Bordeaux, France 2014
There is no better way to breathe in the wonder that is Bordeaux and its various regions than to stay in one of its chateaux.
So my holiday this year in Bordeaux began the best way possible: a quiet stay in Fronsac,40 km from Bordeaux town, at Chateau de La Dauphine. Its sprawling grounds complete with long driveway, weeping willows, picturesque pond and acres of vineyards were offset by its historic interiors, a terrasse and swimming pool. A paradise surrounded by vines bursting with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. For harvest was just around the corner. And the weather was holding out.
First: a spot of history. Chateau de La Dauphine is named after Princess Maria-Josepha of Saxony, the Dauphine of France, wife of Louis, Dauphin of France and mother of the last kings of France including Louis XVI, who spent time at the château soon after it was built. One of the largest estates in the Libourne region which consists of Saint-Emilion, Fronsac and Pomerol, today Dauphine is owned by Guillaume Halley, whose father Jean “fell in love” with the chateau the first time he saw it and bought it in 2000 from its previous owners, who also owned Chateau Petrus. It embodied to Halley the best of the region, with its dominance of Merlot in true Saint-Emilion tradition, balanced with Cabernet Franc. Here was a wine for all seasons, something to drink every day and with every meal.
The Dauphine estate consist of 40 hectares, and they practise organic viticulture. The winery itself is thoroughly modern, with 26 concrete tanks and 16 stainless-steel tanks of 50hl which allows each individual vineyard to be vinified separately prior to blending. It also has a 600 barrel cellar.
The estate makes two wines under the guidance of famous winemaker Michel Rolland;
their first, Chateau de La Dauphine, from 30 plus-year-old vines, is a blend of Merlot (90%) and Cabernet Franc (10%). Walking around the vineyards on a sunny day a week or so prior to harvesting, the Merlot were plump and sweet on the vine, speaking of a good vintage to come, Mother Nature permitting. (Things got a little harder with unseasonal downpours a couple of days later.) The second wine, Delphis de La Dauphine, is made from vines grown on 5 and a half hectares, and 30,000 bottles of this is made annually. Both are matured in oak for 12 months, and Dauphine uses new corks for its wines, with a special membrane to guard against TCA and flavour modification.
Here, we tasted the wines not at the usual winery tasting room, but with a four course lunch at the chateau. After wine and canapés on the terrasse, we moved indoors into the lovely sunny dining room. Lunch was a gourmet affair. We started out with wild salmon smoked with herbs, artichoke salad and wasabi mousse paired with the Delphis 2012, followed by a rack of lamb from Quercy with vegetables, with the Chateau de la Dauphine 2009 and 2011. The 2009 is known the great or ‘mythical’ vintage by the chateaux in the region, and the essence was certainly in this wine too: full of opulent fruit, with ageing potential up to 15 years. The 2011 is elegant and fine, eminently drinkable already. We finished with Guanaja chocolate cake, caramel fudge and vanilla followed by a much-needed shot of espresso. It was all absolutely delicious and quite memorable.
In fact, for those looking to experience a special meal, away from the obvious, the chateau organises by prior booking lunches, dinner, picnics brunches on the sprawling terrace or by the pool, gala dinners, conferences and cocktails – with a professional chef from Bordeaux in charge, conceptualizing menus on request. For larger events, like wine-centric picnics on the grounds, there are top-drawer caterers on tap. Certainly, the chef-conceptualized meal we had in that elegant dining room was gold standard. Understanding the wines we were drinking in the company of the Chateau’s manager Bernard Lamaud was an added bonus. Earlier that morning, he had driven us up to the very top of Dauphine’s amphitheatre-style vineyards, and from the splendid vantage point, we could see the chateau and its grounds, with the vineyards crowded with grapes ripe for the picking. Fronsac is a short hop from the charming town of Saint-Emilion, itself worthy of a visit.
If a leisurely lunch or dinner is not possible, I would recommend a 2-hour tasting along with a tour of the chateau and winery. If there is time, lunch with a tasting and tour would be the best possible way to appreciate the place. The 17th century chateau is steeped in history, and little has been altered. From the antique door frames, to the 18th century golden banisters, the coat of arms of the original owner, to details of the visit of the dauphine who brought the estate its fame and fortune – it’s all there for the telling. The five luxurious and perfectly appointed residential rooms are designed to meld the best of history with modern amenities, but are however reserved for chateau guests.
With the ‘normal’ chateau tours and visits getting fairly mainstream these days, customized visits including a curated dose of 350 years of history, wine tasting and a gourmet lunch is quite the dernier cri. And with its natural gorgeous surroundings, Chateau de La Dauphine has a natural advantage. In a landscape of beautiful historic chateaux, it already has stood out to the extent of winning a Best of Wine Tourism gold award in 2014 in the Bordeaux region.
Chateau de La Dauphine
10 Rue Poitevine, 33126 Fronsac, France
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