St. Estephe, Pauillac, St. Julien and Margaux. These are perhaps the four most famous of the Bordeaux appellations and they all share two common characteristics – they only produce red wines and they are all located in the Haut Medoc on the left bank of the Gironde River.
While there are certainly great wines produced in other areas of Bordeaux, one could argue that it is these four that are most indicative of how we think about the region. Each are part of the original 1855 Classification. Instigated by Napoleon III, the 1855 Classification was meant as a quality ranking based on reputation and price for the wines being produced in the Gironde. Four of the five Premier Crus or First Growth estates came from the Medoc (the exception being Chateau Haut Brion from Graves, which is to the south of the village of Bordeaux). These First Growths are the signature wines of France and some of the most sought after and long-lived wines in the world. Odds are you will recognize them even if you haven’t had the wonderful opportunity to sip them! Here they are :
- Chateau Lafite Rothschild of Pauillac
- Chateau Mouton Rothschild of Pauillac
- Chateau Latour of Pauillac
- Chateau Margaux of Margaux
- Chateau Haut-Brion of Graves
There are many incredible wines made in this region. In order to capture all the quality wines of the Medoc a new classification was introduced in 1932 to recognize them – Cru Bourgeois. There are approximately 240 of these estates designated annually. So what we have is a system for understanding all of the wines coming out of this area relative to each other and many of them are affordable and drinkable every day wines. See my post on Burgers and Bordeaux for some tasty examples.
To me the main thing to know and remember about the Medoc is that it is the definitive use and style Cabernet Sauvignon based and blended wines to which the world aspired. This region is responsible for the intensity of focus that California winemakers put on Cabernet. To be taken seriously on the world wine stage they had to compete with the Medoc. And compete successfully they did, creating a fruit forward bolder style that captured the taste preferences of the world – but that’s for another post. The fact is that the Medoc set the standard.
The wines for his area use the “noble grapes” of Bordeaux. Rarely is there a single varietal wine, rather the wines are blends made from at least two of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. They are often wines that need a bit of age in the bottle to round out the tannins and let the flavors come together. If you are a California Cab drinker then you will likely find them a bit leaner and tannic when younger, but let me tell you, these are great food wines.
I find their attention to terroir and devotion to blending to be their artistry. So seek out some of the wines of the Medoc and sip the essence of French wines.
2012 Chateau Greysac Medoc Cru Bourgeois $20
2012 Larose Trintaudon Haut Medoc $20
2012 Blason d’Issan Margaux $25
2012 Chateau d’Armailhac Pauillac $50
2012 La Dame de Montrose Saint Estephe $35
2012 Chateau Talbot Saint Julien $55
2012 Chateau Rauzan Segla Margaux $70
2013 Chateau Pontet Canet Pauillac $100
2000 Chateau Latour Pauillac $1,000 – if you have one of these call me!!!