- Q & A
France - Bordeaux
Bordeaux is the largest single wine district in the world. Over 50% is exported, 75% is red. Bordeaux accounts for 1/3 of all the wine produced in France. Principal red grapes are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. White grape are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Ugni Blanc. Wine accounts for 25% of all shipments from the district.
Vines were planted here in the 1st Century by Romans mainly because it was a close port to England. Since wine was transported in casks, it couldn't be shipped too far without going bad. The Church controlled the plantings and distribution until negocients began to appear in late 18th Century after the French Revolution.
Bordeaux is divided into communes i.e. Medoc, Graves, Entre deux Mers. And then into villages; Pauillac, St. Julian, Margaux, St. Emilion, Pomerol. The Northern most area is Medoc on the left bank of the Gironde River. The middle of the Medoc, it's most important commune, is the Haut Medoc. Here the Gironde divides itself into the Garonne and Dordogne. Entre deux Mers,"Between Two Rivers," is the commune in the middle. The whites are made primarily in Graves, Entre deux Mers and Sauternes. Rest of area almost exclusively red. The following is a description of the most notable areas.
Medoc 5,000,000 cases
Medoc is the most famous, as it is home to most of the best known chateaux. The soil changes with every step from rich, sandy loam to rocky, gravelly shale. Drainage of soil more important than chemical and trace mineral content. Gravel and stones help retain enough moisture in the ground and warms vines at night.
The Medoc wine region classified for quality. Brokers a listed chateaux based on quality as far back as the beginning of the 18th Century. In 1855, at the request of Napoleon III, the wine brokers and the Chamber of Commerce in Bordeaux produced a new list and which was presented at the World Trade Conference in Paris. It named the top 61 chateaux in a pecking order which started at First Growth and went on to classify the rest into one of the next four growths, Second Growth to Fifth Growth.
The determinig factor was NOT quality, as many suppose, but the price fetched for each chateau. There were four first growths, Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Haut Brion. Only one chateau has been upgraded since 1855. Ch. Mouton went from Second to First Growth. The other 60 have stayed in the same position even though many have improved, deteriorated or even gone out of business.
The next tier in the official ranking are the Cru; Cru Exceptional, Cru Bourgeois Superior, Cru Bourgeois, Crus Artisan and Cru Pausan. Under law, if a classified chateaux buys an unclassified vineyard, it becomes classified. If unclassified chateaux buys the same land it stays the same.
The Villages of the Medoc
First commune of the "big four". Has more clay and less gravel so wines tend to be harder and less supple than Pauillac.
Most famous village, has 3 of the 5 first growths. Largest town in Medoc with 7,000 pop. Wine and Shell Oil refinery account for most employment. Soil is key. Cos du Estournel in St. Estephe only 1 mile from Lafite, yet soil is completely different. Individual styles yet same common ground. Lafite almost in St. Estephe, Latour almost in Graves. Has mostly large estates. Different kinds of grounds, slopes, mounds and plateaux may belong to one proprietor.
has highest number of classified growths. Wines have more merlot and tend to be more refined, even in their youth. Very few Cru Bourgeois.
has most concentration of chateaux around the town. Differences in wine would be more the result of technique than soil.
Graves first area written about in early 1700's to be considered special. Most of the wealthy and affluent lived and worked in Graves. So named because of gravelly soil. Best wines in Haut Graves, the longest producing area to the North. In the early 1990s, a new village, Pessac-Leognan was added to diffentiate the producers here from those of Graves proper. Most of the best chateaux of Graves are in Pessac-Leognan
Classified 72 chateaux in 1954. Ranked 12 first growths, more than any other area in Bordeaux. Classification is upgraded yearly to assure adherence to quality standards. Mostly Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the blend
Mostly Merlot in the blend. 100 years ago, Pomerol was known for common wines. Today, it houses the highest priced wines in Bordeaux. There is no official rating system like the Medoc and Graves. It is just naturally assumed that Petrus is first, Vieux Chateau Certan and Trotanoy are second.
Entre Deux Mers
Mostly inexpensive whites. Primarily from the Ugni Blanc grape (known as Trebbiano in Italy).
Only accounts for 3% of Bordeaux wines. Primarily sweet dessert wines from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Area infected by a friendly fungus called botrytis. Higher temperature and humidity allow it to spread.
Spores of botrytis put tiny holes into grape skins and only dry up water, leaving concentrated grape essence. An acre of botrysized grapes will produce about 1/4 amount of wine, about 100 cases, versus 300 to 400 cases of dry wine, non-botrytis infected grapes.