No trip to Bergerac is complete without sampling some of the excellent wines grown in the area.
On the edge of the Dordogne river in Bergerac you can find the Maison du Vin. Here you can take the opportunity to find out what makes up the different aromas of wine, you can sample some of the local wines and you can pick up a leaflet with the 'Route des Vins - Pays de Bergerac' in preparation for some more serious wine sampling.
Whilst you are there make sure you take a look round the lovely 12th century cloister which is a part of the Maison du Vin.
In the Bergerac area there are vineyards planted on both sides of the Dordogne river in an area which includes 93 villages. Vineyards on the right bank are generally terraced and the vines grow on sandy, stony and alluvial soils. On the left bank many of the vineyards are planted on the sides of hills on limestone soils. All benefit from the gentler climate that is found close to the river.
All these factors have conspired to produce seven main wine areas in the 'Pays de Bergerac' region all of which benefit from the mild climate and the plentiful sunshine:
Pecharmant wines tend to be the best red wines in the Bergerac area. The soil in this area has an iron-clay layer, called 'Tran' beneath the soil and this gives the Pecharmant wines their individual flavour. Pecharmant wines are blended from Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes. The wines are suitable for laying down and have a strong, elegant aroma.
Monbazillac is the other king of the Bergerac wines, these are extremely well-known and well-respected sweet white wines. The Monbazillac wines are made from Muscadelle, Sauvignon and Muscadelle grapes. AOC Monbazillac is made from grapes picked by hand to make sure only grapes affected by 'noble rot' are harvested. 'Noble rot' was discovered by Benedictine monks who set up a priory in Bergerac in 1080 and began producing wine. 'Noble rot' is Boyrtis cinerea and is the basis of making all the great sweet white wines.
Monbazillac wines have a lovely golden colour and have a boquet of honey, peach and acacia.
Cotes de Bergerac
Red Cotes de Bergerac are rich, deep, full-bodied wines made from a blend of traditional grape varieties. They have a complex boquet of ripe fruit and are suitable for laying down.
There are also Cotes de Bergerac semi-sweet white wines.
Red and Rosé Bergerac wines are made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines. Rosé wines are drunk young and fruity as are the reds though some Bergerac reds can be laid down and mature into a very elegant wine.
Bergerac whites are dry and made from Muscadelle, Sauvignon and Semillon grapes. Fruity when young many age well and develop a full-bodied flavour.
Dry white Montravel wines made from Sauvignon, Semillon and Muscadelle wines are often matured on their lees producing a full-bodied, aromatic wine.
Semi-sweet wines are complex and have a floral perfume.
Montravel have, since 2001, introduced red wines made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec grapes to their selection.
Saussignac is a very individual semi-sweet wine made from a mix of Sauvignon, Semillon, Ondenc, Muscadelle and Chemin.
Local conditions mean that the 'noble rot' develops well here and grapes are left on the vine until their skin changes from pink to black as the fruit shrivells and the flavour concentrates. These shrivelled grapes are then hand picked.
The resulting full-bodied, peachy-tasting wine has a complex and generous bouquet.
AOC Rosette is a semi-sweet wine made from Muscadelle, Sauvignon and Semillon grapes. It is an elegant straw-coloured wine.
Bergerac Maison du Vin
Helpful staff in the Maison du Vin can give you a leaflet with the different wine chateaux in the Bergerac region.
This includes information as to which chateaux speak English and which have particular view points or events as well as their opening hours.
As well as information on the wines and chateaux you can learn a bit about what makes up the different aromas of wine and 'test your nose' when testing different aromas.
Aromas in Wine
These are the fruity aromas such as apple, pear, banana etc. Also flowery aromas such as acacia and honeysuckle and truffle aroma which is reserved for the great wines.
These are derived from yeasts and bacterias and esters (eg. dairy products) and are especially apparent in vin nouveau.
spicy - pepper, cinammon, nutmeg etc
empyreumatic - coffee and cocoa especially during a good year
wood and balsamic - from the barrels
animal - musk, leather etc. Again these are indicators of a good year
chemical - vinegar, rubber. These are found in poor quality wine.
Visiting Wine Chateaux
Most of the wine chateaux in the Bergerac area are open to visits for wine tasting and to buy their wines direct from the chateau. Bergerac tourist office can give you a map with all the chateaux listed and their opening hours.
Some are open for tours of their facilities followed by wine-tasting and these are generally informative and enjoyable. Often there will be a tour in English on at least one day of the week too. Again the guide gives information about languages spoken.
The Chateau de Tiregand offers tours of their vineyard in English on Tuesday and Friday afternoons.