The French Wine

French wine is globally renowned for its taste and quality. France produces around 50 to 60 million hectoliters of wine per year, equivalent to nearly 7 to 8 billion bottles. The unique and fine taste of French wine differentiates it from other wine producing regions (Isle, 2019). 

Although French wine outshines many wines produced in other regions, the vineyards producing quality wine suffered heavily in the late 19th century’s catastrophe known as the ‘Great French Wine Blight.‘ In the late 1800’s, French vineyards were desolated, and it was thought that this industry may never recover.

Almost 40% of French vineyards were adversely affected in the late 1800’s. Further consequences of the blight resulted in businesses closing, and put the French wine industry was on the edge of destruction. Physical examination of the blight revealed that it was caused by an American parasite (called Phylloxera) that attacked  the grapevine’s roots.

Eventually it was determined the best solution to the blight was to graft French grapevines onto already immune American grapevine rootstock. This technique is still used worldwide to combat phylloxera.

France’s wine-producing regions are divided into several areas. Each wine region is famous for its unique wine taste and quality. Several of the prominent regions include Burgundy, Alsace, Rhône Valley, Loire Valley, Champagne, and Bordeaux. 


The region of Bordeaux is located in the southwest of France. Inside this region is a port city on the river, Garonne. Bordeaux produces both red and white wines. White wines are mostly made from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Red wines are mostly made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot

Red Bordeaux has been popular throughout history, especially with the British, who call it ‘claret.’ It is unclear why the British use the term claret, but it is thought to be connected to the French word ‘clairet’ which long ago referred to light red wines from Bordeaux. 

Did You Know: The British often use the term Claret to refer to red wines from Bordeaux.

Various events are involved in the history of Bordeaux wine. Let’s have a look at the significant events that helped shape the history of  famous wines of Bordeaux:

  • By 1199, Bordeaux monopolized the production and sales of the wine to England.
  • The Hundred Years’ War between France and England put a halt to English importation of French wine. Eventually trade was reestablished but not until around 1475, the time of Louis XI. (History of Wine in Bordeaux, 2022). 
  • In the 17th century, prosperity increased as the Dutch began transporting Bordeaux wines into England. 
  • In 1787, Thomas Jefferson (third President of the U.S. 1801-1809) visited Bordeaux. He fell in love with the wines and the region. He shipped various types of wines, including many Bordeaux wines to the United States, hence becoming an unofficial ambassador of Bordeaux wines.
  • A rating system known as the ‘Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855′ was created by Napoleon III. This system categorized high quality red wines from the Bordeaux subregion of Medoc. Napoleon III requested this system be completed for the upcoming World’s Fair. 
  • A deadly disease affected many of the vineyards in 1851. This disease was Powdery Mildew, caused by the fungus Podosphaera xanthii, and brought the premature death of leaves. The solution to this problem was spraying sulfur on the vines. This solution was discovered in 1857, and Bordeaux vineyards flourished again (Facts About Powdery Mildew, 2022).
  • In the late 1800’s, the Great French Wine Blight was also faced by Bordeaux. It was caused by an American insect that attacked the grapevine’s roots. (Pettijohn, 2022).
  • In the 19th century, a system was brought to eradicate disease and focus on the rapid expansion of vineyards.
  • In 1956, the glory of the wine of Bordeaux was back, and many wineries recovered their prosperity.
  • In 1987, AOC Pessac Leognan was created. A new appellation located in  Northern Graves.

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Wine tourism in Bordeaux continues to grow. There is the wine museum, Cite du Vin, tourism routes, and various activities that make Bordeaux special for both wine and non-wine tourists. UNESCO has also declared this region a World Heritage Site, so its popularity is increasing day by day. 

Fun facts about Bordeaux wine

  • Saint Emilion is a city that is located at the crossroads of Bordeaux, Perigord, and Saintonge. This city is situated in a region of wine hills. The vineyards were originally planted by Ancient Romans, and their history goes back to the 2nd century AD. Saint Emilion is included in one of the four main red wine areas around Bordeaux
  • Another specialty of Bordeaux is a dessert called Canelés, which is made from rum and egg yolks. This dessert was originally created to use up the excess of egg yolks after wine makers used the egg whites to clarify their wine. 
  • The oldest wine estate of Bordeaux is called as Château Pape Clément. It is situated in the Pessac-Léognan region in the south of Bordeaux. The first harvest occurred in 1252.  (Mitchell, 2022).
  • Ausonius was a Latin poet from the period 310-395D. He was the first to mention Bordeaux wine in his writings and poems. The Bordeaux wine, Chateau Ausone was named after this poet in 1781 (Quirky Facts-Bordeaux, 2022).
  • Most of the buildings in Bordeaux were constructed in the 18th century when the richer Bordelais wanted to show off their wealth. This idea attracted others, and top producers took it as a marketing opportunity. 
  • Many modern wine-making techniques came from Bordeaux. A French researcher, Emile Peynaud helped shape modern wine making techniques. His improvements included ideas like only using good quality grapes, red grapes should be picked only when ripe, and processing wine from different parcels. 
  • Approximately 60% of all the plantings in Bordeaux are Merlot. The main reason for this is its easier growing and riping process. 

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Categories: This Day in Wine History | Articles, Wine, Wine RegionsTags: , , , , By Published On: May 29, 2022Last Updated: November 27, 2023

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