Bordeaux Wine Region
This is the region around the town of this name in the west of France, sometimes also known as the Gironde, according to French departement traditions, whereby the area is named for its principal river. The Bordeaux region is responsible for more fine wine than any other of the French wine areas. It produces red, dry white and sweet white wines and a little sparkling wine. Those who especially love the wines of Bordeaux will affirm that there is at least one among them to suit every occasion and partner any food. The area is extensive and the range of wines considerable – it is this variety that accounts for the endless discussions about the table wines of Bordeaux.
The main regions – which should be referred to under their separate headings – are: Medoc. Graves. St Emilion. Pomerol, Entre-Deux-Mers, Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux. Bourg. Blaye. Sauternes, Barsac, Graves de Vayres. Fronsac. Loupiac. Cerons. Sainte Croix du Mont, St Foy Bordeaux and a few others, such as the St Emilion vineyards that preface this name with Lussac. Graves. Sables. St Georges and Montagne. There are also the parishs or communes of the Medoc: Moulis. Listrac. Margaux. St Julien, Pauillac and St Estephe being the most important, into which this area is subdivided. The Sauternes region is also divided like this: important names being Bommes. Fargues. Preignac. also Illats and Podensac.
The word ‘claret’, used only in the U.K. for the red wines of Bordeaux. comes from clairet. a medieval word for a iight coloured (clair) wine. This phrase was originally used to differentiate the true red Bordeaux wines from those of the hinterland, often deep in tone, which were shipped through the port of Bordeaux. Recently there was a problem when the EEC attempted to ban the use of the word claret, but the British were able to prove its traditional usage on their wine labels, although all other countries use the term ‘red Bordeaux’.. Clairet is a different sort of wine, Clairette is a grape.
In 1152 the heiress of Aquitaine, Eleanor, formerly wife of the King of France, married Henry Plantagenet who became Henry II of England in 1154. For 299 years the English crown held the Gironde, plus other properties that extended from the Loire to the Pyrenees and over to the edge of Burgundy. The English drank claret from that time and, even when they lost their holdings in France, they remained loyal to the red wines of Bordeaux. The Scots were also traditional claret drinkers. At one time, to drink red Bordeaux was a sign of adherence to the Stuart cause – those who accepted ‘Dutch William’ as King, chose other tipples from Dutch gin to port.
There always has been a debate among twentieth century drinkers as to whether claret or Burgundy is the world’s greatest red wine and it is said with some truth that, whereas anyone with an adequate purse can drink a great claret every week or month, no one is likely to drink a great red Burgundy more than a few times in a decade. The larger area and enormous variety of Bordeaux wines put them within the reach of many buyers; although in recent times the demands of export markets – often for the sheer status symbol of the ‘great names’ on labels – plus the artificial exaggeration of prices, because of people buying ‘for investment’ (i.e. resale), have made the better clarets into extremely expensive wines. Even the great sweet wines, so long neglected, have also become sought after. This would not be a matter for regret, were one sure that the drinkers of these wines were buying them for enjoyment; but it is to be feared that the majority drink them to show off or put them away until the price they can command at auction will be very high.
The principal grapes used for red Bordeaux are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. For the white wines, the main grapes are the Sauvignon, Semillon and Muscadelle. In the ordinary way, the wine is made by allowing the freshly-pressed must to become wine by the process of fermentation, then the wine is matured in wood until it is ready to be bottled. But this natural process is nowadays rendered more complex by certain techniques which do make it possible to produce drinkable wine in years that might previously have been complete losses, or yield sour wines that might be disagreeable. Subject to strict controls, some chaptalisation is permitted. The wine does not always mature in wood but often spends its pre-bottle life in a vat or tank of either stainless steel or a special type of concrete. Fermentation is controlled, so that the temperature of the fermentation vat does not rise dangerously high; the white wines are often subjected to the process of dibourbage (cleansing) in their initial stages. The hat (mass of grape debris) is now only allowed to remain in the fermentation vat for a shortish time – if left several weeks, as in the past, the wines would be hard and take 20 or more years to ‘come round’, something wholly uneconomic nowadays. But modem filtration and surveillance enables much cleaner and more reliable wines to be made, so that winemaking is not a chancy business and wines can travel to climates through greater extremes of heat or cold than would previously have been possible.
It is the finest wines that have made the reputation of Bordeaux and it is they that get most publicity – both red and white. But, thanks to modern knowledge, there are now hundreds, possibly thousands, of smaller-scale Bordeaux wines that can give pleasure on export markets, as well as locally. The commune wines are also well made today. It must never be forgotten that, although certain of the greatest red Bordeaux, in outstanding years, can live as long if not longer than any other table wine and remain truly ‘living’, these are the exceptions. Age alone does not improve all wines. Curiously, the great years for the sweet whites of Bordeaux do not often coincide with the great vintages for the reds. Nor should it be assumed that, merely because some drinkers find claret the greatest red wine of all, the beginner will inevitably like or be impressed by it. Claret is not a wine to be casually chosen and, because it can made demands on the mind as well as the senses of the drinker, it is not the ‘when-in-doubt’ choice from the list. But the wines of Bordeaux merit exploration, both because of their interest and because they have been those that have established the standards of integrity and excellence for many of the most respected authorities on wine.
District within the great white wine region of Sauternes in the Bordeaux area. The most famous vineyards, making sweet white wines, are Chateaux Lafaurie-Peyraguey, La Tour Blanche, Rayne-Vigneau, Rabaud-Promis, and Rabaud-Sigalas.