Bordeaux—this word carries an almost mythic status and fires the mind with anticipation of greatness. No other wine region in the world is a more important source of notorious great wines,… and Bordeaux can truly be called the largest fine wine vineyard on the globe. - KAREN MAC NEIL—THE WINE BIBLE
Bordeaux is the ultimate symbol of wine, everywhere in the world. No other wine region is more powerful, commercially developed, or more abundant as a source of profoundly complex, age-worthy great wines. The challenge is to comprehend it all. It is without question the largest fine wine vineyard on the globe. The Bordeaux appellation covers more territory than all of the vineyards of Germany put together and it is ten times larger than the vineyard acreage of New Zealand. In Bordeaux some 15,000 growers, amongst which figure hundreds of top-class estates – plus thousands of lesser standing – together produce a daunting 750 million bottles of wine every year, including many of the priciest wines in the world.
Perfectly located just halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, Bordeaux lies along the path of three important rivers—the Gironde, which is in fact the Estuary itself, plus the two rivers that feed it, the Dordogne and the Garonne. To the immediate West is the Atlantic Ocean, and everywhere the region is crisscrossed by small streams. These waters play a critical role in shaping the region and the wine it produces. Bordeaux is mostly a red-wine region. More than 80% of the wine made is red. Five grape varietals are used and they are almost always blended together.
In the 1st century B.C., some years before the Roman legions invaded Aquitaine, merchants from Campania in Italy came to sell their wine to the inhabitants of Burdigalia (ancient Roman name for Bordeaux). They found the soil favorable and planted some vines on the banks of the Gironde River. In the 4th century A.D. the wines of the area became so popular in Rome that the Emperor Diocletian ordered the vines to be uprooted and burned, as he did with the vines of Cahors, further in the South West, to eliminate the competition. In 820, on the order of the Emperor Charlemagne, vines were planted again in Bordeaux by the Benedictine monks. In the 12th century the wines of Bordeaux gained further popularity due to the marriage of Eleanor d’Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet, future King Henry II of England who encouraged the export of “Clarets” (as the English called them) to Britain. The wines of the year were shipped to England before Christmas. In those days no one knew how to preserve wine, and it would deteriorate after a year as a result of natural chemical changes.
At the end of the 17th Century, Claret encountered stiff competition from the introduction of new beverages – tea, coffee and chocolate, and also from other robust wines from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). In addition, the foreign wars waged by Louis XIV led importing countries to levy punitive measures and taxes on French wines. In spite of this, high society in England remained devoted to the flavor of Claret. In the early 18th century some London shippers sought to create a new style of more refined wines, the ‘New French Clarets’ which they bought young to lay down. In an inspired marketing initiative, some merchants started to sell the wine in bottles that were corked and sealed to guarantee their origin and could thus be sold at a premium price.
Slowly the connection between Terroir, the Châteaux and Grands Vins (great wines) evolved, bringing about wines of a more reliable standard. Wines began to be judged, rated, appreciated and priced according to their quality. As a consequence, wine-growers began to select land to cultivate the vines more carefully, limiting the amount of wine produced in order to enhance the quality and improving the conditions for ageing the wines in oak casks. At the same time, they introduced new methods, protecting their wines during maturing stages and clarifying the wine by fining or racking.
The first ranking of the Bordeaux Crus was established at the end of the 18th Century. The prestige of the Grands Vins of Bordeaux increased through the 19th Century, as illustrated by the classification of the Great Growths (Grands Crus) of Médoc in 1855. Since then, all First Great Growths have been benchmarks for style and quality for more than two centuries. In fact, Haut-Brion had a write-up in the early 1600s, when Samuel Pepys wrote the first Wine Review of all times in a British Journal. Georges Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and generations of aristocrats and millionaires have collected these wines.
In 1985, publisher Malcolm Forbes paid more than $150,000 for a 1787 Lafite believed to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson; it remains the highest price ever paid for a single bottle of wine.
Another Great wine region of Bordeaux is along the Right Bank. There we find some of the the oldest and most prestigious red wine appellations in the world, like Saint Emilion and Pomerol. Some of the most sublime of all Bordeaux wines are made there, and although Saint Emilion and Pomerol were not part of the original Medoc 1855 classification, they have their own system of classification and quality control evaluation. What makes Pomerol and Saint Emilion “Terroir” so unique is an extraordinary diversity of soil: no less than 5 types of clay, limestone, schist, gravel and sand all contribute to its outstanding quality.
The country of Saint Emilion is the only Wine Region in the World which has been declared: “Patrimony of Humanity” by UNESCO. One of the leading appellations of Bordeaux wines, Pomerol is the tiniest region but the one that today (since the early 60s) has the most cachet. In fact, Pomerol stands now as one of the highest assets of Bordeaux. Home of the famous Chateau Petrus, which may not be one of the first classified growths of Medoc, but year in year out, Petrus turns out the most expensive and sought after bottles of wine in the world. Chateau Petrus did set the pace and standards for some remarkable red wines in the commune of Pomerol.
All in all, Bordeaux has given us some of the benchmarks of greatness by which all the fine wines in the world are made today. Through the sheer and relentless dedication to excellence of the Great Growths, we are now able to enjoy wines of quality in all regions of the world. For this, all the Wine Lovers of the World may thank Bordeaux, from the bottom of their hearts!....