Imagine your first official visit to the Bordeaux wine region to visit some of the finest Chateaux – 1855’s and so on.
As a Burgundy specialist, but a true wine lover (i.e. drink anything that’s good), getting to taste some of Bordeaux’s finest was on my “bucket list” and I was even more excited to be visiting these estates with the eminent Bordeaux wine specialist Stephen Williams and a Hong Kong business entrepreneur.
To be honest, it was part of my new job as the Operations Director for a new wine trade and bespoke travel company called Vingenius, and this was our first client.
The weather was perfect for June – clear blue skies and 25C – and Bordeaux was one of the host cities for the Euro soccer competition, so needless to say, the city centre was throbbing with merry supporters wearing their country’s “kit”, beer cans, beer bottles and occasional bodies replacing the pave stones in this beautiful, if somewhat disguised, wine capital. But this was our home base and with just 1 hours drive to the Rive Gauche or Rive Droite (traffic permitting) I was ready to discover and taste the best of Bordeaux.
This post is all about setting the scene. Further posts will study the Chateaux that I visited.
So Bordeaux, also known as La Perle d’Aquitaine (the pearl of Aquitaine) is considered as the world’s wine capital, with a history of wine making going back to the 8th century. It was from the 12th to the 14th century that Bordeaux’s international reputation was born. In the 12th century (1154) the Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henri Plantagenet (son of Geoffrey of Anjou and Mathilda, daughter of Henry i) Henry was actively involved in claims to the throne from the age of 14. At 17 he was made Duke of Anjou and later Duke of Normandy. His marriage to Eleanor lead to Henri becoming Henry II, king of England and among many trade deals to be established, wine was one of the most important. So this new wine trade gave birth to a new profession: wine merchant. Merchants have existed to a certain degree since wine was first discovered, but these merchants had much more power. Bordeaux merchants were exempt from taxes by the King and this lead to the merchants being able to supply England with what is still famously called “Claret”.
Claret is an ancestor of today’s Bordeaux red wine and it tended to be more of a dark pink coloured wine. A large fleet of ships would travel from Bordeaux to London twice a year and the wine would be exchanged for textiles, food and metal. For three centuries Aquitaine remained a prosperous English province.
So what about size and production? Bordeaux has about 116,160 hectares (287,000 acres) of vineyards, 57 appellations, 10,000 wine-producing châteaux and 13,000 grape growers. With an annual production of approximately 960 million bottles. There is a lot of “day-to-day” wine made, but some of the best known estates first got their recognition in the 1855 classification: Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour, Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Mouton Rothschild.
- The 1855 Médoc Classification. Example as above.
- The 1855 Sauternes and Barsac Classification. Example Chateau d’Yquem
- The 2012 St Emilion Classification. Examples: Chateau Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Angelus, Pavie.
- The 1959 Graves Classification. Examples: Chateau Haut Brion, Pape Clement.
- The 1932 Cru bourgeois classification. Examples: Chateau Chasse Spleen, Haut Marbuzet, Phelan Segur
- The 2006 Medoc Cru Artisans classification: lesser known chateaux
So what is this Rive Droite and Rive Gauche all about? Bordeaux is located on the Garonne river estuary. The two distinctive wine regions are the Rive Droite (right bank) and Rive Gauche (left bank).
On the Right Bank, you’ll find the mythical villages of Saint Emilion, Pommerol & Fronsac amongst others and the grape varietals tend more towards merlot and cabernet franc with a hint of cabernet sauvignon.
On the Left Bank, you have the Medoc & Graves regions: Margaux, Pauillac, Moulis, Listrac, Saint-Estèphe et Saint-Julien. These are predominately Cabernet Sauvignon based.
So with this basic knowledge, let’s step inside this legendary wine region….