Big Bordeaux: Château tastings in Médoc

Médoc was the second region we explored on the Bordeaux wine adventure.

Map of Médoc / Bordeaux wine regions

While Saint-Émilion is quaint, Médoc is high brow.

First of all, they have very strict classifications.   You might say, well, Saint Émilion and Burgundy also have classifications.  Well, in Médoc, when the classifications were set in 1855, they have only made one exception.   So, they are very rigidly based on the land.  It doesn’t account for changes to the land, to the owner, or to the wine-maker.

It was set back in 1855 by Exposition Universelle de Paris and was the idea of Napolean III to show off all things France.  He wanted to show superiority of Bordeaux wines, thus upping the great exhibitions of England.

The designations are :

Premier Cru / 1st

Deuxièmes Crus / 2nd

Troisièmes Crus / 3rd

Quatrièmes Crus / 4th

Cinquièmes Crus /5th

In addition to strict designations, most Médoc wineries are in châteaus, castles.   Just driving around in Médoc, this is the type of winery you see:

Typical landscape in Médoc

Middle Eastern flair

Just a little ole winery

Rothchild estate

We happened to start our Médoc at Château Gruaud-Larose, a deuxieme cru (2nd).

Château # 1 – Gruaud-Larose

The grounds

View from the bell tower.

Tempted to ring the bell

Beautiful wood tanks

Spotless and immense concrete tanks

Lines of barrels in the old basement

Old world racking technique

Unlike Saint-Émilion,some of the Médoc have two types of wine.  They call it first and second label.   The first retails for higher. The second makes use of the wine from vines not deemed to be qualified for the first label…maybe younger, or a specific plot not included for some reason.  That way, they can still keep the first label quality and price up, while still using the marketing benefit of their name on a less expensive bottle.

Our tasting. These bottles retail for about 100 euros and 80 euros each. We didn’t buy any.

When we were tasting, our guide mentioned that she recently had a Russian client who bought a 1200 euro bottle, just to taste.   I would guess she was pretty disappointed she got us that day.

After a charming lunch in Bages, we headed on to our second château, Château Pontet-Canet.  This one is a cinquieme (5th) but is such renowned quality and technique, it prices for higher than deuxieme / 2nd.   It doesn’t make any sense and is a fault of the current classification system.

The most interesting thing here was that they were organic & biodynamic.  As such, they had stopped using tractors and other heavy equipment, and had gone back to the technique of horses.    They had created special carts that allowed weeds to be picked out of the vineyards by horse-drawn cart:

Horses hard at work

Taking a break.

I thought that was really neat.   Just like our first chateau, this one boasted immaculate facilities:

Concrete tanks

They called this terrace, “The Ocean of Vines”

Cellars at Château Pontet-Canet

The “library” of old vintages

Our tasting. We had the 2007 which was 68 euro a bottle. The 2008 jumps to 130 and keeps climbing. Didn’t buy here either!

It was really nice to see this famous wine region.   It is unlike any I have ever visited.  Too bad our budget keeps us from actually purchasing the good Bordeaux stuff!

Related Links:

The Wine Doctor:  Bordeaux Classifications

The Swiss Watch Blog: Adventures in Bourgogne Wine

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Getting Intimate with the vines in St Émilion


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