Most wine fans identify Left Bank Bordeaux with either the Haut Medoc and its communes of Pauillac, Margaux, Saint Estephe and Saint Julien, or Graves and Pessac-Leognan. The Medoc, the area at the top of the Bordeaux region, often gets relegated to second class citizen. You will inevitably hear that the Medoc is too marshy or cool to make fine wines. But in a warm year the Medoc can make some outstanding wines at a great value. 2003 was such a year.
2003 was a historic year in France and much of Europe but for all the wrong reasons. This was the summer of heat. Stories appeared about people suffering with lack of air conditioning. Grape vines shut down for a period - which happens in extreme heat - and when they woke up made very small yields of what some people say was overripe fruit. But winemakers with vines were in a traditionally cooler area like the Medoc, had an advantage. Vines here produced sweet, exotic fruit. Alcohol was high, but careful winemakers were able to produce wines with restraint. These are not wines to cellar for years, but they are drinking quite well now.
I had the opportunity to taste a number of Medoc AC wines over the past few weeks and one producer that stood out was Chateau Preuillac. Preuillac is a Cru Bourgeois rated chateau with a style that is definitely fuller and fleshier than many of its fellow Left Bank Bordeaux producers. Preuillac uses more Merlot than many other chateau in its wine blends and it is the dominance of this often maligned grape that gives these wines their richness and plummy spice cake characters. There is still substantial Cabernet Sauvignon in the Preuillac blend which adds structure by providing backbone acidity and tannin, as well as black currant and cedar-like spice. The combination of the two grapes (often with a small amount of Cabernet Franc and/or Petit Verdot) creates a richly textured wine with great flavor.
Chateau Preuillac got the balance just right in 2003 and the result is an exotic, lush wine that still has the restraint of its old world origin. The wine is great with any type of meaty foods and would likely be ideal for hearty vegetarian cuisine. But what makes Medoc AC in general such a good by is its price. Some of the best wines, including Preuillac, can be purchased for under $25. Although that is still pricey, it is far less than more famous Bordeauxs. So if you are a fan of rich, but not over the top reds check out the Medoc and the 2003 vintage. This region and this year are often overlooked, but that is a major missed opportunity.