The Beautiful Castle & Delicious Wines of Monbazillac
“The wine from Monbazillac is powerful, cordial, dynamic and euphoric ; it brings cheerfulness to men and youth to old people.” This is how Armand Got, poet from the 19th century, was describing the local sweet white wine.
Monbazillac is a small village in the southwest of France, an hour and 1/2 away from Bordeaux, and near the town of Bergerac. Its wine is always white and sweet (called “liquoreux” in French), and can only be produced in the village of Monbazillac and in four surrounding towns, all on the southern bank of the Dordogne river.
-The southwest of France is one of the best places in the country when it comes to dessert wine. Sauternes and Barsac are the well-known Bordeaux appellations and represent the standard of that type of wine. However, the region of Bergerac with Saussignac and Monbazillac is home to wonderful bottles as well. Monbazillac is actually considered one of the best “liquoreux” in France. Closer to Spain, near the Pyrénées mountains, Jurançon and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh are remarkable appellations. The Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng grapes generate fresh wines with fabulous aromatic expressions.-
A Monbazillac is similar to a Sauternes (with a little less width) and made from the same grapes, Sauvignon, Sémillon and Muscadelle. Nevertheless, there is usually a higher proportion of Muscadelle (a very aromatic variety) in a Monbazillac, which leads to slight differences.
For the most part, the vines grow on clay/limestone soils and are planted on north-facing hills. This is unusual in a region where most vines face the south. That way, those vines face the river and are exposed to the morning fogs and mist during the fall. This humidity, combined with sunny afternoons, is perfect for the development of the “noble rot” (a fungus that affects grapes positively: it intensifies the sweetness level, adds complexity and degrades acids.)
Plenty of vine-growers in the region work extremely well and produce fine wines thanks to that detail-oriented approach. No mechanical harvesting and reduced yields improved the overall quality dramatically over the last 20 years.
Monbazillac is a special place to me as it is a 30-minute drive from my hometown. I spent quite some time there over the years and am still amazed by the beautiful castle that stands on top of the hill.
A mix of Medieval and Renaissance architecture, an astonishing view and beautiful wine cellars, that’s how I would describe Château de Monbazillac.
A local legend says that a LONG time ago, a dragon named “la Gratusse” lived near the river and was terrorizing the people of that area. In order to kill it, Saint Front (the local bishop) tamed the dragon by making it drink a lot of Monbazillac wine. After that, he was able to kill it with his sword.
“Liquoreux” wines from good vintages and produced by talented winemakers are ageless. They are, without question, the bottles that last the longest in a cellar (with proper storage conditions). Over time, the color of a Monbazillac will get darker and evolve from a gold yellow to an amber/orange red color.
Here are three bottles from my family’s cellar:
Food Pairing Tip: If you visit France, you MUST try a Monbazillac with “foie gras”, the southwest specialty. It is also very common to open a bottle for “l’apéritif”. If not, this wine will pair extremely well with a blue cheese and strong cheese in general, water melon, chocolate desserts and crème brûlée.
As a final word, Monbazillac is a beautiful place with excellent wine and deserves anyone’s attention. It is also a very old vineyard (around 1000 years old). Unfortunately, sweet white wines don’t sell very well these past few years and some estates do struggle because of that. However, when you realize how much work and courage it takes to produce a high quality Monbazillac (a lot of patience, late and long lasting harvest, climatic accidents, long fermentations etc…) a glass of that golden wine is even more enjoyable. More than any other wine, a great “liquoreux” is a testament to a vine-grower’s hard work and to a vintage’s identity.
Historically, Monbazillac wines were never really exported too much and are relatively unknown in the USA… which is why you should try them!