Bordeaux: The Iconic Wine Region

The Bordeaux region is one of the most iconic wine regions in the world, renowned not only for the quality of its wines, but also for the prestige that comes with ownership of prominent vineyards such as Château Margaux and Château Lafite Rothschild. But what exactly makes Bordeaux so special? Learn all about this famous region in this article with eight essential things you need to know about Bordeaux.

When most people think of Bordeaux when they envision the renowned Haut-Medoc wines like Château Margaux,  Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Latour, and Château Haut-Brion. It is easy to ignore the other several thousand Chateaux in the area because these five wineries, sometimes referred to as “the Big 5,” are so well-known. Bordeaux produces so much fine wine that it accounts for 34% of all French wine exports in terms of value. With 1 in 6 residents working in one way or another in the numerous facets of the industry, it is a massive industry in the area.

History

From the Middle Ages, the Gironde vineyards developed into the oenological and business paradigm that is still in use today. In the 12th century Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine (the region of Southwest France including modern-day Bordeaux) married Henry Plantagenet, the future King of England. Together they united England and Southwest France. This began a long history of trade between the two regions, and many goods were exchanged. One of England’s favorite imports from the Southwest of France was Bordeaux wine. Bordeaux quickly gained a monopoly over wines imported into England. This monopoly would last until The Hundred Years’ War between France and England halting all trade between the two nations.

The early 19th century marked the start of a new golden age. Bordeaux was once again a favorite of the English, and wine production doubled while exports tripled.

Napoleon III requested the 1855 Classification system to commemorate the World’s Fair, which led to an improvement in quality.

Did You Know: Powdery mildew, a dreadful vine disease, hit the vineyards in 1851. They found in 1857 that the sickness could be wiped out by spraying sulfur on the grapes!

The whole vineyard was destroyed by the grapevine disease, phylloxera between the years of 1875 and 1892. In the end, the vines were preserved by grafting disease-resistant Bordeaux vines onto American grapevine rootstock. Mildew pursued phyloxera’s path. When the Bordeaux combination, a concoction of slaked lime and copper sulfate, was developed, it brought this parasitic fungus under control.

Climate

Bordeaux has a moderated maritime climate that benefits from the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. This brings warm water from the Caribbean to Northern Europe. Additionally, it lengthens the growing season because spring frosts are seldom an issue and grape ripening can last far into October.

The Atlantic also bring a lot of rain and humidity. Vineyards were shielded from the worst of the Atlantic storms by the Landes forest and the sand dunes along the shore. The rainfall is high, the average rainfall of over 950 millimeters per year. It rains throughout the year, which can interfere with fruit development and blossoming, encourage rot, and weakening the flavor of the grapes when they are harvested.

Bordeaux Wine

Bordeaux makes many styles of wine from white, red, rosé, sparkling, and dessert wines. Nonetheless, the red Bordeaux wines are the most well-known. In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon make up their whites, while Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet France, and a few minor grapes make up their red wines.

The Bordeaux region produces some of the most notable and complex wines in the world. More specifically, it has been producing excellent wines since the 17th century, owing to a rich and heightened geographic imprint leftover from the Ice Age period and an optimal atmosphere, and a diverse range of water sources.

Bordeaux Wine

Different Styles Of Bordeaux Wines

Bordeaux, like the other parts of France, organizes its wines using the Appellation d’Origine Protégée system. There are now 60 subregions in Bordeaux, and the region is home to around 8,500 wineries. Bordeaux wineries are more commonly referred to as Châteaux. The region is famed for its powerful red[1] wines, but it also produces some of the world’s most delicious white wines. Moreover, the Bordeaux regions of Sauternes and Barsac produce some of the world’s most renowned dessert wines.

Similarly, Bordeaux also produces a small amount of sparkling wine, known as the Crémant de Bordeaux. Since April 1990, the Crémant de Bordeaux has been recognized as an AOC-classified beverage. It is a product of the region’s long history of making sparkling wines, which dates back to the 19th century.

Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle are the two principal grape varieties used to make white Crémant de Bordeaux. While Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are used to make Crémant de Bordeaux rosé.

Regions

The entire Bordeaux region is divided into two main sections: the Right Bank and the Left Bank. The Left Bank of Bordeaux is home to the majority of the region’s famous Châteaux. The northern part of the Left Bank include the famous regions of Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Margaux, and many others. Moreover, the appellations of Graves and Pessac-Léognan, along with the sweet wine regions of Barsac and Sauternes, are all located in the southern part of the Left Bank. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates Bordeaux’s Left Bank reds, with other red grape varieties blended in.

On the Right Bank, you will find Merlot reigns supreme. The well-known appellations of Saint-Emilion, Fronsac, and Pomerol can all be found here. Most of the Côtes de Bordeaux are found further south. Wines made in Bordeaux’s Right Bank are more approachable and softer than the Left Bank due to a greater amount of Merlot.

Terroir

Because of its wide variety of top-notch terroirs, Bordeaux makes a wide variety of wine styles. Every wine enthusiast will be satisfied by the huge variety of wines it makes, which also offers a wide price range.

Two unique types of Bordeaux’s soil and terroir may be distinguished. The greatest terroir in Bordeaux’s Left Bank is primarily gravel-based. Clay and limestone soil types predominate on the Right Bank of Bordeaux.

The best grape-growing regions in the district are on the slopes around the three major water sources. Another interesting fact is that vineyards[2] in Bordeaux are often slightly humid due to the district’s Atlantic climate, which is not always a bad thing. Despite the fact that humidity can cause mildew and disease, it also contributes to botrytis development needed for the Bordeaux dessert wines.

Also read: Age of Exploration and Wine

On This Day

43 AD: The production of Bordeaux wine appears to have commenced.

71 AD: In this year, Pliny the Elder documented the first genuine evidence of vines at Bordeaux.

1453: France took control of wine production.

Want to read more about the history of wine? Check out these books!

Bordeaux Region, Bordeaux: The Iconic Wine RegionBordeaux Region, Bordeaux: The Iconic Wine Region
 References:

[1] Bordeaux wines: Everything you need to know about the region (no date) Decanter. Available at: https://www.decanter.com/wine/wine-regions/bordeaux-wines/ (Accessed: November 23, 2022).

 

[2] Bordeaux 101 complete beginner guide to everything about Bordeaux wine (2018) The Wine Cellar Insider. Available at: https://www.thewinecellarinsider.com/wine-topics/bordeaux-wine-buying-guide-tasting-notes-ratings/bordeaux-wine-tasting-notes-ratings-reviews-buying-guide/bordeaux-101-complete-beginner-guide-everything-bordeaux-wine/ (Accessed: November 23, 2022).

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