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Beautiful Bordeaux produces beautiful wines

The most famous red wine region in the world produces an astonishing 600 million bottles in a typical year

By JOHN PERERA

Bordeaux is probably the most famous red wine region in the world and is home to some of the most expensive wines that money can buy. So what makes it so special and why are wine enthusiasts prepared to pay such astronomical amounts for a piece of vinous nirvana?

Recently, 33 members of the Algarve Wine Society (AWS) gathered in the lobby of the Hotel Majestic, a stone’s throw from the opera house in the heart of Bordeaux.

A short walk took us to the Brasserie Orleans, where Christos Ioannou of Criterion Wine and Wine Voyages, the organiser and tour guide, was waiting to introduce the group to the region and its wines.

Christos said that the whole Bordeaux region produces an astonishing 600 million bottles in a typical year, which represents 2% of the total world production of wine.

Bordeaux is divided into a number of sub-regions and smaller communes, each of which has its own Appellation Controlée. For the red wines, the five grapes used are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec (yes, it was grown in France long before it made an appearance in Argentina) and Petit Verdot. And for the whites it’s Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle. Bordeaux wines are nearly always blends and the blend varies according to the particular soil type in each part of Bordeaux and the weather during each summer.

Christos had chosen a range of six white and red wines to illustrate the variety found in the region, and four more wines were served with dinner. So by the end of the evening the group had a pretty good idea of what Bordeaux had to offer!

The next morning the AWS group headed south to the Sauternes region, which produces luscious dessert wines with the help of ‘noble rot’, a fungus which attacks the grapes and concentrates the sugars in the berries.

Tastings at Château Suduiraut, owned by insurance giant AXA, and at Château D’Arche (where the tasting included their 1990 and 1984 vintages) demonstrated how delicious these wines can be.

After lunch the group headed back towards Bordeaux, stopping in the Graves region for a tasting of dry whites and reds at Château Carbonnieux in Pessac Leognan, where the best Chateaux of the Graves area are situated.

The next day the group headed north to the Medoc, home to some of the most famous and expensive wines in Bordeaux. The Medoc has its own classification systems with Cru Classé (classed growths) at the top of the hierarchy, followed by Cru Bourgeois.

Cru Classé Château Pichon Baron is a fairytale castle and produces one of the top wines of the whole Medoc.  

Château Lagrange, also in Medoc, is the largest Cru Classé in Bordeaux, set in a beautiful park-like setting in the commune of St. Julien.

It has been owned by Japanese whisky giant Suntory since 1983 and they have steadily improved the quality ever since as shown by their outstanding 1996 and 2000 vintages.

The group visited Château Kirwan Cru Classé Margaux where a fascinating tour and ‘vertical’ tasting (different vintages from one château) was enjoyed.  

Heading east to the ‘Right Bank’ on another day, the group arrived at Château Haut Veyrac, a Grand Cru St. Emilion, a much smaller scale property compared to the big names visited on the previous three days.

Haut Veyrac has been owned by the same family for six generations and winemaker Laure gave us a very personal tour and tasting filled with knowledge and passion. This was a lovely contrast to the more ‘corporate’ visits.

Last but not least the gala dinner at L’Oiseau Bleu Restaurant was a wonderful gastronomic experience – a glass of crisp Cremant de Loire to start, a five-course tasting menu of beautifully presented, Michelin star quality food with perfectly matched wines.

The Algarve Wine Society’s spring calendar concludes with the annual summer party, to be held this year at Os Agostos in Sta Bárbara de Nexe this Sunday.

After the summer break activities recommence on Wednesday, September 19, with a tasting of the Alentejo wines of Monte Novo e Figuerinho followed by dinner at the Dona Filipa Hotel.

For more information about the Algarve Wine Society, please contact the Secretary Larry Hampton on [email protected].