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Category Archives: Bordeaux


Wine Terms: What does the term ‘First Growth’ mean?

 

firstgrowth

Have you been at a wine gathering where you heard the term ‘First Growth’ thrown around?

This term applies to wines in the Medoc and Graves region in France.

The meaning of First Growth is not taken literally to mean the wine grapes were the first to be grown after the winter or that they were the first to be harvested when ripe.

Rather, the term is used to denote ‘first in class’.

First in class for what you may ask.

Well, a classification system was created by Napoleon III for the Universal Exposition of 1855. It was an event held to showcase the best that France has to offer, including wine. Since humans grasp things much easier when they are put into categories and rankings, the 1855 Medoc classification was put in place. It was intended to make the vast wine offerings of the Bordeaux region easier for international visitors to understand.

Perhaps an unintended consequence is that after the Exposition – due our tendency to categorize and rank things – people retained that hierarchy in their minds. First Growth wines became the most expensive wines in the 1855 and still are today – 160 years later.

The First Growth wines are chased by wine drinkers, collectors, and speculators alike. The First Growth title is also coveted by winemakers, with Chateau Mouton Rothschild successfully entering the First Growth class in 1973 after intense lobbying by it’s owner, Baron Rothschild. Other winemakers covet the title as well, because it would give them the ability to set high prices for their wine.

There are 5 Bordeaux First Growth: Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion and Château Mouton Rothschild.

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Alibaba billionaire Jack Ma buys Château Perenne and Château Guerry in Bordeaux

Alibaba billionaire Jack Ma buys Château Perenne in Bordeaux

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… and Chateau Guerry

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Bordeaux Region: The Left Bank

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Gironde estuary – meeting of the rivers Dordogne and Garonne

The Bordeaux wine growing region is separated by two rivers – the Dordogne and the the Garonne – which meet to form the Gironde river.

The Left Bank of Bordeaux is located southwest of the Gironde and the Garonne. The Left Bank is dominated by gravel soils which hold the sun’s heat and is perfectly adapted to Cabernet Sauvignon. Along with the dominant Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is used to bring more roundness for the red wines. Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc are other grape varieties used but in a smaller proportion. For the white wines, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon are mainly used while Muscadelle is used to a lesser proportion.

The Left Bank is divided into two regions: Médoc and Graves.

 

bordeaux map

Médoc

This region is located at the north of the Left Bank and contains two vast appellations – Médoc AOC (Northern Médoc) and Haut-Médoc AOC (Southern Médoc) – and 6 communal appellations among the most prestigious in the world:

–          St-Estèphe: it is the most northern of the six Médoc communes and differentiates with higher percentages of Merlot. The wines tend to have more acidity.

–          Pauillac: positioned at the centre of Médoc, it is a remarkable terroir with three Premiers Crus Classés (Lafite-Rotschild, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild). The wines are powerful and can age for 20-40 years

–          St-Julien: located between Margaux and Pauillac, it combines the finesse of Margaux with the power of Pauillac

–          Margaux: it is the southern communal AOC and the wines offer finesse and delicacy

–          Moulis: located at the west part of the Médoc, the wines are suave

–          Listrac-Médoc: located near Moulis, the wines are tannic and age-worthy

 

Graves

This region is located at the south of the Left Bank and contains the Graves AOC, and two communal appellations:

–          Pessac-Léognan: located at the south of Bordeaux, the appellation produces both red and white wines. The red wines use a higher percentage of Merlot than the Médoc and have a complex bouquet. The dry white wines are aged on their lees and develop complex aromas with notes of nuts and honey

–          Sauternes/Barsac: this appellation is known for its dessert wines produced from botrytized grapes. The bouquet is complex and elegant with aromas of honey, hazelnuts, apricots and peaches

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Wine Region: Bordeaux

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You can always find a picture-perfect chateau in Bordeaux.

Bordeaux is probably the most well-known wine region in France.

It’s geographical position in France fueled much of its early growth. Bordeaux is essentially connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Gironde river. Commerce has been pulsing through the veins of the Bordeaux port for centuries. One of the most notable trades in the port is the selling of wine. In the early days, the Atlantic Ocean connected Bordeaux with England (its biggest wine client) just nicely.

To a wine drinker, what you can appreciate is the diversity of wines that come from Bordeaux. We can get a good feel for this by dividing Bordeaux into 3 main areas, the Left Bank (left of the Gironde river), the Right Bank (right of the Gironde), and the South (Graves).

bordeaux map

Because of soil and climate differences, the wines produced on both the left and right bank taste different. The clay soils on the right bank favour the growth of the Merlot grape. Whereas, the harder and less porous soil on the left bank favours the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.

Hence, left bank Chateaux tend to use a higher concentration of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in their wines compared to Merlot. This is the opposite for right bank Chateaux where they tend to use more Merlot compared to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Besides Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, winemakers from both sides of the river use other grapes like Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc are used in small quantities as well.

Interesting to note is that both the left bank and right bank have their own wine ranking systems. The Left Bank has a ranking system, called the 1855 classification system. The Right Bank on the other hand has its own ranking system starting in 1954 called the Saint-Emilion classification system.

You may have drank a lot of Bordeaux red wines but the region is also well-known for its white wines. The specific place that produces the majority of Bordeaux white wines is the sub-region called Pessac Leognan. The white wines in this area are made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. They are also usually oaked in barrels to achieve a higher level of complexity.

Sauternes, another famous sub-region in Bordeaux produces many of the French sweet wines. Chateau d’Yquem is the most famous sweet wine maker in Sauternes.

 

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What’s the Difference Between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot?

cab_sauv Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

Both are popular grapes that are mainly grown in Bordeaux.

However, they are unique to each other and have their own set of qualities. As we shall see, these opposing qualities make them perfect for blending together to achieve balance.

For Bordeaux red wines, you’ll find that they are mostly made of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wine grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape of the left bank of the Gironde river, and Merlot on the right bank.

This division is caused by both terroirs and climate.

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Merlot grapes

Historically, the right bank winemakers found that the clay soil more suitable for growing the Merlot grape. The left bank winemakers found that the hard, less porous soil is more suitable for Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemakers have been following this natural division ever since then.

In terms of taste and texture, Cabernet Sauvignon is the ‘harder’ grape of the two. It is more tannic than Merlot. On the other hand, Merlot is the fruitier grape. As tannins can be balanced with fruitiness, these two grapes are perfect partners for blending. You will find many of the red wines made across the left and right bank of the Gironde river include a blend of both grapes.

 

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Who Would Have Thought: A Rot That’s Actually Good for Wine

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Botrytis grapes

‘Bad’ grapes that make good wine. This time it’s different.

You don’t throw away grapes with this rot. It is so prized that winemakers purposely look for conditions that allow their wine grapes to be infected by it.

We are referring wine made from grapes infected by the fungus ‘Botrytis Cinerea’ (pronounced ‘boh-TRY-tis sin-eh-REH-ah’).

If you’ve tasted a sweet wine from France before, then you’ve likely tasted a wine made from grapes that have rotted from the benevolent form of this fungus. It is also known as the ‘Noble Rot’.

The Noble Rot does fascinating things to the wine. It both increases both its sweetness and complexity of flavors.

The sweetness increases because the Noble Rot dehydrates the grape, thereby concentrating the sugars in the wine. The acids in the wine are also more concentrated due to this dehydration. Both sugar and acid levels are heightened and the end result is a wine with an amazing sweet-acid balance. Drinking a well made sweet wine is akin to eating a strawberry that hits this wonderful balance really well.

Because of the rot, the flavors and aromas of the wine are also chemically affected. The Noble Rot imparts interesting flavors into the wine. It’s common to hear a sweet wine being described as having the savoury flavors of honey, ginger, apricots, and marmalade. This is a wine that you really need to taste to know what it’s all about.

Having said that, an amazing wine like this is challenging to produce.

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Firstly because the Noble Rot has an evil twin, the ‘Grey Rot’. Also from the main fungus Botrytis Cinerea, this malevolent form of this fungus can destroy the whole crop of grapes and render it unusable.

Thus, the conditions have to be just right for the Noble Rot to flourish and the Grey Rot to be avoided. The Noble Rot, requires a moist but partially wet, partially dry condition to grow. The is brought about when early mornings are humid and misty, and the afternoons are dry, warm, and sunny to dry off the grapes.  If the weather stays wet throughout the day, the Noble Rot can turn into the Grey Rot.

Another challenge is the harvest of the grapes. Because of the dehydration caused by the rot, each grape shrivels and less juice remains in the grape. Hence, more grapes are needed to make a certain amount of wine.

Also, because the Noble Rot infects each grape individually, each grape on the same bunch may become infected at different times. This means that during harvest time, the grapes have to be hand-picked, one-by-one.

So next time you take a sip of this magical wine, savor it’s unique flavors and appreciate its difficulty to produce.

The Sauternes region in France is famous for sweet wines.

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Wine Terms: En Primeur

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The En Primeur in Bordeaux is one of the most exciting events for wine lovers.

 

An ‘En Primeur’ is the buying and selling of a new wine in advance to it being released into the open market.

New vintages from Bordeaux are always sold En Primeur during the spring time following last year’s harvest. At this point, the wines from the previous year are already made and maturing in oak barrels.

Hundreds of wine merchants and international wine critics will arrive at Bordeaux to taste and rate the wines. The wine merchants are then offered the chance to buy the wines and lock in their purchase price. Only in 2 years time will these bottles of wine be released by the Chateaux to the wine merchants.

The locking in of the price benefits both the Chateaux and the merchants. The Chateaux benefit because they get to sell their wines in advance of delivery in 2 years. This gives them an early inflow of cash to fund upcoming winemaking activities. The wine merchants themselves also benefit because instead of waiting 2 years for delivery, they now have certainty over the purchase price of that year’s wine.

The critics who rate the wine can influence the price of the wine when it hits the open market in 2 years time. A big portion of the consumer market relies on these ratings when making a decision on whether to buy the released wine.

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Château Mouton Rothschild

mouton

Château Mouton Rothschild is a success story of an entrepreneurial estate in the left bank Bordeaux region. It is the only estate that could ever changed the 1855 classification to become one of the best and most renowned winery in the world.

And all this is due to one revolutionary man, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who blew the dust off the old ways to make and sell wines.

 

It all started in 1853, under the Napoleon the 3rd regime, when Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, an English member of the Rothschild family, purchased an old estate in Pauillac called Chateau Brane-Mouton. As it was the custom, the new owner changed the name of the estate to become Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

 

In 1922, the real revolution occurred when the young 20-year-old Baron Philippe de Rothschild took over the control of the estate. Many of his methods were seen as radical at that time, but there are broadly used today by the whole the Bordeaux region.

Being convinced that his wine was better than a Second Growth status, he took on to make the estate to be a First Growth according to the 1855 classification. In only two years, he did what everyone thought was impossible and got the highest quality award for a wine.

From that moment on, you can read on the Mouton Rothschild label:

“First I am, second I was, Mouton does not change.”

 

Baron Philippe also introduced three revolutions.

He was the first to bottle all his production at the property when the majority of the other estates sent their wines to negociants for bottling.

Thanks to that he took control of his distribution and started to collaborate with famous artists for every year’s label. The estate was a precursor of modern wine marketing.

Finally, Mouton Rothschild was famous for introducing Mouton Cadet that turned to be the most inexpensive branded wine worldwide.

 

A part of the Chateau Mouton Rothschild vineyard is more than 100 years old and the grapes are hand picked to ensure the best quality of the clusters harvested.
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Bordeaux Region: The Right Bank

bordeauxright

You have ever heard of Pomerol or St Emilion? Know where to spot and what are the main characteristics of these prestigious appellations.

The Bordeaux wine region is one of the largest in France and it is not easy to remember all the chateaux and vineyards. In a previous article, we talked about Bordeaux Left Bank.

A little bit of geography

“Right bank” is used for all the vineyards located on the right bank of the Gironde and Dordogne rivers.

This region is limited by the Bourgeais and Blayes vineyards in the north-west and by the Castillon vineyards in the east. Between those, St Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac vineyards are also part of the right bank.

The soil is mostly clay (Pomerol and St Emilion) or rocky (Fronsac).

bordeauxrightbank

St Emilion

Located more than 50km away from Bordeaux on the right bank of Dordogne river, St Emilion vineyards produce some of the most famous wines in the world. The “hill of the thousands chateaux”, as it is called, was classified as world’s heritage by UNESCO.

The main cepage in St Emilion is Merlot. It is commonly blended with Cabernet-Franc and Cabernet-Sauvignon.

 

Pomerol

Pomerol was made famous by the Merlot cepage and the generous clay soil. The Pomerol appellation is prestigious, yet the quality of the wines is heterogeneous. Pomerol appellation produces fine wines, rich in tannins, with a silky and delicate taste.

 

Fronsac

The Fronsac appellation is famous for being a birth bed of great wines. Located just after the St Emilion vineyards, the soil of Fronsac is mostly and washed out by the rain. The main cepage grown in the Fronsac is Merlot. Blended with Libournais cepage, the wine produced there are very rich in tannins and made to be aged.

 

Remember that the right bank region is mainly composed of three appellations, St Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac. Merlot is the king cepage, and has made the fame of this region. Right bank vineyards produce some of the greatest red wines in France.

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Wine Terms: Bordeaux Supérieur

You may have seen the term ‘Bordeaux Supérieur’ on a wine label

 

What would you think if you saw the term ‘Bordeaux Supérieur’ on a wine’s label?

Does it give you the impression that it is superior to other Bordeaux wines?

Well if you see ‘Bordeaux Supérieur’ on a label, it does mean that the wine is a little more superior compared to a ‘normal’ Bordeaux wine. A little superior in the sense that the ‘Bordeaux Supérieur’ wines are made under stricter appellation laws, setting it higher winemaking standards. All this is done in hope of a richer, and more complex wine with greater aging ability.

The grapes used in ‘Bordeaux Supérieur’ red wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. For white wines, the grapes are similar to those used in normal Bordeaux AOC wines. These grapes are mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Here’s an overview of a few ‘Bordeaux Supérieur’ regulations compared to normal Bordeaux wines:

1- Higher vine density

There needs to be more vines planted per unit area. This creates more competition for each vine which in turn forces the each vine’s roots to dig deeper for nutrients, resulting in stronger, healthier vines. This helps create a richer wine.

2- A lower maximum yield per hectare is 10% lower than normal

Yield is the quantity of grapes harvested from each vine. The winemaker has to sacrifice and crop good grapes so that the total amount grapes growing is lower. This creates a better wine as well because now there’s less sharing of nutrients between the grapes on each vine.

3- Riper grapes at harvest for higher alcohol level

The minimum alcohol level on a ‘Bordeaux Supérieur’ wine is 0.5% higher compared to a normal Bordeaux AOC wine. This will push winemakers to collect riper grapes which have more sugar to convert into alcohol.

4- Aged in a barrel

The wines are required by regulations to be aged for at least 12 months before they can be sold to buyers.

So next time, try comparing a Bordeaux Supérieur wine with a non-Supérieur one and see if you can spot the difference.

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A year in the life of Chateau Margaux – do not miss this superb video

From the vineyard to the cellar, the impact of weather and terroir, what is a great vintage; you will know everything about 2008 vintage in Chateau Margaux.

 

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Your Bordeaux Travel To-Do List

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Whether you’re a travel wanderlust in search of new experiences or a seasoned wine lover planning your dream wine vacation, a trip to the Bordeaux wine region offers so much more than just winery hopping and sipping (though that’s not too shabby either). Just like our wines, there are a range of diverse sights and activities hosted throughout the year. From old world to new school, here are a few highlights to add to your travel bucket list.

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1. City of Bordeaux

The L.A. Times recently made the claim that Paris got its good looks from Bordeaux. They’re right. A UNESCO World Heritage City, Bordeaux was first settled in 300 BCE and passed through the hands of the Romans and boasts over 5000 unique buildings in the gothic-baroque style. Walk through the small, undiscovered streets of the city and be transported in time, cool off by the Miroir de Quais by the Place de la Bourse or people watch as you sip a glass of Bordeaux’s finest across the Grand Theater Opera House.

2. Saint-Émilion Jazz Festival

This eclectic jazz festival in the historic town of Saint-Émilion brings music and wine lovers together for two days in July. This year’s festival happens July 19th and 20th. If you’re passionate about either, plan your trip around this great event.

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3. Arcachon and the Dune du Pilat

If beach vibes are what you’re looking for, the Bordeaux wine region has got you covered. Take a quick day trip (or a few) to Arcachon Bay, just a 45 minute drive or train ride away. You’ll find your necessary ocean respite along with fresh farmed oysters that famously pair with white Bordeaux. A must see along the way is the Dune de Pilat, Europe’s largest natural sand dune which stands at a height of 107m. Though there’s a bit of a trek to get to the top, you’ll have unparalleled 360 degree views of the ocean, bay and pine forests.

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4. Medoc Marathon

When it comes to marathons, the Medoc Marathon beats any other race on fun factor by a few miles (pun intended!). Set against the country roads of the gorgeous Medoc wine region, this marathon boasts wine and cheese stations for runners to fuel up. Running doesn’t sound so bad any more, right? This year’s marathontakes place on September 13, 2014.

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5. Saint-Émilion

It’s so nice we counted it twice. Saint-Émilion, named after the 8th century monk who first settled the region, is also a UNESCO World Heritage site with majestic limestone buildings that pulse with history. Dating back to prehistoric times, it’s hard not to leave this city without a lasting sense of wonder and amazement for the people who first settled it.

6. Citadelle de Blaye

Built in the 1600′s, the Citadelle de Blaye is a large military complex along the Gironde River in the Blaye region of Bordeaux that still stands today. No surprise, it’s also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. King Louis XIV is responsible for the massive fort, meant to serve as the first line of defense for the city of Bordeaux. Today, you can spend an afternoon touring the 38 hectare fort which includes a castle, barracks and other ruins.

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7. Harvest in Bordeaux

Harvest is the most important time of the year for the Bordeais and the energy is palpable. While many Chateaux will halt visits to focus on the grapes, you can also contact individual chateaux and see if you might be able to lend a hand. Chateau Paloumey, for instance, offers tours that include a day of harvesting. The harvest touches the old city as well. When grape picking begins, the Three Graces fountain in Place de Bourse runs red.

Image via Bordeaux Wine Festival

8. Bordeaux Wine Festival

Every two years, Bordeaux hosts the biggest wine party in the world. With over 2km of tasting booths along the Garrone River, the festival features wines from over 80 appellations including Bordeaux and the neighboring Aquitaine in addition to culinary delights from around the world. Other surrounding events include the Bordeaux Music Festival and wine country tours. You might have missed this year’s Fête but mark your calendars now for 2016!

Article from Bordeaux.com