Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Medoc sub-region of Bordeaux

On October 8th, I attended a class at Decanter HQ in London led by Decanter Contributing Editor Steven Spurrier and titled Mastering the Medoc and Graves.  In a previous post, I reviewed the class as an event.  In this and subsequent posts, I will report on the regions, the houses, and the wines covered in the course.  I begin the series with a look at the Medoc.

The Medoc is a part of the larger (and storied) Bordeaux wine region which is concentrated around the Gironde estuary and its tributary rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne.  The region owes its winemaking prowess to a number of factors: (i) a temperate climate characterized by humid springs, hot summers, sunny autumns, and relatively mild winters; (ii) the warming influences of the Gironde and the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean; (iii) its soils (quartz and flint pebbles over a subsoil of marl on the left bank and clay, limestone, and some gravel on the right); and (iv) protection from the ocean winds by the Landes pine forest to the southwest.

The Medoc is divided into two sub-appellations, the Medoc to the north and the Haut-Medoc, with the Medoc covering 4700 hectares and the Haut-Medoc 4300.  The Medoc sub-appellation, called Bas Medoc in earlier times, has heavy, moisture-retaining soils which are much more suited to Merlot than the Cabernet Sauvignon which dominates in its neighbor to the south.  Many areas in the Haut Medoc have large deposits of gravel which were washed down from the Pyrenees thousands of years ago.  This gravel provides excellent drainage and ideal conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon which does not like "wet feet."  These gravelly soils also retain warmth and, in so doing, aid in the ripening of the grapes.

The Chateaux in the the Medoc have been ranked since the 1855 World's Fair and that 1855 Classification, as well as the Cru Bourgeois classification, have been covered in a previous post.

Within the Haut-Medoc appellation there are a number of communal appellations which are renowned for producing some of the finest wines in the world.  Beginning with St. Estephe to the south of Medoc, these communes hug the Gironde until ending with Margaux at the fork which heralds the beginning of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.  St. Estephe covers 1200 hectares and its wines are considered to be rustic.  They are tannic, muscular, and long-lasting.  Pauillac is 1100 hectares in size with wines that are considered powerful, yet elegant.  There are 15 classed growths but three Premier Crus (Chateaus Lafite, Latour, and Mouton) in this commune.  St. Julien is the smallest of the communes with 900 hectares and has 10 classed growths.  Its wines age well and combine elegance with austerity.  Margaux covers 1300 hectares and its wines are thought to be the most "perfumed, feminine, and elegant."

I will cover the Graves region in my next post.

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