This article is part of our wine region series, a series aimed at highlighting notorious wine growing regions such as Haut Medoc in Bordeaux, France. Haut-Medoc (AOC) is known for producing some of France’s finest and most expensive wines, but what makes this area of Bordeaux so special? It has a lot to do with terroir and tradition. Two of my favorite wine ‘T’ words.
Where is Haut Médoc in France?
Haut Medoc is sandwiched between the city of Bordeaux herself and the northern Medoc AOC in southwestern France. Comprising much of the Medocaine peninsula, Haut Medoc spans close to 60 kilometers along the Left Bank of the river Gironde.
When we talk about Bordeaux, we hear left bank and right bank thrown around a lot. For me, the most crucial thing to remember is the dominant variety used in the majority of wines produced on either side. The Left Bank typically creates Cabernet Sauvignon dominant red wines, while the Right Bank tends to craft Merlot dominant red wines.
Grape Varieties and Terroir in Haut Medoc
Haut Medoc in its entirety holds some of the most famous French appellations and estates. AOCs include Margaux, Pauillac, St. Estephe and St. Julien. Within these areas, you’ll find some of the most well known Chateau’s in the world. From Chateau Margaux, Lafite and Latour, to Montrose, Cos d’Estournel and Mouton, just to name a few.
These appellations contain a special, very Cabernet Sauvignon friendly terroir. Haut Medoc is located for the most part, in the middle of the Medocaine peninsula. Here the dunes along the coastline are naturally higher. These dunes help to insulate the AOC and protect it from cold winds and other harsh elements – favorable for Cabernet Sauvignon. Compounded with this, the Haut Medoc AOC contains vast amounts of glacially deposited gravel. This gravel runs deep and drains very well, further enhancing the growth of the Cabernet vines.
The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which are some of the most sought after in the world, are simultaneously enriched with luscious mineral notes that can only found in the Haut-Medoc.
Hundreds of years of wine making tradition through some of the most esteemed winemaking families in the world yield gorgeous wines that can often be pricy. Though I’ve been able to find amazing value previously with Bordeaux wines.
Grape Varieties Grown in Haut-Medoc in Addition to Cabernet Sauvignon
- Merlot: Most commonly blended at a lower concentration with Cabernet Sauvignon in Haut-Medoc, Merlot can be grown with relative ease and is sometimes used to provide a finer, or softer feel to red wine blends in the region.
- Cabernet Franc: Cabernet Franc is a lighter but well structured grape variety. It can tolerate periodic cool climates in Bordeaux well. Cabernet Franc is commonly blended in very small concentrations to lighten a blend while adding subtle spice or raspberry and violet-esque nuances.
- Malbec: Spicy, inky and backed by black, red and blue fruit forward notes – Malbec is an approved Bordeaux grape variety that is often utilized in relatively small concentrations in an effort to accentuate both color and spicy complexities in Bordeaux red blends.
- Petit Verdot: Less prevalent throughout Bordeaux these days, Petit Verdot is used sparingly for its desirable tannin structure, color and dark fruit flavors in Haut-Medoc. Winemakers here limit its concentration as too much will really coarsen and “rust” a wine.
Note that the finest wines produced in the Haut Medoc region can be aged extensively if the above grape varieties are well blended. There are a number of ideal vintages in this particular region. 2010, 2009 and 2005 are without a doubt some of the best vintages in recent years, though 2012 and 2000 aren’t too shabby either. Keep in mind that when purchasing an Haut Medoc Bordeaux blend, you should try to avoid wines older than 30 years unless they were placed and rotated meticulously in a temperature controlled cellar.
Take a look at the craftwork that goes into making a wine in Haut Medoc at Chateau Mouton in this video.