Find below a crib sheet for the famous Bordeaux châteaux either side of this famous route. (Otherwise use the new smartphone application Bordeaux Wine Trip!)
I remember my first drive up the D2 some 25 years ago whilst on a family holiday. I could not believe that all these famous names were either side of this simple road in front of my eyes, only known previously from the labels in the cellar of Lay & Wheeler where I worked. For me this was the real Disneyland.
In those days, visitors remained vey much on the outside unless you had a private invitation. Things have changed. Today many of the world’s most famous names welcome visitors (booked in advance) despite still selling all of their wines via the ‘Place de Bordeaux’ that is, no direct contact with the final consumer.
The Médoc is a strip of land that ‘goes nowhere’, dividing the Atlantic and the Gironde Estuary. It takes an hour and three quarters from Bordeaux city centre to arrive at its tip, a 100 kilometre drive. At the top it stops. There is a ferry to Royan for tourists for access to the 200km of stunning sandy beaches which lie just beyond the forests of pine trees (planted by Napoleon) down the side of the Médoc.
If you take the D2, the small Route de Châteaux you will pass through some of the world’s most well-known wine villages such as Margaux, St Julien and Pauillac, home to some of the most famous châteaux in the world; the neoclassical Château Margaux, the fairy tale castle of Pichon Longueville and the dumpy tower of Château Latour. These are members of a prestigious club, the 60 or so Grand Cru Classé elite. For which ones are easiest to visit see below.
ROAD BOOK D2 ROUTE DE CHÂTEAUX
From Bordeaux, I always take the Quai de Bacalan and go up to the Medoc via the small D210 direction Parempuyre to avoid the traffic (passing in front of Bordeaux’s Golf Course).
MARGAUX After the village of Macau the first vineyards and impressive property is that of classified Château Dauzac (part Lurton owned) to the right and just later Château Siran (Cru Bougeois). One of the first properties I ever visited. It is here at Cantenac that we join the D2.
On the left; Château Desmirail (behind the bars) and then Prieuré Lichine one of the first properties to welcome passing tourists in the 80s.
Get ready for impressive Château Palmer on the right (park infront to the left to take photos, owned by a French, Dutch and English family hence the flags). It is worth taking a little detour, turn first right for 300m until you see an avenue of Plain Trees, at the end is the neoclassical first growth Château Margaux, one of Bordeaux’s most famous names.
Back on track you drive through the unimpressive village of Margaux itself. Château Lascombes lies hidden to the left (offers tours and accommodation).
Now we pass through no-man’s land with no more classed growths. The properties here are Haut Médoc, with many Cru Bourgeois. It is the prescence of the all important croups of gravel (brought by the Garonne River from the Pyrennees millions of years ago.
In the village of Arcins is located the Médoc’s most famous restaurant often frequented by wine people of the region, Restaurant ‘Le Lion d’Or’. They have their own ‘casier’ (locker) of their wine. Barbier is the well-known outspoken chef who serves regional produce fresh from the local markets. I have two very funny stories of the plain-talking chef which I must recount one day here.
It is just opposite here to the left that you can find the appellations of Moulis and after Listrac.
It is at the village of Lamarque that if you turn off to the right you arrive at the port where you can take a boat across the Gironde to arrive at Blaye. This is where I arrived all those years ago to see the Médoc for the first time. Château Lamarque was the first château I saw and the first gravelly soil I touched.
If you turn right at Vieux Cussac on the River are the 17th century battlements of the Fort Médoc, built to defend against the English!
Château Lanessan is the gothic property to the left.
On entering the famous village of St Julien there is a famous sign
asking passer-bys to salute the celebrated appellation. St Julien has the largest number of classed growths.
Château Beychevelle on the right (take the turning on the right just after the château for a wonderful view of the back of the château and its beautiful gardens from the Gironde) and fishing huts. Romantic spot.
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou far on the right. I was once stood up here by Eugenie Borie who promised me a tour. Instead he left me in the capable and gracious hands of his Maitre de Chai and a bottle of 1982 Ducru Beaucaillou in compensation.
The D2 now meanders its way through the old estate of Leoville now divided into the three properties that produce the most elegant of wines Leoville-Barton (by Anglo-Irish Antony Barton and his daughter); Leoville Poyferré (on right) and Leoville-Las-Cases (left). All still family owned.
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (now owned by Champagne Roederer) on the right and Pichon Baron ( now owned by AXA insurance company)on the left. Take a right just after Comtesse to go towards the River for a closer look at Château Latour (owned by one of France’s richest men Pinault).
Château Lynch-Bages on left (with hamlet of Bages with its shops and brasserie Café Lavinal).
If you turn right at the round-about you will go along the river-front of this pretty much non-descript town of Pauillac whose name is so well-known around the world. There is a Tourist Office to the right which can point you in the right direction of château visits if you have not already got yourself organised. I here the Hôtel France Angleterre are proactive so worth a stop for a ‘noisette’ (small café with cloud of milk!) to investigate.
On the other side of the town of Pauillac you need to veer off to the left to see Pontet Canet (now organic with horses and all) and opposite Chateau Mouton Rothschild (not much of a château but one of the Medoc’s four 1st growths (the latest and only addition joining in 1973 rather than 1855). Rejoin the D2 and a little later you will find first growth Château Lafite-Rothschild on the left with its lovely gardens.
The exotic looking Château Cos d’Estournel is on your right after some flat marshland. Take the next right alongside the château to continue along the D2 to the village of St Estephe. Calon Segur on the left and then continue along the riverside back towards Pauillac passing in front of Montrose on your left.
And there we are, the magical mystery tour of the Médoc. Not changed in 100s of years.
Most Approachable Châteaux to Visit:
Margaux: Ch Lascombes firstname.lastname@example.org
St Julien: Ch Gruaud Larose email@example.com (take first turning to left in village of St Julien just before the large bottle)
Pauillac: Ch Lynch Bages firstname.lastname@example.org
St Estephe: Cos d’Estournel http://estournel.com/cos/contacts-fr/
Médoc Factual Background:
The History of the Médoc
The Médoc, or Middle country was an isolated forested marshy area devoid of vines until the Middle Ages when vines were planted around the religious priories such as Cantenac and Macau, most of the vineyards were close to the city of Bordeaux. It was not until the 17th century that the Dutch with their skills of draining their own low country or Pays Bas that drained the marsh and enabled the expansion of vineyards in the Médoc.
The Oceanic Climate of the Médoc
The Medoc is sandwiched between two water masses, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gironde Estuary which regulate temperatures making the climate mild and temperate. In addition the region benefits from the warm Gulf Stream from the Caribbean. A pine forest planted by Napoleon III protects the vineyards from winds and storms off the Atlantic. Rain falls mainly in the winter months and otherwise the region is warm with regular sunshine.
The unique sedimentary soils of the Médoc
Some 50 million years ago the Aquitaine basin was part of a large tropical sea. Over time various several layers of sedimentary deposits were laid down over the limestone bedrock of the sea bed to form a peninsular. These are made up of a mixture of gravel of quartz, small rounded pebbles, sandstone, clay and silt brought by the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers from the Pyrenees and the Massif Central. These make up the sub-soils and soils of the Médoc which over time have become eroded over time to form undulating gravel outcrops with perfect natural drainage. The vine’s roots plunge down to the water table for a supply of enough but never too much water.