quickly came to the realization that what he owned was an exceptional piece of land,
The Cos d'Estournel
The Cos d'Estournel
(Click photo to enlarge)
and went into debt to acquire the hill in its entirety, even grabbing a few plots of land illegally in the process. The extraordinary quality of his wines provoked total admiration in all the connoisseurs, and the market price of the Cos wines just kept climbing. Louis-Gaspard d'Estournel then made the decision to escape from the monopoly of the wine brokers from Bordeaux, who up until then could not be ignored. He started to bottle his wine at the château itself and planned to sell it directly in India. The success was immediate, as the maharajahs and nabobs in the East were crazy about this French wine. This came as a second big surprise. Louis-Gaspard d'Estournel had already been quite taken aback when he first realized that after the long ocean crossing his wine didn’t taste the same as it did at the start from the château: it had greatly improved in transit. Boosted by this discovery and the triumph of his eastern experience, Louis-Gaspard d'Estournel acquired the nickname "Maharadja of St-Estèphe". Around 1830, he had himself built a strange and exotic palace in Médoc, where he threw sumptuous parties and offered the great men and women of the world bottles of this precious Cos that had made the round trip to India by boat! By 1852, he found himself broke and riddled with debt. He had to resign himself to sell his estate to a banker from London named Martyns. He died the following year, only two years before the ultimate recognition of Cos d'Estournel as the best of the St-Estèphe wines.
 
 
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  Château Mouton Rothschild  
  Baron Philippe de Rothschild was 20 yrs old when he inherited the Brane-Mouton Estate that had been acquired by his ancestor, Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, in 1853. With the heart and soul of a Parisian, and a passion for car races, travel and society events, such a gift might almost have been a poisoned one. But the baron immediately fell in love with his vineyard and his new profession. From then on, his one and only objective became to do his wines justice, as they were only ranked "Second Cru", or Second Growth, in 1855. His motto was, "First I am not, second I disdain, Mouton I am". His first step was to shake up tradition. Up until then, wine was sold in bulk to wholesalers who mixed and bottled it themselves, thereby delivering a wine that differed from the one produced at the châteaux. In 1924, he pushed the owners of the "Premiers Crus" to undertake the bottling of their wine at their own châteaux to guarantee the authenticity and consistency of the final product. For about a half century, he continued to constantly improve the quality of his wine, watching over his vineyards with meticulous care, enlarging and modernizing his estate. Finally, he had the brilliant idea to use the concept of "marketing". From 1945 on, he commissioned the greatest painters of the time to draw his labels. In 1973, his goal was reached and Mouton Rothschild joined the ranks of the extraordinary wines, the "Premiers Crus des Grands Crus classés du Médoc". The baron was very pleased that his tenacity had paid off. His motto then became: "First I am, second I was, Mouton I will always be".
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  How to Best Enjoy a Great Red Bordeaux Wine  
  Tasting a bottle of Bordeaux is much more than a simple pleasure, it is sheer happiness... that is if you are mindful of a few basic rules. Whether the bottle of wine comes from a store or from your own cellar – assuming you are fortunate enough to have one – you must first stand it upright for about a day in a room with the temperature held between 64°F and 66°F, before opening it. The expression "chambrer un vin", literally "rooming a wine", means to bring a wine to room temperature after
Wine Tasting - photography F. Fatin
Wine Tasting
(Click photo to enlarge)
retrieving it from a cold cellar to store in a cool room. There is also really no point in opening it way ahead of serving time. Ten minutes should be enough as long as you pour it into a decanter or glass carafe so that it may breathe before it is served. You should then pour it into large glasses so that it can fully release all of its aroma, much to the great delight of your guests. To turn this tasting into a real event, the ideal would be to offer a different Bordeaux wine with each and every dish, or even to play off the comparison by serving two Bordeaux wines simultaneously, in separate glasses. Of course, such delicate, fragrant and rich wines must be tasted in moderation; so if you do not finish the entire bottle, you just need to get the air out of before recorking it and setting it back in a vertical position in a cool place. The wine will not lose any of its aroma or flavor for several days. There are many accessories available to withdraw oxygen from a bottle of wine...and they are excellent gift ideas for the Holidays.
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  An Invitation to travel...  
  Contrary to what one might think today while crisscrossing the Médoc wine country, so peaceful and green, the development of the Bordeaux region vineyards didn’t come into being by the wave of a magic wand, without any pain or sorrow. The much-feared phylloxera appeared in 1869, the forest of the Landes that protected the vineyards burned in 1937, right before WWII, and then the frost of 1956 destroyed many young vines. So many obstacles could have meant doom for these exceptional vineyards. But for these winegrower-landlords, the determination, passion, and will to keep on going and succeed, prevailed. The love of the vine has always been and remains the strongest... still today, the Médoc region prides itself on producing some of the best wines in the world. The vineyard owners want to share their passion and do not stand on ceremony as they open the doors of their fabulous estates and invite you in to taste their nectar, whether you are a connoisseur or simply curious. By all means, do go wander the Médoc wine trail, visit the châteaux (upon appointment only), listen to the history of these prestigious vineyards, taste their precious wines, and let yourself be charmed by this little corner of "la Belle France" that offers the miracle of shared moments not to be missed.
 
  A Tip from Sylvie:
Many of you have sent me emails regarding the best Medoc wine I suggest for the holidays. My prefered option is definetely the Château Lynch Bages! I actually discovered it while flying on AA a few years ago. It was the selected bottle of Bordeaux for the first class cabin. The best way to find out where to buy this exceptional wine is on google.com. Just type "Lynch Bages" and your location and see the list of local or on-line distributors. Château Lynch Bages has a web site www.lynchbages.com as well, but they do not sell the wine on-line.

 
 
 
 
 
Médoc Wine Route, France
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