The plateau of the Medoc is criss-crossed by countless small valleys, which not only provide a pleasing change in the landscape but also ensure excellent drainage. This all provides excellent ground on which to grow vines. The ground is so poor that the vines have to struggle to gain their nutrients and water but this improves the quality of the grapes produced. It is therefore not surprising that the most famous wine in France originates from this soil. The climate is fairly mild, influenced by the favourable position on the 45th line of latitude, the presence of the Atlantic Ocean, and the waters of the Gironde, Garonne, and Dordogne. This means that the vineyards receive sufficient warmth, sunlight, and moisture. The vines are reasonably protected from spring frosts and against fungal infections by the westerly winds. Although this situation in principal is ideal for wine-growing, this does not guarantee constant quality and quantity of the harvest. No great wines will be made in years with cool, wet summers. The fickleness of the Medoc's climate is part of the excitement for lovers of French wine.
Actually all the grape varieties here originate from the ancient Biticura (Biture, Vidure) according to the well-informed specialists ofthe Conseil des Vins du Medoc, which were brought to the area by the Romans. All present-day varieties in the Medoc are derived from this origin. Names such as Cabernet, Malbec, and Verdot first appeared in the eighteenth century and Merlot a century later. What is surprising is the almost total disappearance of an exceptionally interesting variety of grape: the Carmeniere, which was the foundation on which the Medoc's success and quality was founded. You will only find this variety in the Medoc after a long search and then only in tiny quantities. The French wines produced from these grapes is of outstanding quality. The yield though is so low in comparison with the other Medoc grapes that growers have switched in large numbers to the Cabernet Pranc, which is a genetic offspring of the Carmeniere. The Cabernet Pranc though is not a Medoc grape by origin, coming as it does from the western Loire where it is locally known as Breton.
The Cabernet Sauvignon is the real discovery of the Medoc. No other type of vine has been as widely exported as the Cabernet Sauvignon. It is to be found in South Africa, California, Australia, in the Balkans, Spain, Italy, and Greece. People were so convinced by the quality (and probably also the price) of Bordeaux wines that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were planted in the hope that imitation Bordeaux wines could soon be produced that could be sold at lower prices. This did not succeed though because although the variety of grape is important, the terroir is also important. And the terroir is less easily imported or imitated.
In addition to the Cabernet Sauvignon, which provides the French wine with its backbone and fruity aromas, there are Merlot (which matures more quickly and makes French wine accessible sooner by mellowing the Cabernet Sauvignon) Cabernet Pranc (superb bouquet) , Petit Verdot (colour, power, and body) , and Malbec (tannin, colour, finesse, and aromas).