Bordeaux wine region
The most famous wine region in the world, Bordeaux is found in France’s southwest, surrounding the historic city of the same name. The name derives from the French
au bord de l’eau
(“beside the waters”), referring to the Gironde estuary and its tributaries the Garonne and the Dordogne, which run through the heart of the region.
The climate so close to the Atlantic is decidedly maritime, with plenty of rain that can fall at any time of year, making vintages very variable. Great strides have been made in overcoming the vagaries of the vintage, especially by the most famous châteaux who now have second and third wines that they can declassify part of the crop into, to preserve the quality of the Grand Vin. Lesser names are more dependent on the weather.
Despite that, wines from this region are often rated as the best in the world, and have long been held as a benchmark style for the rest of the world to copy. Bordeaux is the original home of Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps the most famous black grape of them all, but almost all Bordeaux is a blend. Merlot is the actually the most-planted variety with over half of the vineyard area, while Cabernet Franc has almost as many vines as its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon. The remaining three permitted varieties – Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenère – account for less than 1% of the vineyards.
It is on the left bank of the Gironde and Garonne that Cabernet Sauvignon rules, although seldom are wines made from 100% Cabernet. The left bank is divided in two by the city of Bordeaux itself. To the north, along the Gironde, lies the Médoc and its five famous villages St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Julien, Margaux and Cantenac. To the south lies the Graves, whose most northerly and best section was renamed Pessac-Léognan in the Eighties. This is where winemaking in Bordeaux began, when the Médoc was just a marsh.
The Médoc was the subject of the famous 1855 Classification, which divided properties into First to Fifth Growths based on the prices they fetched in Paris. The Graves were not included apart from the famous Ch. Haut-Brion, which was made a First Growth along with Chx. Lafite, Latour, and Margaux of the Médoc. Ch. Mouton-Rothschild was elevated to join them in the Seventies – the only change that has ever been made. While the 1855 Classification is still remarkably pertinent today, there are many quality wines on the left bank which did not make the grade more than a century and a half ago. These are referred to as Cru Bourgeois and can be particularly good value.
On the right bank, east of the Gironde and north of the Dordogne, the clay soils make Merlot a more suitable grape to grow than Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Franc is its usual blending partner. The most famous appellations are St-Emilion and Pomerol, but there are dozens of others including Côtes de Blaye, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, Bourg, and Fronsac. These can be excellent value, and are often more approachable than the austere, slow-maturing left-bank wines.
Bordeaux is also the region of Sauternes, another world-class, benchmark style of wine. Made from one or more of the three white grapes Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, which have been concentrated by botrytis (“noble rot”), they make heady, perfumed sweet wines.
Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are also used to produce dry white Bordeaux. Most of this is fresh and easy-drinking, but a few châteaux, especially in Pessac-Léognan, produce a much richer, oak-aged version that can age very well. The fresh, unoaked style used to be the speciality of the region between the rivers Garonne and Dordogne called, appropriately, Entre-Deux-Mers. Some is still produced but much of the land has now been given over to reds.
Decanting Club wines from: Bordeaux
Château Franc-Cardinal, Francs Côtes de Bordeaux
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