Shopping for French wines can be a little cryptic. The wine labels often have regions instead of grapes on them, making it hard to figure out what wine style you’re buying. If you have a label with ‘Medoc’ on it, here’s what that means.
Medoc wine is a red wine from the Bordeaux region of France. You’ll taste light red and black fruit – cherry, black currant, raspberry, plum – as well as subtle mint, and possible hints of chocolate, mocha, and coffee. The wines are blends made primarily from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Medoc wines are affordable everyday drinkers. These wines are bottled ready to open now and shouldn’t be cellared.
Here’s what you need to know.
Where Is the Medoc?
The Medoc is a wine-producing region in Bordeaux. You’ll often see Medoc (pronounced May-dock) or Haut-Médoc (pronounce OH-may-dock – meaning “Upper Medoc”) on Bordeaux wine labels.
In France, the Medoc sits on a strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gironde estuary.
Arguably one of the most prestigious winegrowing regions in France, the Medoc is part of Bordeaux’s famed Left Bank, an area of land that’s about 50 miles long, north to south with a storied tradition of winemaking that goes back centuries.
Médoc is home to Bordeaux’s most famous red wine district. Médoc covers wines made outside of the more prestigious village and comun-level and lies to the north of the region. Historically, the region was called Bas-Médoc (English: Low-Médoc) because it sits at a lower elevation.
Where Is the Haut-Medoc?
The Haut-Médoc lies further south, covering growing areas that sit at a higher elevation, but still outside of the more famous growing communes and villages.
Both the Médoc and Haut-Médoc are subregions of Bordeaux.
The soils are a mix of clay and stone.
This means that some vineyard lands have well-draining soils with stones that radiate heat back up at the vines.
Others have cooler clay soils that help with water retention but could delay fruit ripening in cold or wet years.
Depending on where the vineyards sit, they will have varying degrees of protection from maritime storms off the Atlantic Ocean.
This protection influences growing challenges, like issues with fungal disease if it’s a wet growing season.
The Haut-Médoc includes the uber-famous communes of Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, and Margaux. Wines made in these four communes will always carry the name of the commune.
But, this is Bordeaux, and the Haut-Medoc is full of vineyards that aren’t just in the famed communes.
Vineyards outside of the communes will have Haut-Médoc on the label. While these wines use the same grapes as their more famous neighbors – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc – and similar winemaking traditions, they won’t have the same intensity of flavor or robust structure of the commune wines.
Helpful Tip: Go check out this post on Cabernet Franc if you are curious about this famous Bordeaux grape.
What Grapes Grow in the Medoc and Haut-Medoc?
Merlot dominates plantings in both of these regions because it does better with cool, clay-based soils. Cabernet Sauvignon, also widely planted, and Cabernet Franc can struggle to ripen in cooler years.
Growers may have smaller plantings of Petit Verdot and Malbec.
Where Do Grapes for Medoc Wines Come From?
Medoc wines come from vineyards that sit closer to the Atlantic Ocean. Medoc vineyards aren’t as protected from maritime storms and can struggle to ripen during cool years.
The wines may have more bitter or green qualities compared to their Haut-Medoc cousins grown further south and along the Gironde Estuary where light reflects off the water and back onto the vines helping with ripening, and where there’s more protection from westerly storms off of the Atlantic from the Llandes pine forest.
What Do Medoc Wines Taste Like?
Because Medoc wines will be a red wine blended from 3 classic Bordeaux grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, you’ll get a mix of fruits typical of these classic Bordeaux grapes.
- Black fruit – black plum, blackberry or bramble, black cherry and currant
- Red fruit – red cherry, raspberry, and plum.
- The wines will have noticeable tannins
- Possible oak influence – toast, chocolate, or mocha
The winemaker will decide the percentage of each grape that will go into the blend. The blend is likely to change slightly each year depending on the growing season that year.
Which Is Better: Medoc or Haut-Medoc?
Haut-Medoc lies further south with greater protection from Atlantic storms. Wines from both regions will be Merlot-based, but Haut-Medoc wines generally enjoy riper fruit qualities than their Medoc neighbors to the north.
That said, in warmer years (vintages), even those vineyards in less-desirable sites will produce riper grapes.
This translates into flavor fruit, smoother tannins, a fuller body, and higher alcohol – everything we love about luscious wines.
Tip: Check out this useful post on how to use a wine vintage chart for premium wine regions, like Bordeaux. Wine vintage charts can help you find delicious, affordable Bordeaux wines from good growing years.
Even the grapes from the marginal growing sites but from great years are likely to make very good wines worthy of your attention!
If you’re new to Bordeaux wines, Medoc wines are generally more affordable than wines.
Vineyards in the Haut-Medoc benefit from a better overall growing climate that will produce richer wines.
In good vintages, look for Haut-Medoc wines that will give you good quality for price.
Why Are Medoc Wines and Haut-Medoc Wines Less Expensive than Other Bordeauxs?
The Medoc as a whole is home to some of the world’s priciest wines – bottles that can reach astronomical sums and cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
Luxury wines come from select communes and famous vineyard sites.
Winegrowers and vineyard owners spend incredible sums to cultivate the very finest grapes destined for these iconic bottles.
Margaux or Lafite, anyone?
Grapes from the Medoc and Haut-Medoc don’t go into super-premium wines.
Because winegrowers know that they aren’t going to get top dollar for their grapes, they don’t put in the same amount of care as they would for grapes that will go into icon wines.
This translates into lower per-bottle costs for you, the normal wine drinker.
What does less attention to grape growing look like in practice?
Vineyard workers make fewer passes through the vineyard to prune less-desirable grape clusters during the growing season.
Viticulture is often mechanized outside of the communes. This means that when the grapes are harvested, some under-ripe grapes will make it into your wine Medoc and Haut-Medoc wines.
Underripe grapes aren’t a bad thing necessarily, but the resulting wines will have a lighter body, and the wine’s flavors and aromas will be more restrained.
Some wine lovers will be able to pick out those green or harsh qualities and be off-put by them in cooler vintages.
How Long to Age Medoc Wines?
Haut-Médoc and Médoc wines go through aging and cellaring at the winery. A good rule of thumb: These wines are not intended for lengthy aging. They don’t have the flavor intensity to last decades in the bottle.
Haut-Médoc and Médoc wines make an ideal choice for affordable everyday drinkers.
Bordeaux wines have always been food wines, so picking up a bottle of Haut-Médoc or Médoc wine for your Friday or Saturday night dinner is a no-brainer.
What to Pair with Medoc Wines?
Red Bordeaux wines are usually a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.
These grapes give you crunchy red and black cherry, black currant, raspberry, violet, and minty herbal notes. Your wine will likely see some time on oak or oak chips, so expect hints of chocolate, mocha, smoke, or coffee.
Knowing this, pair your Haut-Médoc and Médoc wines with robust dishes – grilled meats and vegetables, red sauces (spaghetti night?), hard cheeses, or hearty stews.
Stay away from spicey foods that will accentuate the bitter qualities in Haut-Médoc and Médoc wines.
This isn’t a wine to pair with Chinese take-out, chili Thai, or curry. Save that for Riesling.
Medoc Wine Serving Temperature