The French really do know how to make wine. Here in Monbazillac we’re in the heart of wine-making country, surrounded by châteaux and vineyards that stretch in cross-hatched patterns across the Dordogne valley.
As well as being master winemakers, it seems all vineyard owners know the best way to tempt people into buying a bottle or two is to offer free wine tasting at their dégustation — of which there are a number within Monbazillac alone. And since we’re travelling on a shoestring it’s the perfect way to enjoy the fermented fruits of the local vineyards.
Our first wine tasting session was at the Château de Monbazillac. Served by a curiously celtic looking French guy who is studying viticulture at the local college, we were introduced first to the Bergerac wines — white, rosé and red — before sampling the sweeter Monbazillac wines which are produced from a combination of sémillon, sauvignon and muscadelle grapes. The secret to a good Monbazillac, we learned, is the ‘noble rot’ of the Botritys Cinerea fungus that thrives in the autumn mists which rise up from the Dordogne valley below. Although it might sound strange to make wine from fungus-covered grapes, the end result is a gloriously sweet wine — I especially liked the Grains d’Or, which the Château website describes as being “a selection of the berries the most rotten”.
Since our visit to the Château de Monbazillac we’ve sampled wines from La Maison Vari, Château Peroudier and Domaine de la Lande, all of which are equally delicious, and with each creating their unique twist on the Monbazillac wine. It’s hard to recall the specifics of each wine as I didn’t make tasting notes at the time — and I’m writing this after the fact — but I can say that, no matter which château produced the various Monbazillacs, 2005 and 2009 were good years. The reason? Early rain and a crucially dry month or so prior to harvesting, which gives the noble rot a chance to proliferate and sweeten the grapes.
Harvesting this year is expected to begin in the last week of September — mechanically at first, for those grapes destined to become a Bergerac wine — then after a week or so people will be out in the vineyards in full force, cutters in hand, carefully liberating the most rotten grapes from the vines. Although known for being back-breaking work, I’m sure it would be a good experience to take part in the harvest, but as we’ll no longer be in Monbazillac we’ll have to put that in our pockets for another year.
Although we’re now in Spain, this post was written whilst still in France, hence the present tense.
You can also read more about our travels on Sean’s latest blog post.