Château de Monbazillac
While this trip to France has mostly been focused on doing the necessary research to figure out where we would like to retire, once in a while we take time out to do something sort of touristy. During our stay outside of Bergerac we were only five miles from Monbazillac, the center of the Château of Monbazillac and its famous wines. I had heard of these wines for some time but knew nothing about them except that they were white wines. We have never been big enthusiasts of white wines so we had never tried these.
The small but magnificent Château of Monbazillac sitting on the top of the hill near our gîte first caught our attention and our curiosity about the wines followed. So we decided to brave the tourist scene and check it out. Fortunately, the real French and European vacation time has not yet begun so there were not really many people there when we arrived. Also in our favor was the fact that unlike many châteaus, you can take a self-guided tour at your own pace. You have the run of the place… well, at least the parts they let you into and it makes for a very enjoyable, relaxing experience.
The château dates from about 1550 and is virtually the same today as it was back then. It has passed through the hands of seven families and amazingly escaped all the destructive periods of French history. It possesses all the typical modes of medieval defensive architecture including towers and a moat. Given the relatively small size of the château, we’re not really sure how these features managed to help defend it against the many threats throughout history, but apparently they did. The eighteen rooms you are allowed to visit contain a variety of historical artifacts as well as period furnishings.
These days, the 30 hectares (75 acres) of vineyards that belong to the château are managed by a cooperative winery that has the sole responsibility of financing and maintaining the château. What is unique about the wines produced from these vineyards is that the grapes are picked much later than most wine grapes when they are over-ripe and have a very high sugar content. This condition is assisted by the botrytis cinerea (or noble rot) that attacks the grapes in the fall. These grapes produce a variety of golden-colored wines with a wide range of sweetness. They are mainly designed to accompany desserts or cheeses, a typical French choice for dessert.
One thing we especially like about French wineries is that they provide very sophisticated wine tastings free of charge like we used to do in the U.S. before wineries became a form of entertainment and decided to charge an “entrance fee”. They are really interested in having you understand and appreciate their wines. At the end of our tour, we were provided a tasting of Monbazillac wines by a very engaging young man who helped us in English when our French faltered. To our great surprise, we discovered we liked the taste of these special wines very much. So, of course, we bought a couple of different bottles to enjoy during the next part of our journey. More amazing still… even the best of the selection cost half the price of anything comparable in the U.S. One more example of quality French food production and another reason why we are drawn to retiring in this country. Affordable quality trumps quantity any day!