Wine Regions » Bordeaux

The most famous wine-growing region in the world certainly comes with a hearty dosing of prestige & pride of place.  Bordeaux’ 60 appellations span over 8,500 hectares, producing over 700 million bottles. No mean feat by any stretch of the statistical imagination.

It is actually the Romans we have to thank:  vines were initially planted for thirsty soldiers & trade subsequently flourished our side of the channel in the midde-ages.  Dutch traders drained the wetlands around Gironde Estuary in the 17th Century & so matters grew.  It is the very presence of this estuary, along with its 2 tributary rivers the Garonne & Dordogne, that built & define the region.  First it gives an obvious trade advantage, but secondly they make for climate & soil variances that makes each appellation what it is; throw in countless smaller tributaries & a proximity to the Atlantic & you begin to understand why Bordeaux has something special.

Red wine is dominant, with 89% of all wines being red or ‘claret’ as we affectionately call them.  There are, however, notable white, rosé & cremant (sparkling wine) made in the region; special mention must, of course go to the sweet wines of Sauternes & Barsac which deserve recognition in their own right.  Red wines are generally a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc & petit verdot, with glimpses of Malbec in some appellations.  White are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris & Muscadelle.

The grapes varieties are, as with much of French Wine, controlled within the region: only specific grapes are allowed in AOC (Appellation Origine Contrôlée) produce.  AOC verification was a product of the phylloxera crisis in the late 18th Century where a vast amount of vines were wiped out.  As it’s a native American insect,  their native (& resilient) vines had to be brought over & grafted into French rootstock.

The area is known for being heavily classified as it is:  Napoleon was the perpetrator of classification by inviting brokers & traders to create a chart of the wines according to how much they cost.  The resulting classification of Left Bank wines for the 1855 Grande Exposition in Paris still holds true today, save for one alteration. There have also been classifications introduced on the neighbouring Right Bank much more recently, the latest version conducted in 2012.  The five first growths are Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Haut Brion, Latour & Mouton Rothshchild (promoted from Second in 1973), alongside Chateau d’Yquem in Sauternes.

Broadly speaking Bordeaux can be divided into 5 main areas:  Right Bank, Left Bank, Entre Deux Mers (inbetween the rivers), Cotes de Bordeaux & Sauternes & Barsac.  Each of these areas contain a wealth of appellations, perhaps the most significant being Medoc, Graves St-Estephe, Pauillac, Margaux & Pessac-Léognan on the Right Bank; St Emilion, Pomerol & Fronsac of the Left Bank & Sauternes of it’s eponymous area.  Climate & soil hold the key to the variance from appellation to appellation.  Bordeaux’ maritime climate caused by being close to the sea, alongside its estuary, 2 rivers & many tributaries make for interesting climactic & subterranean difference that create subtle (& not so subtle!) nuances in the wines.  The gravel brought along by the 2 rivers (from the Massif Centrale & Pyrenees respectively), coupled with the natural limestone/clay caused by being close to the sea make for ideal grape-growing conditions.  Quite right for what are repeatedly recognised as the world’s top wines.


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