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Médoc Wine Region, Médoc

France's insider take:

Rent a car and head north of the city into the Médoc, home of Château Latour Martillac (Chemin de La Tour; 33-5-57-97-71-11;, Margaux (33-5-57-88-83-83;, Lafite-Rothschild (20 Rue du Rajol; 33-5-65-59-26-83;, and Mouton-Rothschild (33-5-56-73-21-29;, among other celebrated, if less rarefied, domains. It's possible to visit all four, but generally only through an appointment made at least a week or two in advance and, with occasional exceptions, only on weekdays.

One vine may look much like another (those producing the greatest wines are in sight of the Gironde estuary), but it's a diverting drive nonetheless. And the châteaux you pass on the D2 are magnificent: Margaux with its grand Ionic portico; Pichon Longueville with its candle-snuffer turrets (Pauillac; 33-5-56-73-17-17;; Palmer with its fancy ironwork roof, above which flutter the French, Dutch, and United Kingdom flags to reflect the nationalities of its owners (Cantenac; 33-5-57-88-72-72;; Cos d'Estournel, a fantastical faux-Indian palace with pagoda-style turrets hanging with bells (Saint-Estèphe; 33-5-56-73-15-50;

Of course, names like these have no need to flirt with tourists or prostitute themselves by selling from the gate, but there's nothing to stop you gawking from the roadside. And there is a definite pleasure at mentally ticking off the names of the domains you recognize and bottles you have drained. Have lunch at one of the many scruffy riverfront restaurants overlooking Pauillac, the Médoc's principal town, whose whole raison d'être is the wine trade.

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I went to visit Chateu-Margaux this autumn with my wife and her parents. It seems they are not very used to receive visitors, but if you make an appointment there is... more