Red Bordeaux Wine Facts
The red wines of Bordeaux are commonly known as Claret in English, and include some of the noblest and most subtle wines in the world.
CLARET (RED BORDEAUX)
The table is divided into the main areas of Bordeaux which produce Claret (Haut Medoc is further divided into its most famous communes); then follow the names of a few of the wines produced within the area.
Chateau Beau-Site, Chateau de Pez, Chateau Colon Segur, Chateau Montrose
Chateau Beychevelle, Chateau Leoville Barton, Chateau Talbot
Chateau Palmer, Chateau d’Issan
Chateau Lafite-Rothschild*, Chateau Latour*, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild*
Chateau Margaux, Chateau Rauzan Gassies, Chateau Rausan Segla
Chateau Cheval Blanc*, Chateau Ausone, Chateau Canon, Chateau Figeac, Chateau Clos Fourtet
Chateau Petrus*, Chateau La Conseillante, Chateau Vevangile, Vieux Chateau Certan
Chateau Haut-Brion*, Chateau Carbonnieux, Domaine de Chevalier, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitt
Fronsac, Blaye, Bourge
Communes producing robust red wines of medium quality Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux The area produces some red wine of reasonable quality, but far more white wine.
*=very fine and very costly
For three centuries following 1152, when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England, considerable areas of France were under English rule, and they included the Bordeaux wine area. The British drank more of the wine per capita at that time than they do today. At one stage, 300 ships were engaged in the trade, and wine accounted for almost a third of all British imports. Now, there is a growing world demand for the finest of the Bordeaux wines, especially from America and, to an increasing extent, Japan, and this means, of course, that they are becoming scarcer and more expensive. In a very general way, one can say that the wines of Bordeaux are more delicate than those of Burgundy, and that the most noble Clarets have a subtlety and finesse unmatched by any other red wine in the world. Even so, the red wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy have an affinity, especially those of St.-Emilion with those from north-west of Beaune. Certainly among the less exalted wines from both areas, one can easily be mistaken for another.
In general again, Bordeaux wines take longer to mature: Clarets are drinkable after about three years, but reach their best after some ten to fifteen years, depending on the vintage. Some of the finest continue to improve for thirty years or more, though whether such a leisurely process will go on being possible, now that world demand is increasing, is questionable. The Bordeaux wine area produces a huge quantity of high-quality wines — ten times that of Burgundy. Its 300,000 or so acres of vineyards are all contained within the Department of the Gironde. The whole area is divided into districts, each having a different soil structure, which helps to account for the wide range of the types and styles of wine. These in turn are divided into communes or parishes, in which the estates are situated. The largest of these are known as Chateaux, Domaines, or sometimes Clos, and the best wines are known by the names of the properties on which they are produced. The Medoc (from the Bas Medoc in the north, near to Bordeaux itself, to the Haut M6doc in the south, at the mouth of the River Gironde) is the supreme Claret area, and has more than 500 chateaux, ranging from great and historic estates to small-holdings of a tiny area. The chief Medoc communes, so distinguished in the world’s wine-lists, are St.-Estephe, St.-Julien, Pauillac, Cantenac and Margaux.
The Classification of 1855, suggested by Napoleon III for the Paris Exhibition, was originally intended only for wines from the Medoc, and three of them — Chateau Latour and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild from Pauillac, and Chateau-Margaux from the commune of Margaux — were given Premier Cru rating. They were joined in their distinction by an ‘odd man out’ — Chateau Haut-Brion from Graves. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, although classified as a ‘second growth’ is, even so, one of the greatest Clarets, and costs as much as the wines of the first growth.
The Clarets of the Medoc are, broadly, dry, but whereas those of Pauillac and St.-Estephe are full-flavoured, those of St.-Julien, Margaux and Cantenac are lighter. A St.-Emilion Claret is fuller-bodied than a Medoc, a Pomerol wine is lighter, soft, with a distinctive bouquet, and from Graves the Clarets are fine and dry. (Clarets generally have an alcoholic content of 10° to 11°.)
Wines classified as lesser growths have not risen so spectacularly in price as the great aristocrats: a 1961 Chateau Beau-Site from St.-Estephe is ready for drinking now, and a 1970 Chateau de Pez, also from St.-Estephe, and full of promise, is for laying down, and neither of these wines is at all exorbitant in price. Like the wines they produce, the chateaux themselves are not all grand or beautiful. But some, like the Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, belonging to the Barons de Rothschild, are magnificent. The Chateau Beychevelle (whose wine is classified as fourth growth) is one of the loveliest in St.-Julien, as serene and symmetrical as the elegant Chateau Talbot, which was built on the site of the castle belonging to the last English defender of Bordeaux, who was killed at Castillon in 1453.
These chateaux all have famous names, but the lesser growths, the non- vintage commune wines, the strong ‘Bordeaux Sup6rieures Rouges’ from the Medoc, and the humbler but sturdy favourites like Appellation Medoc, Appellation St.-Emilion and simply ‘Bordeaux Rouge’ can embellish many dishes, particularly roast meat and poultry. They can also still all be found at a really low price.