The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Look at Bordeaux, Part 1

Posted on | October 30, 2014 | Written by Robin Kelley OConnor | No Comments

unnamedAlthough it has seen a lot of success in the past four decades, in its two-thousand-year history, Bordeaux has had alternating periods of influential prosperity and recessional decline. No matter what, however, wine has been a dominant factor in the region for millennia—or at least since the arrival of the Romans, who take credited for first planted vines. Viticulture was kept alive during the Middle Ages thanks to religious orders and the abbeys that were scattered around the countryside, but in a tongue-in-cheek way 1152 began the modern era for Bordeaux wines. Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future king of England Henry the Plantagenet, thus beginning first great expansion of the Bordeaux vineyards during a three-century period.

As great as the viticulture expansion was, even more so was economic and commercial development. The City of Bordeaux became the busiest port in the world, and Bordeaux wines became the international wine of choice throughout Europe. After the Battle of Castillon in 1453 the English lost their rule of Bordeaux, Aquitaine and Western France. In moved the Dutch and Germans, who set up new businesses along the waterfront in the city. Bordeaux wines witnessed the growth of a new clientele base in Northern Europe. During the next several centuries the quality and price of Bordeaux wines skyrocketed. Many members of the Bordeaux Parliament purchased some of the finest vineyards and undeveloped land in the fine viticulture zones. This never-ending attention to quality eventually led to the birth of the Grand Crus, culminating 1855 with classification of the wines of the Médoc, Sauternes and Barsac.

unnamed-1Located near the Atlantic Ocean, Bordeaux’s closest vineyards sit just ten miles from the sea. Resting on the 45th parallel, the region’s climate is decidedly temperate with strong maritime influences—for example, the Gulf Stream runs parallel along the coastline, warming and regulating temperatures. The winters are generally not too cold, springs are wet, summers generally warm, and autumns are sunny, which are the ideal conditions for the last phase of the ripening of the vines, though weather can be fickle and rainy in the fall. Bordeaux fittingly has all the right ingredients: topography (relatively flat with undulating hills), great drainage, perfect soils suited for the approved grape varieties, and centuries of winemaking experience to produce fine wines

At 272,00 acres, Bordeaux is the largest A.O.C. (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) vineyard in France—it’s nearly five times the size of Burgundy. Red wine dominates with 89% of the production. Bordeaux, whether red or white, is almost always a blend of two or more grape varieties. Merlot accounts for 63% of the production for the reds, with the Cabernet Sauvignon 25%, Cabernet Franc 11% and the rest Malbec, Petit Verdot, and other lesser varieties. At 54% Sémillon is the most widely planted white grape, Sauvignon Blanc 38%, Muscadelle 6%, and tiny plantings of Ugni Blanc (the grape most responsible for the production of Cognac), Merlot Blanc, Folle Blanche and other minor varieties.

unnamed-2Bordeaux is particularly fortunate to produce an incredible array of wines. Its size, microclimates, and diversity of the grape varieties work in concert with the region’s soils. Perhaps most important is the skill of the winemakers as master blenders, who match the different grape varieties to maximize the final outcome for elegance, equilibrium, quality, and distinction (or better known as ‘Le Goût de Bordeaux’). Bordeaux makes some of the world’s most expensive wines, some of the world’s most long-lived, collectable wines and some of the world’s most friendly, affordable, approachable and tasty wines.

To learn more about this fascinating region and to experience its wines, join the author of this post as he and winemaker Mattieu Bordes lead a special Bordeaux wine tasting this Saturday, November 1.



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