Named after a small town around fifty kilometres north of Bordeaux, Pauillac AOC has around 1,200 hectares under vine and more than one hundred châteaux dotted across its verdant landscape. Amongst these, a number of properties choose not to produce their own wine and instead sell their harvest to cooperatives. But those that do vinify their grapes, seemingly do it very well! Eighteen of the appellation’s properties are established Cru Classé estates, led by the three principals of Château Latour, Château Lafite-Rothschild and Château Mouton-Rothschild (the latter of which was promoted to Premier Cru status in 1973 in the only change to the original 1855 classification). And there are also a growing number of exceptional, yet unclassified châteaux waiting to be discovered.
Sandwiched between Saint-Julien and Saint-Estèphe, the appellation’s small size belies the diversity of its terroir. Soils of sandy gravel, typical of the Haut-Médoc, dominate most plots, whilst elevation and aspect vary according to a property’s specific location. The pine forests to the west provide many of the vineyards with shelter from cool winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean and help create a favourable microclimate for grape cultivation. The best estates - those located on gentle, quick-draining slopes close to the Gironde estuary - have elevations up to thirty metres and experience fractionally warmer temperatures than those elsewhere in the appellation.
Not surprisingly for a left bank appellation, the dominant grape variety here is Cabernet Sauvignon, accounting for at least 70% of most Pauillac wines, and invariably blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and occasionally with small amounts of other permissible grapes, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère. The exact proportion of each grape, coupled with subtle differences in terroir between plots and the individual vinification preferences of the wine-maker, afford the Grand Vins of each estate their own character and uniqueness … although it might still be said that there is a distinct Pauillac style that is discernible to the connoisseur. Full in body, decadently rich and complex, the appellation’s wines are the epitome of what Cabernet-led Claret should be.