Hanging out (and drinking and eating) in France’s Medoc wine region

Armelle Cruse and Martine Cazeneuve are two women from the famous Médoc wine region of Bordeaux in France who believe that it’s time for Bordeaux’s ancient châteaux and cellar doors be flung wide open to tourists.

Part of a small women’s wine tourism group known as Les Médocaines, Armelle is a born and bred Bordeaux babe. One of five daughters who live in the family’s Château du Taillan (for five generations now) in the Médoc, wine runs deep in Armelle’s blood. At 20, Armelle decided to study oenology so she could take care of the winery and later worked for a few years in various Napa Valley wineries.

“Bordeaux was always kept a secret, but now we think it’s time–not to show everything, but to communicate,” Martine says.

chateau du taillan
Chateau du Taillan

Around 15 years ago, during the grape harvest in the Médoc region, the men said, “Women, you go have fun, we are busy.” And off the women went, cooperating and organizing and bringing together their many skills to produce a range of courses, tours and workshops to engage wine tourists of all ages and interests. 

Today, Les Médocaines offer workshops on blending techniques, wine and cheese pairings, and chance for visitors to step deep into the vineyards for hands-on grape harvesting followed by feasting on the traditional dishes of an outdoor grape harvest luncheon.

Here are seven cool wine facts I picked up during my time with Les Médocaines that you can throw around to impress your friends (or strangers you meet on the Road) the next time you’re hanging out and enjoying a bottle of wine:

1) Starting with the basics: Blending 3 or 4 different types of red grapes (grape types are known as varietals) is the secret to Bordeaux wines. You can balance the acidity of a cabernet grape by blending with merlot grapes, for example.

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Dreamy canelés

2) During the process of filtration of sediment from the wine, before it goes into barrels for aging, egg whites (or egg white powder known as albumine) are introduced and used for the filtration (in some wineries, not all). This is why you will see “contains sulfites” on the label of almost every bottle of wine. All those leftover egg yolks went on to become the base for Bordeaux’s sweet treat specialty (and one of my favorite desserts of all time!), the crunchy, custardy, caramelized wonder that is the canelé (see above photo).

3) To make barrels for aging the wine, French oak is preferred over American oak by many wineries because the grain of American oak imparts a stronger flavor. 

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4) A favorite for summertime sipping, rosé wine is actually just white wine that is tinted pink by leaving red grapes in for a short time during the wine-making process. But you already knew that, right?

5) Every September, the Médoc region holds the wildly entertaining Marathon du Médoc, where participants run, walk or jog their way for 26.2 miles through the region’s gorgeous vineyards. But wait, there’s more: they all do this in over-the-top costumes AND indulge in wine tastings and delectable treats (think oysters, cheeses, duck, sweets) at 23 different châteaux along the route. As you can imagine, it’s not an easy race to stomach…

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6) Although many wineries have switched to plastic corks, real corks are still necessary for those wines that can be kept for 10, 20 or 30 years and need to breathe.

7) Petit verdot grapes are used only for adding color and flavor to the wine. There would never be a wine that is 100% petit verdot.

 

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