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Château Cordeillan-Bages
Route des Châteaux
33250 Pauillac, France
+33 (0)5 56 59 24 24

Château Envy
Educating Wine Lovers on a Historic Estate

By Rubin Carson

Manor house turned château

While every corner of France calls itself "the envy of the world," that boast is justified at Château Cordeillan-Bages in the heart of Médoc wine country. This marvelous place is reached by driving from Bordeaux through the vast expanse of vineyards known as the Route des Châteaux. Around each bend, a legend beckons… Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Latour, Talbot, St. Julien. Before Pauillac, turn in through a well-marked gate and park in front of the 17th-century country house surrounded by flowers and vines. Friendly smiles will welcome you.

Château Cordeillan-Bages is not a château at all, but a manor house. It sits in the middle of a five-acre vineyard outside of Pauillac, on the southern side of the Bages plateau. The main part of the structure was built in the 17th century, and cellars were added soon afterwards. After a series of invasions, revolutions, wars and more wars, the estate was abandoned and subdivided. In 1985, the Cazes family purchased the property and replanted the vineyards. Today, this unique refuge is an acclaimed restaurant, hotel, winery that produces 1,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot per year, and the site of L'Ecole du Bordeaux, a prestigious wine school where great wine growths are discussed as they sprout around you.

There are no grandiose walk-in fireplaces or armoires big enough to store a platoon of medieval archers and bows. Instead, the 25 spacious guestrooms and one junior suite are comfortably minimalist, with soft colors, large beds, full bathrooms, mini-bars, and flat-panel TVs. The primary decoration, though, is the view from the large windows: the Pauillac vineyards whose meticulous rows of vines seem placed there by some divine mathematician.

Modern accommodations
Gardens adorn the estate

The main dining room projects the same elegant austerity as the rest of the hotel, plus an even more striking view of the vineyard. Chef Thierry Marx has presided in the kitchen since 1996, following extensive stints at leading hotels in Sydney and Singapore. Previously, he garnered medals for accomplishments at some of the great bastions of cuisine like Taillevent and Alain Chapel. His menu reflects a mixture of classic French and contemporary influences, and concentrates on local seasonal products. The presentation is spectacular.

The starter of pan-fried foie gras swimming in port and surrounded by glazed peaches brings out the essence of France's national delicacy. The Médoc is duck country; ergo, its ambrosia-like liver should not be missed. The region is also famous for lamb, and Chef Marx cooks the succulent chops three different ways. Dessert is refreshing, and the wine list endless, but all dishes go perfectly with the Cordeillan-Bages Merlot and Cabernet. A breakfast buffet is served in the glass-enclosed winter garden and outside in the summer. The pièce de resistance of the buffet is the centerpiece of an entire smoked ham leg, which the diner is urged to slice himself. It speaks to the Neanderthal in every breakfast lover.

The Médoc provides many attractions, including forests, lakes, beaches, golf courses and museums. But the on-property L'Ecole du Bordeaux is paradise for winemaker wannabes. In a superb setting you can learn all you need to know about the great Bordeaux vintages. Guest lecturers include world-class celebrities who reveal their tasting techniques and impart solid information about wine culture. Not only will you learn to taste and appreciate wine, your mental health will be restored. Next time that snooty waiter hands you a Moroccan leather-bound wine list, you can intimidate him right back with the knowledge you acquired at this little manor in France.

Going to France? Check our guide.

*Photos from Cordeillan-Bages website

(Updated: 04/29/08 MG)

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