04 Jan Getting to know Bordeaux
– A Wine Bluffer guide
Along with Champagne, Bordeaux is one of the best-known wine regions in France and produces large quantities of very fine wine. In that respect it is probably the foremost region in the world for famous and high-quality wines.
Bordeaux is known primarily for its reds, but it does produce white wines, notably Sauternes and white Graves, the latter this writer’s favourite white. However, for this short article we will restrict ourselves to those glorious reds which account for 85% of production. These red wines are nearly all blends, primarily Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the latter variety dominating the blends of Medoc and Graves which are collectively known as the Left Bank (of the River Garonne that is). On the other side you will find other mighty names including Pomerol, St Emilion, Fronsac and Entre-Deux-Mers.
A combination of branding and bottle life make many of the really famous names in Bordeaux like Ch. Lafite and Petrus great investments and consequently astronomically priced and prized.
The wines of this region are generally classified as chateaux which stems from the 1855 classification of 61 chateaux* when Napoleon III requested selections of the best wines to represent France at the International Exposition in that year. This classification remains in place, more or less, although some chateaux have merged to form larger concerns. With an area so steeped in history there is so much to learn. There are appellations within appellations and this ‘layering’ means that wine classification and terroir play an even more important role in creating highly specific naming, and consequently higher prices.
So, to sort the wheat from the chaff you can read some clues on the label, but again this is tricky. A wine labelled a Grand Vin de Bordeaux is not indicative of its greatness but rather that the size of the bottle is correct! The word Bordeaux on the label generally means that the wine is of the lowliest. While Superieur only tells you that the wine is a little more alcoholic. Cru Classe is the classification for all the famous names and you will have already clocked the price! And finally, Cru Bourgeois is a classification specific to Medoc containing high performing Chateaux. Many Cru Bourgeois wines can hold their own with Cru Classe wines, making for better value.
If you have read this far then you may be more confused than when you started and that’s when you can rely on the helpful staff at OAK N4 to advise you. It may be an onerous journey to full comprehension but at least it’s an enjoyable one!
Two to try at OAK N4
Chateau Puy Castera, a medium-bodied wine from the Haut-Médoc. One reviewer on their website sums it up well. ‘Thoroughly classic yet still exciting, showing wisdom but not wrinkles. This is an impressive, balanced mouthful and sure to be enjoyed by all lovers of Cabernet and Merlot blends.’
Or try this biodynamic Chateau D’Arcole Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, a rich nose with intense aromas of black fruits, silky with ripe tannins and excellent length.
* Wine Bluffer says: To be classed as a chateau the estate must comprise a house (of any shape or size) attached to the vineyard which must be of a certain number of hectares. Wine must be made and stored on the property. These restrictions are enshrined in French law and a chateau ain’t a chateau unless it meets all those criteria.