The appellation boundaries were laid down in the 1930s encircling a village or villages to make up an ‘appellation’. A wine producer recently told me that more often then not a circle was drawn around the village church!
It is true that often you find very similar looking ‘terroir’ just over the border of famous names such as St Julien or Margaux and the wine bearing the less sexy name of Haut Medoc can only sell for 15€ (instead of 60€ if not more). SIP TIP They cannot put on their label that they are just next to Margaux or St Julien…but you can always see the name of the village on the label of where it has been bottled (and can check where it is close to to identify a look-alike-wine).
This obviously has its limitations in terms of what they can afford to do in terms of production such as picking by hand. The price is kept low as there are many of them and they don’t have the brand status of their Grand Cru Classé” neighbours (there are infact 6 classified Haut Médoc châteaux in the 1855 classification – Cantemerle, La Lagune, Camensac, Belgrave, La Tour Carnet, Agassac) and so are more interchangeable by the consumer.
The Haut Médoc is a long thin appellation stretching 60km from Bordeaux up to just above St Estephe and encircles the famous six village appellations of Margaux, Listrac, Moulis (two lesser known areas that are also great sources of value wine today), St Julien, Pauillac and St Estephe.
Key Facts of the Haut Medoc: 5000 ha (like St Emilion): 400 chateaux (only 250 produce wine independently from the cooperatives), 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, rest is Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec (Cot)
Many are Cru Bourgeois which is a classification carried out each year and set the men apart from the boys. Look out for its hologram which guarantees quality and value for money!
Here are some of my favorite Look Alike Wines from the Haut Medoc…
Château Cambon La Pelouse – Look Alike Margaux As you drive along the D2 just past Macau on your left, you can see the vineyards of Jean-Pierre Marie. They look like their neighbour’s Château Giscours but sell for around 15€ to 20€ a bottle. He ages his wine in oak barrels (usually already used for year already), he does leaf pulling just like the big boys next door. But on his label despite being ‘a stone’s throw away’ it says Haut Medoc and not Margaux. It makes all the difference to the price but, to me, not to the taste! Delicious elegant wine but with power too and structure.
Château Paloumey – Look Alike Margaux
This is also a great property and the owner Martine Cazeneuve who built everything up from zero has other wonderful properties such as La Garricq in Moulis (another good source of value wines today) and La Bessanne a stunning Margaux wine with exceptional levels of Petit Verdot (the rising star in the Southern Medoc).
Château Camensac – Look Alike St Julien This is a new discovery for me and is just a few metres from the border of St Julien just along from 2ieme Grand Cru Classé St Julien Château Gruaud Larose. It is classified apparently and produces wonderful creamy wines full of blackberry pure fruit aromas and around 30€ the bottle (2011).
Château Sociando Mallet – Look Alike St Estephe or even Pauillac… One of my favorites situated on the gravel banks leading down to the majestic Gironde Estuary just to the north of the village of St Estephe itself. It is easy to find. Just drive along the Estuary and keep it tight to your right. It is a beautiful setting with beautiful views of the estuary. The wine is majestic too with lots of Cabernet Sauvignon in its blend naturally as the gravel you see here looks like the gravel you see at Château Latour and its siuation is similar too being so close to the edge of the Estuary. The wines are rich and ripe and warm benefitting from this sunny location. Aged in new oak they are structured wines full of blackcurrant fruit and spice.
The blend Jean Gautreau named after the charismatic pioneer of this property is my favorite and not much more expensive than the chateau wine. Around 35€ a bottle. The second wine le Demoiselle (named after the electric blue dragon-flies of the estuary and surrounds is lighter and earlier drinking.
Here are some more of my other favorites great value wines (not just Haut Medoc but some of the best value wines from the communal appellations too);
MARGAUX look/taste-a-likes: the silky *Château d’Agassac (though this is closer to Ludon village just before Margaux starts) and the wonderful *Château Cambon la Pelouse Look out for the other Margaux village names on the label (Soussans, Macau, Labarde, Arsac, Cantanac and Margaux itself) which will tell you that they are located close to the Margaux appellation. (As an aside here are a couple of Margaux Appellation Value for money wines;*Château Angludet lies just outside of the village of Cantanac (off the D2). It is not classified. *Château Ferriere, Margaux. Despite being classified represents good value)
ST JULIEN look/taste-a-likes:*Château Beaumont (run by a big insurance company but still good and *Château Lanessan. (Bouteiller family with woman winemaker Paz Espero) Look out for the village name of Cussac Fort Médoc on the label which will tell you that it is located close to the St Julien appellation. (As an aside, here are a couple of examples of good value wines from the St Julien Appellation;*Château Moulin Riche made with the same attention to detail as classified Léoville Poyférré and Château Gloria.*Château Branaire Ducru and St Pierre despite being classified often represents good value)
PAUILLAC look/taste-a-likes: Château Cissac. I would be interested to taste Haut Medoc wines from St Saveur such as Peyrabon, La Fleur Haut Carras, Fontesteau, La Fon du Berger Look out for the village names of St Saveur and Cissac on the label which will tell you that the wine is located close to the Pauillac appellation. (As an aside, biodynamic *Château Pontet Canet. despite being classified represents good value for its pure wines)
ST ESTEPHE look/taste-a-likes: *Château Sociando Mallet and Château Loudenne. Look out for the village names of St Seurin and Vertheuil on the label which will tell you that the wine is located close to the St Estephe appellation. (As an aside, here are a couple of examples of good value wines from the St Estephe Appellation; Château Haut Marbuzet sandwiched in between the giants of Montrose and Cos d’Estournel, the Dubosq family continue to offer great value silky wines on the same terroir) and *Château Phelan Segur. Château Lafon-Rochet despite being classified often represents good value)
For other areas of great value Bordeaux wine in similar unfashionable areas.
What is an appellation? This is a geographically defined area and permits those vineyards within it to put the name of the appellation such as Margaux or St Emilion on their label. As long as they abide by the rules of the appellation which includes which grape varieties can be planted, density of vines per hectare and figures that change each year such as yield per hectare and alcohol level mostly linked with the vineyard. The idea is to produce a typical wine (there are also appellations for cheese (Roquefort, Comté, Camembert) and meats (milk-fed lamb – agneau de Pauillac).
The AOC labelling is in effect a guarantee of the combination of a native quality, a specific product and the savoir-faire of mankind. It has now changed its name to AOP – Appellation d’Origine Protégée, i.e. a‘protected label of origin’.