All about Bordeaux
Bordeaux, by the water
Among all French cities, Bordeaux is particularly famous for its quality of life. After several years of renovation, the town is gleaming, more attractive than ever. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Garonne River, it enjoys a pleasant climate, tempered by these two water masses which regulate local weather. This privileged location « au bord de l’eau » (at the water's edge), which gave its name to the town, is also ideal for vines, particularly on the Médoc peninsula.
Bordeaux indeed is the largest fine wine vineyard in the world. It covers 120,000 hectares with 62 appellations d'origine contrôlée (AOC, Appellation of controlled origin) and more than 10,000 châteaux. This supremacy is of course due to a very qualitative terroir but also to the incomparable know-how of the viticulturalists and winemakers thanks to the famous Bordeaux school of œnology. The region produces red wines, dry or sweet white wines and also rosé and sparkling wines. Each year the production is influenced by the dominant weather conditions of the year : sometimes sunny and hot, sometimes more oceanic. The vintage offers yet another dimension to the range of Bordeaux wines.
Prestigious growths and great discoveries
Amongst the Bordeaux wines which are most sought after in the world, the growths of the Medoc, Graves (Pessac-Léognan), Saint-Emilion and Pomerol are at the forefront. But the Bordeaux region is also a myriad of small properties in lesser-known appellations, such as Bordeaux AOC, Bordeaux Supérieur, Fronsac, Canon Fronsac, or Côtes de Bordeaux which offer every wine lover a wealth of discoveries at affordable prices.
All the more since the overall quality of Bordeaux wines has never been so high as today, thanks to modern winemaking equipment that most châteaux have been able to acquire in recent years.
A venerable "place"
The origins of Bordeaux viticulture date back to more than two thousand years : vineyards existed even before the arrival of the Romans in 56 BC. The Bordeaux wine trade was truly organised in the mid eighteenth century and still today works according to the same model, unique in the world : instead of marketing their wines directly to distributors and individuals, the great Bordeaux chateaux sell only to Bordeaux wine merchants via brokers who ensure the smooth running of each transaction for both parties. The trio châteaux-brokers-merchants is what is called the "Place de Bordeaux".
The other specificity of this sale is that it takes place in advance, when the wines have not yet completed their barrel ageing. So it is called "en primeur wine sales" (wine futures). Then traders will market these wines around the world, to individuals, restaurant owners, wine merchants and importers. DUCLOT, owner of La BORDEAUXTHEQUE, is one of these historic traders.
Two banks for eight grape varieties
Besides the Garonne River which goes through the Bordeaux area towards the south-east, the region is crossed by a second river, the Dordogne, to the east. These two rivers join to form the Gironde estuary which flows into the Atlantic. That is why, when we talk of the great red wines of Bordeaux, we often evoke both banks: the Left Bank, to designate Médoc and Graves, the Right Bank for Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. Vineyards located between the two rivers contitute the aptly-named region "Entre-deux-Mers" (which means "between two seas").
Each bank has a dominating terroir favorable to one or more grape varieties, so the wines are significantly different from one bank to another. On the Left Bank, the gravel soil is particularly conducive to the development of Cabernet Sauvignon, which provides structured red wines with very firm tannins and a long ageing capacity. It is associated with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, sometimes Petit Verdot, rarely Malbec. However, Merlot is the king of the Right Bank, perfectly adapted to the clay and limestone terroir of Saint Emilion and to the gravel and clay of Pomerol. Here it is blended with Cabernet Franc and infrequently with Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot produces fleshy, silky and aromatic red wines, often earlier drinking than those of the Left Bank.
Among the white wines of Bordeaux, the finest are produced in the Pessac-Léognan appellation on the Left Bank, from Semillon and Sauvignon grapes and sometimes Muscadelle. Finally, the region produces from these same grape varieties great sweet white wines; the wines of Sauternes and Barsac are the most sought after.
Classifications: to be part of ... or not
For the consumer, a key to enter into the wide range of Bordeaux wines is to rely on the historical classifications that are detailed below and which were based on the average price of wines at that time. But great Bordeaux wines are not confined to rankings. This is demonstrated by the fact that very qualitative Pomerol appellation has never established a formal hierarchy and it did not have the opportunity to integrate the famous 1855 classification established at the request of the Chamber of Commerce of Bordeaux, since Pomerol depended on the Chamber of Commerce of Libourne.
Therefore some nice surprises await the wine lover around the vineyards thanks, for example, to a terroir whose quality was hitherto unsuspected or to a certain wine producer with a unique know-how, or to an œnologist who can perfectly control the vinifications - or thanks to an exceptional vintage.
- The classification of Medoc and Sauternes - Established at the occasion of the Paris World's Fair in 1855, it concerns 60 growths of the Medoc, including Château Haut-Brion in Pessac-Léognan. Composed of five ranks (from 1st to 5th Classified Growth), this hierarchy is unchanged since its origin with the exception of Château Mouton-Rothschild which became a First Growth in 1973. The 1855 classification also covers 27 properties in Sauternes, with only three ranks (1er Cru Supérieur, 1st and 2nd Cru Classé).
- The classification of Saint-Emilion - Established in 1954, it is revised every ten years. While the ranking list of 2006 led to a terrible legal battle resulting in its cancellation, the classification of 2012 is still in force, despite the discontent of some declassified and non-promoted growths. It honors 82 properties, including four 1st Grand Cru Classé A, the supreme category, 14 1st Grand Cru Classé B and 64 Grands Crus.
- The classification of Graves - Established in 1953 and unalterable, it classified seven growths for their red wine, three for their white wine, while six growths are classified in the two colors. In 1987, these 16 estates - and others which were not classified - changed to the Pessac-Léognan appellation, created to regroup the best terroirs of Graves.
- The classification of the Crus Bourgeois - Published in 1932, it now includes about 250 properties in the Médoc grouped within the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois. After the legal imbroglio that led to the cancellation of the last revision in 2003, a new form of ranking, revised at each new vintage and based on a tasting of the wines in competition, is in force since 2010 (2008 vintage).