The Bordeaux region of France is largest fine wine-growing area in the world with 284,320 acres under vine, 57 appellations, 9,000 wine-producing châteaux, and 13,000 grape growers.
With an annual production of over 700 million bottles Bordeaux produces everything from large quantities of everyday table wine, to the most expensive and prestigious wines in the world. This is more than the total production of the whole of Australia.
Yet while the reputation of Bordeaux is based upon a few prestigious red and sweet white Sauternes, Bordeaux also produces white wines, rosé wines, and even the sparkling Crémant de Bordeaux.
The major reason for the success of winemaking in the Bordeaux region is the excellent environment for growing vines. The geological foundation of the region is limestone, leading to a soil structure that is heavy in calcium. With the natural paths of the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers to irrigate the land, and an oceanic climate that provides humidity to the atmosphere, an almost perfect environment is created in which grapes can, and do, flourish.
Grapes and Terroir
Red Bordeaux is traditionally known as Claret in the Britain, from the original light red Clairet wine of the Middle Ages. It is generally made from a blend of grapes. Permitted grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenere although the Malbec is very seldom used and Carmenere is now virtually extinct in Bordeaux. The choice of grape is influenced by what the French call Terroir, a subtle mix of soil types land shape and microclimate. The Médoc & Graves Terroir is composed of stony and gravely soils; the wines from this territory are typically masculine and complex. As a very broad generalisation, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the blend in red wines produced in the Médoc and the rest of the left bank of the Gironde estuary.
On the right bank Merlot and to a lesser extent Cabernet Franc tend to predominate. The Côtes de Bordeaux Terroir, perched on the hillsides, produces fruity, full-bodied wines that are exceptionally round. But the slopes impose different techniques than those used in Médoc. The Libournais Terroir, with Saint-Émilion, ensures that here Merlot produces sumptuous wines that are impossible to imitate.
White Bordeaux, including the sweet Sauternes, is made from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle.
The Sweet Wines Terroir, around Sauternes, exists thanks to the river mists caused by a very slight temperature difference that transforms the Sémillion grape variety into gold.
The Dry White Wine Terroir is the result of the happy meeting of Sauvignon with the clay-limestone soils between Garonne and Dordogne. The wines here are light and fruity.
The Bordeaux wine region is divided into sub-regions including Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Médoc, and Graves. In 1855, a classification system, known as The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, ranked the wines into five categories according to price. The first growth red wines (four from Médoc and one, Château Haut-Brion, from Graves), are among the most expensive wines in the world. These wines are of such exceptional quality that even a wine novice can tell they are drinking something very special.
The first growths are :
In 1955, St. Émilion AOC were classified, adding an additional two Premier Crus (Class A):
Pomerol has never been officially classified, but its best estates, such as Château Pétrus and Château Le Pin, fetch very high prices that often exceed even the prices of the first growths.
Sauternes is a sub-region of Graves known for its intensely sweet, white, dessert wines such as Château d'Yquem, uniquely classified as Premier Cru Supérieur, more expensive than even the First growth reds. The intense sweetness is the result of the grapes being affected by Botrytis cinerea, a fungus that is commonly known as noble rot.
Wine production in the region began sometime in the first century AD, during the Roman settlement of St. Émilion. Pliny the Elder recorded the first real evidence of vineyards in Bordeaux in 71 AD.
Although domestically popular, French wine was seldom exported, as the areas covered by vineyards and the volume of wine produced was low. In the 12th century however, the popularity of Bordeaux wines increased dramatically as the region came under English control, following the marriage of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor d'Aquitaine. In the 14th century, Clement V, first French Pope, always served Bordeaux wines during his travels around France an Europe.
As the popularity of Bordeaux wine increased, the vineyards expanded to accommodate the demands from abroad. Being the land tax beneficiary, Henry II was in favour of this industry, and to increase it further, abolished export taxes to England from the Aquitaine region.
In 1725, the spread of vineyards throughout Bordeaux was so vast that it was divided into specific areas so that the consumer could tell exactly where each wine was from. The collection of districts was known as the Vignoble de Bordeaux, and bottles were labelled with both the region and the area from which they originated. The same basic system operates today.
The governing body of wine in Bordeaux is the CIVB, visit their site at http://www.bordeaux.com
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