The Outer Limits: The Dordogne before Bordeaux

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The Dordogne River is well known as one of the three main waterways that flow through and handily divide the Bordeaux AOC into the areas of the Right Bank, Left Bank, and Entre-Deux-Mers. However, Bordeaux is only part of the story of the Dordogne River.

The sources of the Dordogne is found almost in the center of France—it’s just a bit too far south to call it the true center. In the mountains of the Massif Central, two small streams—the Dore and the Dogne—arise on the side of Puy de Sancy (Mount of the Cross), which at 6,184 feet (1,885 m) high is the highest mountain in the range. After a bit of meandering around, these two streams flow together and form the Dordogne River.

The upper valley of the Dordogne River is a series of deep gorges, cliffs, and lakes. The river then flows through the neighboring countryside, occasionally meeting small towns such as Lanobre (where you can visit the Château de Val [not a wine-producing Château but a well-preserved Gothic Castle]) and Bort-les-Orgues, where you can view the “Les Orgues” volcanic rock formation—which stretches over half a mile and resembles a series of 300 foot-high organ pipes, the result of cracks formed in cooling, prehistoric lava flows.

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About 50 miles later the river flows through the city of Argentat, a lovely town where medieval houses line the streets along the river. From Argentat, the river twists and turns for about another 100 miles, and just before the town of Lalinde, the Dordogne flows into the Bergerac/Cotes de Bergerac AOC.

The Bergerac AOC produces red, white, and rosé wines. Bergerac reds and rosés center on Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Merlot; also allowing for small amounts of Fer Servadou and Mérille. White wines are based on Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Muscadelle; varying small amounts of Ugni Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Ondenc are also allowed. The Cotes de Bergerac AOC occupies the same area as the Bergerac AOC, and produces the same range of wines but with stricter standards for yield and must weight at harvest. The Cotes de Bergerac AOC also allows for a sweet white wine; whites in the Bergerac AOC must be dry.

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Tucked into the Bergerac AOC, and surrounding the actual town of Bergerac (and its famous statue of Cyrano), we find the Pécharmant AOC. The Pécharmant AOC produces dry red wines only, based on Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec. Pécharmant is required to contain at least three varieties, and no one variety can exceed 65% of the blend.

Following the river just to the west of the Pécharmant AOC, we find two wine regions: Rosette to the north of the river, and Monbazillac to the south—both produce off-dry and sweet white wines. Rosette AOC must contain 2.5%–5.1% residual sugar and is a blend of at least two of the following grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, and Muscadelle.

The Monbazillac AOC is famous for its sweet white wines that are often touted as something of a less expensive “version” of Sauternes. The grapes of the Monbazillac AOC include the principal varieties Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, and Muscadelle; other allowed varieties include Chenin Blanc, Ondenc, and Ugni Blanc. There are few restrictions on the content of the blend, provided that at least 80% of the contents consist of the principal varieties. Monbazillac blanc must contain at least 4.5% residual sugar, and the most famous wine of the appellation—Monbazillac Sélection de Grains Nobles—must contain at least 8.5% residual sugar. Grapes used in Monbazillac AOC wines must be selectively hand-harvested and may be affected by botrytis, but this is not required.  While in Monbazillac, be sure and visit the Château Monbazillac which is a historic castle, a modern winery, and a contemporary arts center!

Map of the Dordogne River by Boerkevitz, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the Dordogne River by Boerkevitz, via Wikimedia Commons

To the north of the Dordogne, about 15 miles west of the Rosette AOC (and onward through the surrounding Bergerac AOC), we find the Montravel AOC. The Montravel AOC produces both red and white wines that closely mirror the wines of nearby Bordeaux. White wines are based on a minimum of 25% Sémillon plus a minimum of 25% (combined) Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris; other allowed varieties include Muscadelle and Ondenc. The Haut-Montravel AOC produces sweet white wines (minimum 8.5% residual sugar) from the same blend. Red Montravel AOC is based on a required minimum of 50% Merlot and must include at least one other grape variety; allowed red grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec.

For about 15 miles, the Dordogne River forms the border between the wine regions of Bergerac and Montravel (on the north bank of the river) and Saint-Foy-de-Bordeaux (on the south bank). Just past Saint-Foy-de-Bordeaux, the Dordogne dips inside the Bordeaux AOC and creates the boundary line between Bordeaux’s Right Bank and Entre-Deux-Mers. Somewhere between the AOCs of Fronsac and Margaux, the Dordogne River joins the Garonne and together, as the Gironde Estuary, they make their way into the Atlantic Ocean.

Map credit: Cyril555, via Wikimedia Commons

Map credit: Cyril555, via Wikimedia Commons

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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