Guide no 7 of my review of all the wines on our wine list at www.gfwine.co.uk Our list covers most of the wine regions of France and so you should have no trouble in finding a wine to suit your palate.
Today we review a wine from the Bordeaux region of France a classic Bordeaux AOC wine.
A Bordeaux wine is any wine produced in the Bordeaux region of France, centred on the city of Bordeaux and covering the whole area of the Gironde department, with a total vineyard area of over 120,000 hectares, making it the largest wine growing area in France. Average vintages produce over 700 million bottles of Bordeaux wine, ranging from large quantities of everyday table wine, to some of the most expensive and prestigious wines in the world. 89% of wine produced in Bordeaux is red (called "claret" in Britain), with sweet white wines (most notably Sauternes), dry whites, and also (in much smaller quantities) rosé and sparkling wines (Crémant de Bordeaux) collectively making up the remainder. Bordeaux wine is made by more than 8,500 producers or châteaux. There are 54 appellations of Bordeaux wine.
The vine was introduced to the Bordeaux region by the Romans, probably in the mid-1st century, to provide wine for local consumption, and wine production has been continuous in the region since then. In the 12th century, the popularity of Bordeaux wines in England increased dramatically following the marriage of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine. The marriage made the province of Aquitaine English territory, and thenceforth the majority of Bordeaux was exported. At this time, Graves was the principal wine region of Bordeaux, and the principal style was clairet. This accounts for the ubiquity of claret in England. The export of Bordeaux was interrupted by the outbreak of The Hundred Years' War between France and England in 1337.By the end of the conflict in 1453 France had repossessed the province, thus taking control of wine production in the region.
In the seventeenth century, Dutch traders drained the swampy ground of the Médoc in order that it could be planted with vines, and this gradually surpassed Graves as the most prestigious region of Bordeaux. Malbec was dominant grape here, until the early 19th century, when it was replaced by Cabernet Sauvignon.
In 1855, the châteaux of Bordeaux were classified; this classification remains widely used today.
From 1875-1892 almost all Bordeaux vineyards were ruined by Phylloxera infestations. The region's wine industry was rescued by grafting native vines on to pest-resistant American rootstock and all Bordeaux vines that survive to this day are a product of this action. This is not to say that all contemporary Bordeaux wines are truly American wines, as rootstock does not affect the production of grapes.
The major reason for the success of winemaking in the Bordeaux region is the excellent environment for growing vines. The geological foundation of the region is limestone, leading to a soil structure that is heavy in calcium. The Gironde estuary dominates the regions along with its tributaries, the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers, and together irrigate the land and provide an Atlantic Climate, also known as an oceanic climate, for the region.
These rivers define the main geographical subdivisions of the region:
- "The right bank", situated on the right bank of Dordogne, in the northern parts of the region, around the city of Libourne.
- Entre-deux-mers, French for "between two seas", the area between the rivers Dordogne and Garonne, in the centre of the region.
- "The left bank", situated on the left bank of Garonne, in the west and south of the region, around the city of Bordeaux itself. The left bank is further subdivided into:
- Graves, the area upstream of the city Bordeaux.
- Médoc, the area downstream of the city Bordeaux, situated on a peninsula between Gironde and the Atlantic.
In Bordeaux the concept of terroir plays a pivotal role in wine production with the top estates aiming to make terroir driven wines that reflect the place they are from, often from grapes collected from a single vineyard. The soil of Bordeaux is composed of gravel, sandy stone, and clay. The region's best vineyards are located on the well-drained gravel soils that are frequently found near the Gironde river. An old adage in Bordeaux is the best estates can "see the river" from their vineyard and majority of land that face riverside are occupied by classified estates.
Red Bordeaux is generally made from a blend of grapes. Permitted grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. Today Malbec and Carménère are rarely used, with Château Clerc Milon, a fifth growth Bordeaux, being one of the few to still retain Carménère vines.
As a very broad generalization, Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux's second-most planted grape variety) dominates the blend in red wines produced in the Médoc and the rest of the left bank of the Gironde estuary. Typical top-quality Chateaux blends are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc & 15% Merlot. This is typically referred to as the "Bordeaux Blend." Merlot (Bordeaux's most-planted grape variety) and to a lesser extent Cabernet Franc (Third most planted variety) tend to predominate in Saint-Émilion, Pomerol and the other right bank appellations. These Right Bank blends from top-quality Chateaux are typically 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc & 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.
White Bordeaux is predominantly, and exclusively in the case of the sweet Sauternes, made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle – Typical blends are usually 80% Sémillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc. As with the reds, white Bordeaux wines are usually blends, most commonly of Sémillon and a smaller proportion of Sauvignon Blanc. Other permitted grape varieties are Sauvignon Gris, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc, Ondenc and Mauzac.
In the late 1960s Sémillon was the most planted grape in Bordeaux. Since then it has been in constant decline although it still is the most common of Bordeaux's white grapes. Sauvignon Blanc's popularity on the other hand has been rising, overtaking Ugni Blanc as the second most planted white Bordeaux grape in the late 1980s and now being grown in an area more than half the size of that of the lower yielding Sémillon.
Wineries all over the world aspire to making wines in a Bordeaux style. In 1988, a group of American vintners formed The Meritage Association to identify wines made in this way. Although most Meritage wines come from California, there are members of the Meritage Association in 18 states and five other countries, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, Israel, and Mexico.
The red grapes in the Bordeaux vineyard are Merlot (62% by area), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Cabernet Franc (12%) and a small amount of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère (1% in total). The white grapes are Sémillon (54% by area), Sauvignon Blanc (36%), Muscadelle (7%) and a small amount of Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche (3% in total). Because of the generally humid Bordeaux climate, a variety of pests can cause a problem for the vigneron. In the past, this was counteracted by the widespread use of pesticides, although the use of natural methods has recently been gaining in popularity. The vines are generally trained in either single or double guyot. Hand-picking is preferred by most of the prestigious châteaux, but machine-harvesting is popular in other places.
Following harvest, the grapes are usually sorted and destemmed before crushing. Crushing was traditionally done by foot, but mechanical crushing is now common. Chaptalization is permitted, and fairly common-place. Fermentation then takes place, usually in temperature controlled stainless steel vats. Next the must is pressed and transferred to barriques (in most cases) for a period of ageing (commonly a year). The traditional Bordeaux barrique is an oak barrel with a capacity of 225 litres. At some point between pressing and bottling the wine will be blended. This is an integral part of the Bordeaux winemaking process, as scarcely any Bordeaux wines are varietals; wine from different grape varieties is mixed together, depending on the vintage conditions, so as to produce a wine in the château's preferred style. In addition to mixing wine from different grape varieties, wine from different parts of the vineyard is often be aged separately, and then blended into either the main or the second wine (or sold off wholesale) according to the judgment of the winemaker. The wine is then bottled and usually undergoes a further period of ageing before it is released for sale.
The Bordeaux wine region is divided into subregions including Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Médoc, and Graves. The 60 Bordeaux appellations and the wine styles they represent are usually categorized into six main families, four red based on the subregions and two white based on sweetness.
- Red Bordeaux and Red Bordeaux Supérieur. Bordeaux winemakers may use the two regional appellations throughout the entire wine region, however approximately half of the Bordeaux vineyard is specifically designated under Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur AOCs. With the majority of châteaux located on the Right Bank in the Entre-Deux-Mers area, wines are typically Merlot-dominant, often blended with the other classic Bordeaux varieties. There are many small, family-run châteaux, as well as wines blended and sold by wine merchants under commercial brand names. The Bordeaux AOC wines tend to be fruity, with minimal influence of oak, and are produced in a style meant to be drunk young. Bordeaux Superieur AOC wines are produced in the same area, but must follow stricter controls, such as lower yields, and are often aged in oak. For the past 10 years, there has been strong, ongoing investment by the winemakers in both the vineyards and in the cellar, resulting in ever increasing quality. New reforms for the regional appellations were instituted in 2008 by the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur Winemakers' Association. In 2010, 55% of all Bordeaux wines sold in the world were from Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur AOCs, with 67% sold in France and 33% exported (+9%), representing 14 bottles consumed per second.
- Red Côtes de Bordeaux. Eight appellations are in the hilly outskirts of the region, and produce wines where the blend usually is dominated by Merlot. These wines tend to be intermediate between basic red Bordeaux and the more famous appellations of the left and right bank in both style and quality. However, since none of Bordeaux's stellar names are situated in Côtes de Bordeaux, prices tend to be moderate. There is no official classification in Côtes de Bordeaux. In 2007, 14.7% of the region's vineyard surface was used for wines in this family.
- Red Libourne, or "Right Bank" wines. Around the city of Libourne, 10 appellations produce wines dominated by Merlot with very little Cabernet Sauvignon, the two most famous being Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. These wines often have great fruit concentration, softer tannins and are long-lived. Saint-Émilion has an official classification. In 2007, 10.5% of the region's vineyard surface was used for wines in this family.
- Red Graves and Médoc or "Left Bank" wines. North and south of the city of Bordeaux, which are the classic areas, produce wines dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, but often with a significant portion of Merlot. These wines are concentrated, tannic, long-lived and most of them meant to be cellared before drinking. The five First Growths are situated here. There are official classifications for both Médoc and Graves. In 2007, 17.1% of the region's vineyard surface was used for wines in this family.
- Dry white wines. Dry white wines are made throughout the region, using the regional appellation Bordeaux Blanc, often from 100% Sauvignon Blanc or a blend dominated by Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. The Bordeaux Blanc AOC is used for wines made in appellations that only allow red wines. Dry whites from Graves is the most well-known and the only subregion with a classification for dry white wines. The better versions tend to have a significant oak influence. In 2007, 7.8% of the region's vineyard surface was used for wines in this family.
- Sweet white wines. In several locations and appellations throughout the region, sweet white wine is made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes affected by noble rot. The best-known of these appellations is Sauternes, which also has an official classification, and where some of the world's most famous sweet wines are produced. There are also appellations neighboring Sauternes, on both sides of the Garonne river, where similar wines are made. The regional appellation for sweet white wines is Bordeaux Supérieur Blanc. In 2007, 3.2% of the region's vineyard surface was used for wines in this family.
The vast majority of Bordeaux wine is red, with red wine production outnumbering white wine production six to one.
There are four different classifications of Bordeaux, covering different parts of the region:
- The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, covering (with one exception) red wines of Médoc, and sweet wines of Sauternes-Barsac.
- The 1955 Official Classification of St.-Émilion, which is updated approximately once every ten years, and last in 2006.
- The 1959 Official Classification of Graves, initially classified in 1953 and revised in 1959.
- The Cru Bourgeois Classification, which began as an unofficial classification, but came to enjoy official status and was last updated in 2003. However, after various legal turns, the classification was annulled in 2007. As of 2007, plans exist to revive it as an unofficial classification.
The 1855 classification system was made at the request of Emperor Napoleon III for the Exposition Universelle de Paris. This came to be known as the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, which ranked the wines into five categories according to price. The first growth red wines (four from Médoc and one, Château Haut-Brion, from Graves), are among the most expensive wines in the world.
The first growths are:
At the same time, the sweet white wines of Sauternes and Barsac were classified into three categories, with only Château d'Yquem being classified as a superior first growth.
In 1955, St. Émilion AOC were classified into three categories, the highest being Premier Grand Cru Classé A with two members.
In the 2012 classification, two more Châteaux became members:
There is no official classification applied to Pomerol. However some Pomerol wines, notably Château Pétrus and Château Le Pin, are often considered as being equivalent to the first growths of the 1855 classification, and often sell for even higher prices.
This wine comes from the estate of Chateau Perron la Gourdine. The estate has been owned and run by the Nadau family for over 150 years in the Entre-deux-Mers appellation of Bordeaux. The vineyards are spread over 70 hectares and lie on a limestone plateau south of Libourne on the opposite bank to St Emilion.
The grapes grown on the estate are the classic varieties of Bordeaux – Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it produces red, pink and white wines.
The vines are 25 years and older with a density 3300 vines/hectare. The average yield is at 50 hectolitres/hectare. The vineyard is at an altitude of 60 to 80 m on an east-west orientation with terroir of limestone and overlain clay.
The wineroom practises allow the wines to be fermented in stainless steel and aged either in the vats or in oak barrels and then winemaker Jean-Louis Nadau painstakingly spends his time blending and crafting his wines each year so that when bottled they exhibit the full elegance of the Bordeaux appellation.
The wine is a classic blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon make up the grapes for this still red wine. The grapes are vatted and vinified for 12 days at 25°C to bring out the red fruit aromas. Thereafter the malo-lactic fermentation takes place to obtain the suppleness typical of a good wine. Ageing is traditional carried out in vats for 18 months. Blending between the cuvees of the two grapes is carefully considered in each year and the resultant percentage of each will vary between years. The finished wine exhibits a deep, sustained colour. Red fruits aromas of blackcurrant and blackberry. It has a powerful entry but supple with very tight tannins. Serve at 16 to 18°C with a pork dish of loin or chop with a creamy piquant sauce, grilled steak with a red wine reduction and with the cheese course.