One of the most famous wines worldwide, Bordeaux Wine, is produced in southwest France in the Bordeaux region, around the city of Bordeaux, located on the Garonne River. Here are some characteristics of this wine-producing region:
To the north of the city, the Dordogne River joins the Garonne forming the broad estuary named Gironde. Over there, the Gironde department, with a total vineyard area of over 120,000 hectares, is regarded as the largest wine-growing area in France.
The production of average vintages is over 700 million bottles of wine, ranging from large quantities of everyday table wines to some of the most expensive and prestigious wines in the world.
The vast majority of wine produced in the Bordeaux region is red (called “Claret“), with sweet white wines (most notably Sauternes), dry whites, and (in much smaller quantities) rosé and sparkling wines (Crémant de Bordeaux) collectively making up the rest of wine types. These famous Bordeaux wines are manufactured by over 8,500 producers or Châteaux. Overall, there are 54 appellations of Bordeaux wine.
History of Bordeaux Wine
According to the Romans introduced to some studies, the wine in the Bordeaux region was probably in the mid-1st century. The initial aim of introducing wine was to provide wine for local consumption, but it gradually became a wine-producing region over the centuries. This tradition continues to date.
In the 12th century, the popularity of Bordeaux wines in England had increased dramatically following the marriage of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine. This marriage annexed the province of Aquitaine to the Angevin Empire, and thenceforth, the wine of Bordeaux was exported to England.
During that era, they considered Graves the principal region for producing Bordeaux wines, and its principal style was Claret. Hence, the popularity of this style accounts for the ubiquity of Claret in England, though this terminology is now used to refer to many red wines in England rather than the claret style specifically.
Claret is a name primarily used in British English for red Bordeaux wines. The word Claret derives from the French claret, a now uncommon dark rosé, which was the most frequently exported wine produced in Bordeaux until the 18th. This term was later anglicized to “claret” because of its widespread consumption in England during the period between the 12th and 15th centuries when Aquitaine was part of the Angevin Empire and continued to be controlled by the Kings of England for some time after the Angevins. Currently, it is a protected name within the European Union, describing a red Bordeaux wine. They accepted it after the British wine trade had shown over 300 years of usage of this term during its trade deals.
Clarets are occasionally used in the United States, too, as a semi-generic label for red wine in the style of the Bordeaux. They ideally made the corresponding US wine from the same grapes as was permitted in Bordeaux. It is noteworthy that the French themselves do not utilize this term locally, except for export. The meaning of “claret” has transformed over time to refer to a dry, dark red Bordeaux.The term is associated with the British elite class. Hence, it appears on bottles of generic red Bordeaux to raise their status in the market.
In November 2011, the president of the Union des Maisons de Négoce de Bordeaux announced an intention to use the term Claret de Bordeaux for wines that are “light and fruity, easy to drink, in the same style as the original claret when the English prized it in former centuries.”
The outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, which began in 1337, interrupted the exports of Bordeaux wines. By the end of the conflict 116 years later, in 1453, France had finally repossessed the province, thus taking control of wine production in the region. As part of the Auld Alliance made in 1295, the French had granted Scottish merchants a privileged position in the trade of Claret—a position that continued essentially unchanged after the Treaty of Edinburgh had ended the military alliance between France and Scotland, primarily against England.
The treaty Auld Alliance would sustain even during the times of the protestant kingdoms of England and Scotland–both ruled by the same king Stuart. They militarily aided the Huguenot rebels in their war against Catholic France in La Rochelle. Even during such dire times, the Scottish vessels were not only permitted to enter the Gironde, but the French Navy would steer them safely to the Bordeaux port to protect them against Huguenot
During the 16th & 17th centuries, the Dutch—particularly those from the Dutch provinces of Zeeland & Holland—wielded considerable ascendancy and influence over the progression of French wine. Their primary strength stemmed from their sizable and quantifiable merchant trading and fleet access across Northern Europe in places like the Hanseatic and Baltic. When political conflicts between the French & English flared up, the Dutch stepped in to fill the void and serve as a continuing link funneling the wines of Bordeaux and La Rochelle into England.
In particular, the town of Middelburg earned a reputation across Europe as a center for the trade of French wine. Dutch interest in the wine trade prompted advancement in winemaking styles and technology. One problem that plagued the French wine trade was the perishability of wine that rarely survived longer than the next vintage. French wine during this period was often unbalanced and unstable, being not clarified adequately during winemaking and lacking the alcohol content needed to preserve the wine.
Such a situation particularly concerned the Dutch traders, who would sometimes be delayed in their trading with ports along the Baltic and White Seas when they would become impassable in the winter. Therefore, to ward off the chances of spoilage, the Dutch developed various advanced methods of fortification by adding brandy to the wine to stop fermentation and increase the life expectancy of the wine
The innovative Dutch merchants also promoted the plantings of many white wine varieties that were in fashion throughout Europe. In regions like Muscadet, in the Loire Valley, the Dutch encouraged the planting of Melon de Bourgogne, which would produce a more reliable harvest than the region’s red wine varieties. The practice of blending different grape varieties from various regions was also influenced by the Dutch as a means of improving weaker wines or adapting wines to the varying tastes of wine lovers across Europe.
Skilled engineers, the Dutch drained the marshy Medoc (left bank) region in the 17th century and began planting the region with vineyards. Before this time, Bordeaux’s most sought-after wines came from the well-drained soil of the Graves region, including the estate of Chateau Haut-Brion. In the 17th century, Dutch traders drained the swampy ground of the Médocso it could be planted with vines, and this gradually surpassed Graves as the most prestigious region of Bordeaux.
Malbec was the dominant grape here until the early 19th century when it was replaced by Cabernet Sauvignon.By the end of the 17th century, with the aid of the Dutch, the future First Growth estates of Chateau Lafite, Latour, andMargaux were planted, and they attracted considerable attention abroad.
In 1855, the Châteaux vineries of Bordeaux were classified, and this classification even remains widely used today. From 1875 to 1892, almost all Bordeaux vineyards were ruined by phylloxera. Later on, Bordeaux’s wine industry was rescued by grafting native vines onto pest-resistant American rootstock.
The next major and most significant phase of the Bordeaux wine trade began when the Dutch decided to build roads to make it easier to transport goods throughout the region. The Dutch, along with the British, were major purchasers of Bordeaux wine.
While the consumers in England, along with the royal families of Europe, sought the best wines of Bordeaux, the Dutch buyers were more concerned with the best value wines of the Bordeaux appellation. This presented a problem for the Dutch traders because they needed their Bordeaux wine to be delivered quickly as soon as possible before it spoiled.
The speed of the delivery of wines became a significant issue for the Dutch merchants, as they were seeking the wines for the lowest price, and those wines would not keep. Hence, they came up with the idea of burning sulfur in barrels, which aided the wine’s ability to persevere and age. They also credited the Dutch with another, even more significant, piece in the evolution of the Bordeaux wine trade. The next contribution and endowment by the Dutch transformed the landscape of the Bordeaux wine region forever. B
y the year of 1600s, many Bordeaux vineyards were already planted, cultivated, and started producing wine. However, much of this region still consisted of swampland, marshes, and unusable. Hence, the Dutch engineers came up with the idea to drain the marshes and swamps. This allowed for quicker transportation of their Bordeaux wine, and suddenly, extensive vineyard land was available that was perfect for growing grapes to produce more Bordeaux wine.
The Dutch engineer who was placed in charge of creating the plan to drain Bordeaux’s swamps was Jan Adriaasz Leeghwater (1575-1650), who transformed the Bordeaux landscape forever when he removed the swamp water. This innovative idea and its execution had two immediate effects. First, the drainage of swamps permitted them for quicker transportation of their Bordeaux wine. Secondly, a lot more vineyard land was perfect for growing grapes to produce more Bordeaux wine. It allowed for easier transportation of goods, traders, and workers.
Previously unusable land became perfect for agriculture, and eventually, many of the now-famous Bordeaux vineyards were created from a swamp. Interestingly, the same methods employed to drain Bordeaux of swamp water are still in use today for the same purpose. To substantiate this idea, dikes are erected, and they installed pumping stations to drain the water from the land. After the water is removed, they plant the muddy surface area with reeds.
In time, the remaining water evaporates. However, new water channels are created during the process, which helps improve the drainage so that the previously swamp-like conditions do not develop again. Many of the original water channels are still in existence all over the Medoc.
Want to read more? Try these books!
“Synopsis of Bordeaux wines” (PDF). Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB). 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 July 2011.
^“Bordeaux In Figures”. New Bordeaux. Archived from the original on 18 April 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
^ Jump up to abc Johnson, Hugh; Robinson, Jancis (8 October 2013). The World Atlas of Wine (7th ed.). Mitchell Beazley. pp. 13, 81. ISBN 978-1845336899.
^ Jump up to:abcdef “Vins de Bordeaux (US)” (Official site). 2016. Archived from the original on 14 June 2017.