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Description to Médoc AOC
The wine-growing area is part of the French region of Bordeaux; the name means "middle land". It lies northwest of the city of Bordeaux on the triangular peninsula between the Gironde estuary formed by the confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers and the Atlantic Ocean. The strip, about 70 kilometres long and 5 to 12 kilometres wide, is dominated by vineyards and interrupted by pastures, scrubland and polders (floodplains). The area is divided into two regional appellations (Bas-Médoc and Haut-Médoc) and six communal appellations within Haut-Medoc, with around 16,000 hectares of vines. Médoc is probably the most famous appellation in the Bordelais and also one of the most important and best red wine regions in France and the world.
Viticulture came to this area relatively late. In the 17th century, under the guidance of Dutch dam and hydraulic engineering specialists, the coasts were straightened, swampy ground areas drained and streams regulated. This is why the area was called "La Petite Hollande" for a long time. Since there was no viticulture in the area at that time, the Dutch bought wines from the "Bordeaux hinterland", which was known as Haut-Pays and the wines from there as "Vin de Haut" or in Dutch "Hooglansche Wijn". Later, many vineyards were planted or small areas were acquired and combined to form larger estates, including by the famous Ségur family. Médoc has particularly good conditions for winegrowing. These are the mild climate, the very poor and deep gravel soil in many places, which forces the vines to drive their roots deep into the ground, and the good water drainage in the soil. Despite the close proximity to the Atlantic, the climate is not humid, as the many pine forests provide excellent protection against winds and rain from the west.
Médoc is divided into the northern area Bas-Médoc (usually somewhat confusingly referred to as Médoc because it does not refer to the entire area) with 5,600 hectares and the southern area Haut-Médoc with 4,600 hectares of vines (the sizes refer to the two appellations without the six communes listed below). The border runs at Saint-Seurin-de-Cadourne, north of the commune of Saint-Estèphe. Haut-Médoc begins at the southern commune corner of Blanquefort, which forms the northern border with the Graves area. Both areas are also entitled to their own appellation. They are distinguished by quite different soil types. In Haut-Médoc, the gravelly soil means that the wines can be classified somewhat higher and have more race and finesse. The six famous communes of Margaux, Moulis, Listrac-Médoc, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe and Saint-Julien form their own appellations within Haut-Médoc.
The wines from the other communes bear the origin "Haut-Médoc", the wines from Bas-Médoc simply "Médoc" or rarely "Bas-Médoc". They are made from the typical grape varieties in the Bordeaux blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon tending to dominate in Haut-Médoc and Merlot in Bas-Médoc. The grape variety mix differs, however, mainly by whether one is on the rive droite (right bank) or rive gauche (left bank) of the Garonne/Dordogne or Gironde. The less important white wines are mainly made from Sauvignon Blanc. Typical of the Médoc are the numerous magnificent châteaux, which also deserve this designation (as "château") from an architectural point of view. However, this is not a sign of quality, because there are also wineries with very simple buildings where great wines are produced.
In 1855, the famous Bordeaux classification took place (the reason or the process is described there). Out of a total of 4,000 châteaux or red wines, only 61 (that is the number from today's point of view, see then below) were deemed worthy of inclusion. With the sole exception of Château Haut-Brion from the Graves region, only Châteaux from the Médoc are included. The official presentation took place with great pomp on 18 April 1855. The Châteaux were grouped into five classes. Within these five classes, the wines were ranked in descending order based on their average price. Château Lafite-Rothschild was at the top of the list.
The order of the châteaux at that time is shown in the table below. Today, the class is rather rarely included on the bottle label, but often only the text "Grand Cru Classé en 1855" is given. The lesser-known Deuxièmes, however, very often indicate their status in order to be renowned. Even Baron Philippe de Rothschild did not miss the opportunity in 1973 to document the elevation of Château Mouton-Rothschild to the first rank with the famous quote "Premier je suis, Second je fus, Mouton ne change" (First I am, Second I was, Mouton does not change) on the label designed by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Especially the châteaux classified "only" as fourth and fifth crus usually omit this quite deliberately so as not to make their "low" rank too obvious.
Surprisingly, there have only been two changes to the list of châteaux published in April 1855. The well-known one is the reclassification of Château Mouton-Rothschild. After decades of struggle by Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988), it was reclassified from second to first rank. Incidentally, the official document was signed by the then Minister of Agriculture, Jacques Chirac (born 1932), who later became French President. Furthermore, it was decided that the naming of the now five Premier Crus does not represent a ranking, but is done according to the alphabet. However, with one exception: Château Haut-Brion is the only non-Médoc wine estate that is always named last. The lesser-known change is that of the presumably "forgotten" Château Cantemerle. This estate was not even included on the list published in April and was only subsequently added at the end in December.
Compared to 1855, however, there have been other changes, some of them considerable, at many wine estates to date. Most of the châteaux have changed considerably in the course of time, both in terms of their vineyards and their size. In some cases, there has been quite extensive growth. In contrast to the classification in Saint-Émilion, for example, the boundaries of the Médoc wine estates can change without this having any influence on the classification or ranking. The only requirement is that the land must be within the appellation. What counts here is the reputation of the winery and not the quality of the site or vineyard. The name of the winery is regarded as an unchanging quality feature and trademark, so to speak. However, this continuity actually applies to most châteaux.
There is sometimes confusion about the number of "61 classified châteaux", because in the original list from 1855 there are only 59 names. The reason for the difference is property divisions and the abandonment of an estate. The former Chateau Léoville had already been divided into three in 1826, but was assessed as one estate. The two Châteaux Pichon-Longueville and Batailley were only divided into two after 1855, so they are only included once each. And Château Dubignon no longer exists, the vineyards moved to Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry, Château Margaux and Château Palmer. There were also some name changes. Only two of the wineries classified in 1855 are still owned by the same family as back then, these are Château Langoa-Barton and Château Mouton-Rothschild. Today, the 61 châteaux cover around 3,000 hectares of vineyards with about 20% of the Médoc production. The five Premier Cru Classé estates are "National Heritage" and may not be sold to foreigners; any purchaser must be French. In the column "R" the order in the original list and under "Name 1855" the names at that time:
The term "Super-Seconds" is used to describe those Deuxièmes-Châteaux that are close to or at Premier Cru level due to their outstanding wine qualities. With a new classification, these would end up right at the top. Experts argue about the list, but the following are often mentioned: Cos-d'Estournel, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Gruaud-Larose, Léoville-Las-Cases, Montrose, Pichon-Longueville Comtesse, Pichon-Longueville Baron and Rauzan-Ségla. Many experts also think that the Cinquième-Châteaux (5th) Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Lynch-Bages, as well as the Troisième-Château (3rd) Palmer would deserve 2nd place. See a list of different classification systems under the keyword Grand Cru. The EU-wide classification system is described under the keyword Quality System.