The wines of Bordeaux.jpg

The wines of Bordeaux

By: Maurice Lee

Cellar Master

[email protected]

Bordeaux, In South West France, has dominated Western European wines ever since Eleanor of Aquitaine married the Duke of Anjou (later to become Henry II of England). The dowry she brought him was the provinces of Gascony and Bordeaux – all the land to the south of the Loire. What a wonderful dowry! In those days many girls were lucky if they got a pig or a heifer, and maybe a few pictures to hang on the wall.

So how good are the red Bordeaux wines? Some will say they are the finest in the world, and not many will argue with that. If you look at a map of France, you will see that Bordeaux lies between 50 and 30 degrees latitude, which is the best in both hemispheres for growing vines. Outside the 50-30 degrees it is either getting too cold or too hot for viticulture.

The region can be divided into nine districts: Médoc, Haut Médoc, Graves, Sauternes (white only), Entre-Deux-Mers (white only), St. Emilion, Pomerol, Bourg and Blaye. The French black grapes allowed to be used in Bordeaux are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The problem is that you are not told which they use in any particular wine. What I can say to you is, if you’re a Cab. Sauv. person, the wine should come from the Médoc, or Graves. If you prefer the Merlot grape, then cross the River Dordogne and drink Pomerol or St. Emilion.

For example, in the Médoc, Margaux will have 75 per cent Cab Sauv., 20 per cent Merlot, and five per cent Petit Verdot. Beychevelle, 72 per cent Cab. Sauv., three per cent Cabernet Franc, 24 per cent Merlot and one per cent Petit Verdot. Latour, 75 per cent Cab. Sauv., 10 per cent Cab. Franc, 10 per cent Merlot, and five per cent Petit Verdot.

The label

Wines from Graves will be somewhat similar to Médoc wines because of the high Cab. Sauv. content. Crossing the river we find a very different Bordeaux wine. Petrus (Pomerol) has 95 per cent Merlot and five per cent Cab. Franc. Belair (Emilion), 60 per cent Merlot, and 40 per cent Cab. Franc. Moulinet (Pomerol), 70 per cent Merlot, and 30 per cent Cab. Franc. They are just a few, but that is the pattern.

The Médoc wines, due to the high percentage of Cab. Sauv., will be spicy and more tannic, so will need a lot of ageing. Don’t bother ageing young cheap wines. You will only finish up with old cheap wines, and the quality won’t have improved. Pomerol and Saint Emilion wines will also be spicy but with a softer flavour, and be less tannic due to the high Merlot content.

Wines from the other two main red areas, Bourg and Blaye, are more than acceptable. Bourg makes very high quality wines, mainly from the Merlot and Cab. Franc grapes. Blaye, which is further north, produces wines resembling those from Bourg, though not identical. Look for Premières Côtes de Blaye, whose appellation signifies the better vineyards, and has a high percentage of Merlot.

One of the big problems when buying French wine is the label. Even if you are fluent in French, you might still not learn anything. They have this weird law that if the wine has Appellation Contrôlée classification, the grape cannot be named. The law is weird because, in Alsace, wines are named after the grape, and the name is very prominent on the label.

Wine farmers in other French regions are continually breaking this law, but nobody is doing anything about it. It’s probable that the farmers are too big and important for the Government to take on.  Wouldn’t it be much simpler to revoke the law and let the grapes be named? Come on France. Do everyone a favour!

Mood swings

I never realised people needed a reason to drink. If you do need a reason to imbibe, the following might give you one:

“There are many good reasons for drinking,

And one has come into my head.

If a man cannot drink

when he’s living.

Tell me how can he drinkwhen he’s dead?”

Recently when I was in an Oxford wine bar, the wine list asked the question. “How do you choose your wine?” Grape, region, country, price, vineyard, producer, vintage, ABV, colour, bottle, label design, brand, familiarity … in their mind they were making it easier by  suggesting you drink wine to suit your mood.

The moods they listed were “Adventurous”, “Passionate”, “Relaxed”, “Sociable” and “Refined”. It’s certainly a new concept on wine drinking. Stupid? Certainly! A big joke? Hopefully! Most of the wines they suggested were from the New World. Now why am I not surprised?

The stupid part is that when people drink wine, the more they drink the more their mood changes. If you’ve had a bad day and arrive in the bar in a “grumpy” mood, buy a bottle of Napa Valley ‘Fumé Blanc.  Apparently this will relax you. At over 30 euros a bottle, I would hope so. Maybe it’s made from valium and not grapes!

In reality though, any wine will relax you, but as you continue to drink, your mood swing can change and you might become, “belligerent”, “stupid”, “boisterous”, “merry”, “unsociable”, “sleepy”, and possibly “passionate”, provided you don’t fall asleep. The whole thing has to be a joke, but if it isn’t, then some University in Oxford should introduce wine courses for the wine drinking residents. They certainly need educating.

Next: White wines of Bordeaux.