An Exclusive Guide to the Best Wineries and Restaurants in France’s Médoc
Above image: Château Saint Ahon
Last September, it really did seem as though we were on track to be returning in early 2022 to our regular schedule of travel, both domestic and foreign. But the curiously named Omicron (it sounds like it could be a NASA robot pilot program) variant of the coronavirus clearly had other plans. Indeed, millions of people went ahead and flew anyway over the holiday season, and we now have record numbers of infections – so the correlation is not difficult to discern, surely.
Still, there are reasons to believe that this coming spring will bring a genuine breakthrough, with the severity of the virus having become significantly diminished. And we generally find that making travel plans just makes us feel better – especially if it involves a destination not yet visited.
The Médoc region of Bordeaux (just four-plus hours from Paris by car or train) has long been on our wish list, with its ethereal vineyards, complex wines, charming small towns like Pauillac and Artiges, seven kilometers of beaches, and strikingly preserved sense of history. Its most popular grape is the cabernet sauvignon, and the varietals it produces include merlot, petit verdot, malbec, cabernet franc, carménère and, of course, the cab.
To show how seriously they take their wine there, the classification Crus Bourgeois du Médoc has since 1932 been representing a select group of Left Bank Bordeaux red wines that are terroir-driven, and mostly priced at $35 or under. In 2020 it was changed from a yearly classification to a five year classification. For travelers not familiar with the region, the list is something of the ideal guide to doing a Médoc wine tour without breaking the bank.
It’s actually a perfect destination for those seeking a truly epicurean adventure, but who are yet wary of big city crowds. And so as Franck Bijon was just elected President of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc last June, BlackBook asked him to choose his must-visit restaurants and wineries in the region.
Chef Philippe Vilet cultivates lifestyle and simplicity. In the center of Margaux village, La Savoie offers elevated regional delicacies and a seasonal menu. With bourgeois style decoration, it opens out into a heated or air-conditioned veranda. The cellar is definitely worth the visit: 170 wines including 35 classified growths.
Le Lion d’Or (chef réputé)
A small restaurant located in the town of Arcins, Chef Michaël Lemonnier has been welcoming gourmands to Le Lion d’Or‘s tables for more than ten years now. Honoring the French cuisine and the local terroir that the previous owner had maintained for more than thirty years, his menu offers creative takes on French classics like filet de canette a l’orange, and ris de veau with crème a la truffes.
La Maison du Douanier
A restaurant with a great terrace and stunning 180 degree views over the estuary of the Gironde to the park through its large windows. With tables arranged around the fireplace, the dining room of La Maison du Douanier is adorned with the rich colors that being to mind fall and winter. In a warm and casual atmosphere, indulge in dishes like veloute de potimarron and epaule de cochon confite.
In the center of the village of Bages, the Café Lavinal opened in 2006 and owes its name to Berthe Lavinal, grandmother of owner Jean-Michel Cazes. The ambiance is warm and friendly, with amazing objects brought back by Cazes from his travels and other souvenirs of his grandchildren’s summers in Bages. The bistro serves a simple, traditional and tasty market-inspired menu made from regional produce. There’s a sunny terrace, and the wine list offers over 220 varieties from Bordeaux and elsewhere.
Château d’Arsac – AOC Margaux – Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel
Château d’Arsac is open to artistic creation – every year since 1992, the estate has acquired a work of art signed by a major contemporary artist. Over time, the château has built an impressive collection known as the “Jardin des Sculptures.” At Arsac, vines and art are intrinsically linked, lending the estate its original, exclusive personality, and making it one of the most visited sites in the Médoc.
Château Saint Ahon – AOC Haut-Médoc – Cru Bourgeois
If you are looking for a castle near Bordeaux to get away from the city and enjoy a little corner of nature and calm,
Château Saint Ahon is most definitely it. A fun and educational route around the property enables visitors to discover and learn about wine, before taking a break in the magnificent wooded park. You can even say hello to Mirabelle the donkey, mascot of the property.
Château de la Croix – AOC Médoc – Cru Bourgeois
Located in Ordonnac, Château de la Croix is a family property, about one hour from Bordeaux and twenty minutes from the magnificent beaches of the Atlantic coast, so summer is an ideal time to visit. Participate in wine and yoga workshops in the middle of the vineyards.
Château Castéra – AOC Médoc – Cru Bourgeois Supérieur
At Saint-Germain-d’Esteuil’s Château Castéra, the history of Bordeaux plays an important role within the property. Étienne de La Boétie, the famous humanist adviser to the Parliament of Bordeaux, was a friend of Michel de Montaigne, whose brother Thomas was also owner of the château. You can easily navigate the castle, with its history in mind, as you are able to participate in a game in which you will have to escape from the castle tower.
Château la Cardonne – AOC Médoc – Cru Bourgeois
The locals refer to the extraordinary underground cellar as the “Cathedral.” Hidden ten meters beneath the vines, the ceiling unfolds like a succession of waves symbolizing the passage of time, and a natural spring water river runs through its heart. With little temperature variation, and perfect humidity, it ages no less than two million bottles, that slowly appreciate the benefits of time. All the vintages at Château la Cardonne remain underground for the time necessary to soften their tannins, and develop their aromas.
Château d’Agassac – AOC Haut-Médoc – Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel
This property near Bordeaux was built in the 18th century and has the look of what one might refer to as a “fairy-tale princess castle.” Surrounded by a moat, with four towers and nestled in a green park, Château d’Agassac is obviously one of the Instagrammable sights in the region.