Médoc is one of the wine-making areas of the Bordeaux Vineyard.
It stretches for 80kms from Saint-Vivien de Médoc to Blanquefort.
Médoc is a region of gentle undulated hills.
The valleys are at right angle with the river and easily drain any excess water.
The Atlantic Ocean and Gironde Estuary act as a thermal screen that produces a hot, sunny and airy micro-climate.
The soils consist of limestone and gravelly.
All these conditions prove to be perfect for the growing of vines.
The ‘Roman Pagus Medulorum’ or ‘in medio acquae’ (Middle Territory – in the midst of the waters) remained for centuries a region of moorlands, marshy meadows and forests.
Development of the Medoc vineyard
The monks planted the first vineyards.
During the 16th century the local aristocraty and wealthy merchants from Bordeaux drained the marshlands in order to create large estates.
A century later the Bordeaux judiciary purchased the old seigneuries (lords’ estates) and developed the vineyards.
New wine making techniques, better selection of vines, better understanding of the narrow connection between soil and plant quality and new techniques of wine preservation were also developed.
By the end of the 18th century all the Médoc vineyards were therefore established; winegrowers fully mastered the concept of Château and Grand Cru.
However, the whole region was replanted with the American graft-stock and by 1880 the Medoc Vineyard had recovered!
Decline and revival of the vineyard
However, the crisis of 1930, then WWII and the severe frosts of 1956 once more took their toll.
This critical situation motivated the winegrowers to launch an energetic revival programme.
This proved highly successful, as the Medoc Vineyard today spreads over 4900 hectares!
New wine making techniques, a careful selection of grapes, targeted timing for harvesting, blending of the selected grapes varieties, storage in oak barrels and adequate bottling produce high quality wines.
Medoc wines are exclusively red produced from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
All these grapes varieties derived from the Biturica imported by the Romans during the first century AD.
The early ripened Merlot brings softness, elegance and a fruity spicy touch to the wine.
It is harvested before the Cabernet Sauvignon, which adds a medium colour and delicate bouquet with balanced tannins.
The late ripened Verdot adds body and more colour.
Malbec and Carmenère are also used, however, on a much smaller scale.
Medoc wines have a higher level of tannin when young.
They then develop their aromas of oak, red fruits, spices and vanilla when maturing.
The vines are grown on the ridges of gravel, pebbles, sand and clay created by the erosion of the Garonne and its tributaries.
Roots sometimes have to burrow 50m deep into the soil to find water!
The gravels store the heat during the day and restore it slowly during the night.
It therefore protects the grapes from the morning spring frosts and cryptogamic diseases.
The wine-growers take advantage of this peculiarity; they indeed prune the vines quite low in order to protect the grapes.
The great vintages always occur after hot and dry summers.
Medoc wines classification
Medoc wines include 12 AOC-AOP:
A tour of the vineyard
Here are a few vineyards and sites of interest in the Medoc region:
Haut Medoc wines are produced in the southern part of Médoc.
They have a garnet colour with violet hues.
They are elegant, dense wines with firm but well integrated tannins and balanced aromas of black fruits, then cocoa beans and vanilla notes.
They evolve as they age and become rounder, however, retain their elegance and wide array of aromas.
They should be served at 16C° with red meat.
The Horse Museum was set up in the 19th century neo-Tudor Château Lanessan, which is considered one of France’s finest.
Listrac-Médoc wines have a rich ruby colour with purple hues; they are powerful, yet round and delicate, wine with fine tannins and aromas of wood and red fruits.
They are at their best after 5 years and some vintages keep 15 years.
They should be served at 16C° with red meat.
Medoc wines are produced in the north of the peninsula.
These powerful wines have deep tannins and aromas of red fruits, cocoa beans, spices and licorice and a rich garnet colour.
They can easily keep 10 years and should be served at 16C° with red meat.
The 600ha Moulis vineyard produces superb wines that include many Crus Bourgeois.
These elegant, round and powerful wines have fine tannins and a lovely dark ruby colour with purple hues and aromas of black fruits, wood, vanilla and licorice.
They should be served at 16C° with meat.
Margaux has been one of the most celebrated Medoc wines for two centuries.
This splendid red wine is produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France, Merlot and Petit Verdot as they thrive on gravely soil.
Margaux has a garnet colour with violet hues; it’s a smooth, harmonious and delicate yet powerful wine, with deep and delicate tannins and aromas of red fruits.
Some wine-amateurs compare it to an “iron fist in a velvet glove”.
It keeps extremely well; the great vintages keep over 50 years without loosing any of their qualities.
It should be served at 16C° with gourmet cuisine.
Château Margaux is one the most prestigious Premier Grand Cru Classé; the 19th century château and the wine cellars are open to the public.
Pauillac are produced in traditional wine-growers villages.
They are among the much celebrated Medoc wines – Mouton-Rothschild, Lafite-Rothschild and Latour.
Pauillac have a rich ruby colour with purple or red hues.
They are fine, complex and powerful wines with elegant and constant tannins and have aromas of red and black fruits that evolve into spices, licorice, vanilla and wood.
These aromatic qualities develop to perfection with age.
Pauillac indeed keep a very long time and should be served at 16C° with gourmet cuisine (foie gras, truffles.)
Château Lafite-Rothschild has been property of the Rothschild family since 1868.
Lafite comes from the Gascon la Hite, an evolution of the Latin Petra Ficta meaning carved stone.
The caves of the Premier Grand Cru Classé Mouton-Rothschild are open to the public.
The 16th century interior decoration of the château is entirely dedicated to wine.
Saint-Estèphe, another celebrated Medoc wine, is also produced in traditional wine-growers villages.
The Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon thrive on the gravely and limestone soil of this area and produce superb mineral wines.
Saint-Estèphe wines are dark ruby with purple and sometime dark violet hues.
They have aromas of red and black fruits that evolve in spices and licorice.
These dense and incisive wines with fine and intense tannins keep over 30 years.
They should be served at 16C° with game.
Saint-Julien is another wine of exceptional quality, a powerful, dense, round and delicate wine with an intense ruby colour.
It has complex and delicate aromas of red and black fruits that evolve into cocoa and floral notes.
It has a perfect balance power-roundness; it should be served at 16C° with gourmet cuisine.
The great vintages keep at least 30 years!
A few sites of interest
The Medoc region offers also some tourist sites worth discovering such as:
Musée des Arts et Métiers de la Vigne et du Vin in the Château Maucaillou
1- You might also want to visit the Romanesque Church of Saint-Saturnin in Moulis-en-Médoc and the Abbaye St-Pierre in Vertheuil.
2- Château Beychevelle produces one of the Saint-Julien star wines and boasts commanding views on the Gironde.
Its name evolved from an old tradition; the ships entering the estuary indeed had to lower their sails as a salute.
The property, originally owned by an admiral, was named after this ritual Baisse voile – lower sail, which evolved into Beychevelle.
3-Marshal Vauban built three forts in 1689 in order to prevent the English from entering the Gironde estuary and reaching Bordeaux.
Fort Médoc is located on the Médoc side, and Fort Paté stands guard on an island in the middle of the Gironde.
The citadel of Blaye protects the north bank of the estuary.
Medoc is not only about wine!