In the 1100s a wealthy French duchess (Eleanor of Aquitaine) married an English king (Henry II) which made Bordeaux part of England.
The posh and rich picked Bordeaux as their favourite tipple and there beganeth the over pricedness of Bordeaux wine. It remained in England’s ownership until the 15th century until the French took it back.
Bordeaux is now France’s largest wine growing region, producing over 700 million bottles every year. It lies on the Atlantic and is subjected to rainfall all year round making grape growing somewhat unpredictable. Enter the blend. Growing a mix of grape varietals means winemakers can hedge their bets and alter their blends depending on what has ripened best.
90% of Bordeaux production is in red wine. The main red grapes that are grown are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Each brings something slightly different to the blend but merlot is ye olde faithful - it accounts for about 60% of total plantings and is early ripening, great for getting a head start on the harvest.
You may have been asked before if you are more of a right or left bank person. You may have thought said person was a bit of a wiener (apparently this is an acceptable Canadian word for the English slang I wanted to use). The best answer would be something equally wieney (?!) such as ‘it depends on the vintage’. But left or right bank simply refers to the area to the left or right of the Gironde estuary, the estuary that runs through Bordeaux. Try to remember;
Left bank = Cabernet Sauvignon dominant = Blackcurrant = More clout
Right bank = Merlot dominant = Plums = Softer = More quaffable
Another useful thing to remember might be the areas that are good quality and good value. Because not all of those 700,000,000 bottles will be tasty and cheap. Inexpensive areas to look out for include the Cotes de Bordeaux, a group of appellations spread around Bordeaux. These include;
Blaye (our wine in class was from here)
Entre deux Mers is also a great spot for good value whites. And Cahors, although not really Bordeaux, makes an excellent malbec. France after all, is the birthplace of Malbec, NOT Argentina.
A quick note on the 1855 classification in case the same person who asked if you preferred left or right bank Bordeaux now asks you to list your favourite chateaux... In 1855 Napoleon III, emperor of France, held a Universal Exhibition much like Expo ‘86 here in Vancouver. He wanted to showcase France’s best wines and Bordeaux submitted a list of its top 58 chateaux. This was an extremely controversial list and included principally chateaux from the left bank and more specifically from the Medoc. Just remember the top 5 (also known as the first growths); Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut-Brion, Mouton Rothchild. Easy.
Claret = term used by some people in England who are perhaps living in the past. Means a red wine from Bordeaux, 600 years ago.
Meritage = term now used by Americans because the French told them that they couldn’t simply call their red blend a Bordeaux. Meritage comes from mixing Merit and Heritage. Very clever.