Lessons in wine: A leisurely stroll through the sublime Medoc region

Paul Hammond
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A rolling Medoc vineyard

Those who love Bordeaux will know that the Left Bank is Cabernet Sauvignon territory while the Right Bank is dominated by Merlot.

My apologies to readers who are loyal to the wines of the Right, but today I want to delve further into the wines of the Left. The likes of Petrus and Cheval Blanc are certainly not to be sniffed at – and needless to say I will be covering these next time around – but the most celebrated is Medoc.

The communes of the Medoc (from top to bottom) are St Estephe, Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux. Even though the distance from St Estephe to Margaux is only around 30km, there are still substantial distinctions between each. So what are we to expect from each?

St Estephe
Home to Cos d’Estournel and Montrose – produces wines that are bold and these are therefore some of the longest-lived wines on the Left Bank. Look out for notes of blackcurrant and cedar.
Perhaps the most famous collection of vineyards in the world, Pauillac contains three of the five First Growths (an elite classification): Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild and Latour. Furthermore, there is an impressive list of other fantastic Chateaux. Similarly to St Estephe, look out for notes of blackcurrant and cedar, perhaps with just a touch more elegance. However, the most famous characteristic of Pauillac is actually pencil shavings; we wine lovers adore pencil shavings. You need to drink these incredible wines to truly understand this.
St Julien
The smallest of the four communes, St Julien is home to some of Bordeaux’s finest, including Ducru Beaucaillou and Leoville Las Case. These wines are elegant and perfumed, typically balancing dark fruits with notes of chocolate and cherry.
This is unsurprisingly where we find Chateau Margaux, another of the First Growths, as well as the much loved Palmer. You may be sensing a theme when I say that these wines are famous for being very perfumed. As we head south through the Medoc, the wines become softer and more delicate; the wines of Margaux are commonly described as being the most “feminine”. Look out for notes of violet and rose petals.
Outside the Medoc we must also not forget Pessac Leognan. Located just south of the city this is home to the last of the First Growths, Haut Brion, along with many other fine Chateaux. These fantastic wines are famous for being earthier then the wines of the Medoc, often with prevalent tobacco notes.

So there you go: we have now taken a leisurely journey through the Medoc. If you prefer a faster pace, there is the annual Marathon du Medoc where participants run a full marathon in fancy dress, stopping at over 20 chateaux for wine, foie gras, cheese, steak and ice cream. What’s not to love?


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