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BEST BUYS OF THE NORTHERN MEDOC

O-f the two generic Médoc appellations, Haut-Médoc and Médoc, the latter has always been at a disadvantage. Consisting essentially of the northern part of the region, it is climatically less favoured than the Haut-Médoc, which stretches from just north of St-Estèphe southwards to the gates of Bordeaux itself. Nonetheless, there are sectors close to the estuary that enjoy the same benefits of a more moderate climate as similarly located estates further to the south.

In the past, the challenge was climatic. The northern Médoc is colder, and although the soils can be perfectly well suited to classic Bordeaux red wine, ripening tends to happen later than it does further south. Especially in vineyards with a high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon, greenness can be an issue.

However, global warming is bringing its mixed blessing to this region as to so many others. Recent hot vintages have benefited the Médoc appellation: ripeness is less of a problem. It remains true that there are many indifferent or dull or tart wines from here, yet there are also some very well-run estates that consistently produce wines of excellent quality, and usually at fair prices.

It has sometimes been pointed out that farming standards are lower in the northern Médoc because most vineyards are machine-harvested. Machines are indeed quite common here, but that does not mean that the wines produced by them are necessarily inferior. The technology behind such machines has improved greatly over the last decade or so, and consequently the grapes processed by machines are handled much more gently, reducing the risk of oxidation.

Nonetheless, many of the leading properties maintain strong links with families of workers that return each year, often from Spain, for

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