Located around twenty-five kilometres north of Bordeaux city, the geographic confines of the appellation include the five wine-making communes of Arsac, Cantenac, Labarde, Soussans and the village from which the AOC takes its name. Margaux itself is by far the richest of these villages in terms of its concentration of Cru Classé properties, boasting almost half of the entire appellation’s count (ten) and including the internationally acclaimed first growth Château Margaux as well as a number of other notable estates. Amongst these, the third growth Château Palmer - named for the retired British Major General who brought the property in the nineteenth century, is perhaps the most consistently highly regarded.
Unlike neighbouring Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe and Saint-Julien, in Margaux, the vineyards of each Château are not contiguous and clearly defined, rather each estate’s vine parcels are scattered in patchwork fashion amongst those of their rivals, limiting the effects of subtle terroir changes between plots and putting the emphasis on the individual wine-maker to create something unique and distinct from the other producers.
The temperate maritime climate of the region affords Margaux plenty of sunshine hours in the growing season, cooler night-time temperatures and unpredictable localised rainfall which can be heavy at times. To the east of the appellation, the Landes forest protects much of Margaux’s viticultural land from the cool Atlantic breeze, whilst the close proximity of the Gironde helps to moderate temperatures and reduce frost risk in the winter months. Given these conditions, the grapes here tend to ripen a little earlier than those in other left bank AOCs and certainly before the fruits of the cooler north bank appellations. Loose soils of gravel on a bed of limestone, often with larger stones and pebbles, force the vines to dig deep for nutrients and thus, the diversity of the deeper soils - the subtle nuances unseen at the surface - are reflected in the wines of the various châteaux.
The red Bordeaux blend of Margaux is permitted to contain any proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère, although most Margaux wines are dominated by the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, which performs well in the appellation’s quick-draining, gravel-rich soils. It is most frequently blended with Merlot for its softness and complexity, and with smaller amounts of the supporting varieties to enhance particular characteristics in the finished wine. The Grand Vins of Margaux are, by comparison with the powerful blends of Pauillac, light and delicate, with a complex aromatic profile and alluring appeal. The best vintages from the top châteaux will continue to improve in the bottle for thirty years or more.