Learn to savour the fine wines of Bordeaux
Learning to appreciate the difference between a cheap supermarket bottle of plonk and a fine French wine can be a daunting prospect. Not only are there countless terms to try and get your head around, but many guides are guilty of being insufferably pretentious, potentially deterring would-be enthusiasts from truly enjoying one of life’s great pleasures.
However, if you want to get a nose for wine – or even if you’re already a connoisseur who can tell a Chablis from a Chardonnay at ten paces – then Bordeaux is the perfect place to learn to love the best that France has to offer. With a little background information, you’ll be able to get the most out of a trip to the country and return home with a truly-educated and enlightened nose and palate. A cruise, which will give you the chance to enjoy a little luxury and sip fine wines as travel, is a particularly good option, and you can find out more about it on this website.
About the region: The city of Bordeaux, in the south-west of France, is the wine capital of the world. The vine was first introduced here by the Romans, more than 2,000 years ago, and these days dozens of varieties of wine are grown across approximately 300,000 acres surrounding the vibrant city. Apart from the local expertise, with knowledge passed on along many successive generations, the climate is the reason Bordeaux wines are loved all around the world. The soil is rich in calcium and there is just the perfect amount of sun and rain needed to grow robust yet tasty grapes.
Grape varieties: While there are dozens of wineries dotted around Bordeaux, they tend to concentrate on growing only a select band of grape varieties. Indeed, only certain grapes can be used to produce a true Bordeaux wine, ensuring qualities are consistently high.
For red Bordeaux wine, growers are allowed to use a blend of grapes, though only Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere are permitted. The grape type, or the mix of two or more types, will always be clearly labelled on any bottle, with most of these names familiar to drinkers right around the world.
When it comes to white wine, only the Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle grapes are permitted. Again, in most cases, growers blend two or more grape types in order to get the perfect bottle, with Sauvignon Blanc-based wines currently far and away the most popular among global consumers.
Not all Bordeaux wines are the same. Not only can you divide wines from this part of France into the red and white camps, wines produced here are also placed into four different classifications, according to where exactly in the region they are produced. These classifications date back more than 150 years and are mainly used by traders, rather than amateur enthusiasts, to register and rank the different types of wine produced by the region’s producers. The four current classifications are:
The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855: As its name suggests, this system has been used to log and rank wines for generations. In particular, this system is used to classify the red wines of Medoc, as well as a number of sweet white wines.
The 1955 Official Classification of St Emilion: Updated only once every decade, this system recognises the best wines produced right across the Bordeaux region. To learn more about the system, and the wines it extols, consider paying a visit to the quaint, historic village which gives it its name.
The 1959 Official Classification of Graves: Covering both red and white wines, this system recognises the finest examples produced by chateaux in the Pessac-Leognan region.
The Cru Artisan: The newest of the systems, this is updated once a decade and lists the best French artisans and the wines they produce. Fewer than 50 growers have made the grade since the system was first launched.