Bordeaux

by Melvyn Master

It’s challenging to write “just a few words” about probably the most important wine region in the world! Many books have been written on this great wine and so – how to précis this into a few sentences? Well, just a few basics then!

History

The history of Bordeaux wine spans almost 2000 years to Roman times when the first vineyards were planted. The wines from the region were never exported outside of the region until the 12th century when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet (Henry 11) of England. The marriage made the province of Aquitaine, where Bordeaux was located, English territory, and thenceforth Bordeaux wine was exported in exchange for goods from England. This wine was a dark rose known as “clairet” which was later Anglicized to “claret” which today is used in England to refer to red Bordeaux.

From 1875-1892 almost all the Bordeaux vineyards and those of the rest of France and Europe were ruined by a tiny bug which ate the roots of the vines, known as phylloxera. Ironically, the cure was found in America – phylloxera resistant root stocks!  The native vines of Bordeaux were grafted on to the pest-resistant rootstock from America and the French economy was saved. Not to show off, but I’ve drunk a couple of pre-phylloxera wines, one of which was an 1870 Chateau Lafite and it was still splendidly alive – but that was thirty years ago. I hope I do as well as the ‘70 Lafite did!

The name Bordeaux derives from the French au bord de l’eau,which means “along the waters” and makes reference to the Gironde estuary and its tributaries, the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers which play a pivotal role in the history and success of this region.

Bordeaux Wines

Bordeaux produces both red and white (sweet and dry) wines and a touch of rose. A Bordeaux wine is any wine produced in the Bordeaux region of France, centered around the city of Bordeaux on the west coast of France and covering the whole area of the Gironde department. There are about 300,000 acres of vines planted in Bordeaux, making it the largest wine growing area in France. The red grapes in the Bordeaux vineyard are Merlot (62%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Cabernet Franc (12%) and Malbec and Petit Verdot making up the balance. The white grapes are mainly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

The region is divided into several different appellations, the most famous of which are the Medoc, St. Emilion, Graves, Pomerol, Sauternes and Barsac.

The Medoc is subdivided into four main smaller regions: St. Estephe, Pauillac, St. Julien and Margaux. Most of the most famous names in Bordeaux are located in the Medoc region.

In 1855 the vineyards of Bordeaux were classified into five categories called “crus” or “growths”. There are only five first growths (the highest level) in this classification, four of which are in the Medoc – Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour, Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Margaux. The fifth first growth, Chateau Haut Brion, is located in the Graves appellation. The Graves region produces both red and dry white wines of superb quality.

About twenty-five miles east of Bordeaux is the great red wine region of Pomerol where one finds another of the worlds greatest wines – Chateau Petrus.

The beautiful old Roman town and wine region of St. Emilion is a little further still to the east and produces many great red wines the most famous of which are Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Ausone.

The great sweet wines of Bordeaux come Sauternes and Barscac. From Sauternes comes the most famous sweet white wine in the world, Chateau d’Yquem.

So that’s all you need to know! Well not really. Bordeaux and its wine have so many nuances and there is so much more to tell you about on the wine making and viticulture but I’m anxious not to bore you here! There are also several other lesser known wine regions such as Fronsac, Côte de Bourg and Premier Cotes de Bordeaux. For the new comer to the wines of Bordeaux, it is often challenging to know what to buy as there are more than seven thousand wine estates and so it’s easy to get lost.

EXEM Wines

This is why we created our own wine: EXEM BORDEAUX RED and EXEM BORDEAUX WHITE. They are created as beautiful, entry level wines that are both delicious and affordable.  The EXEM RED is packed full of the ripe red and black fruits that Bordeaux is famous for, but with soft tannins that allow the wine to be enjoyed today – not 30 years from now.  The EXEM WHITE is a zesty blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that features flavors of citrus fruit, baked apples, and pears.

For further study, there are a great many wonderful books written on Bordeaux. My recommendations are:

Bordeaux by Oz Clarke
The Complete Bordeaux by Stephen Brook