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France

Bordeaux

  • Climate
    There are several types of soil in Bordeaux. Gravel is the classic type found in the Médoc and Graves, on the left bank of the Gironde River. The Cabernet Sauvignon planted in these soils ripens particularly well late in the season because it suffers a slight water deficit due to the well draining gravel soils. Surrounding the gravel outcroppings is sandy land known as palus that is unsuitable for quality wine production

    On the other side of the Gironde is the Right Bank. Here, in St. Émilion, Pomerol and surrounding areas, the two classic soils are limestone hills and rich clay. These are cool, moist types of soil well suited to growing Merlot, which dominates the blends in this area.

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  • A standard blend from grapes planted on Left Bank gravel soils is usually about one-half to two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon, possibly 10–20% each of Cabernet Franc (Bouchet) and Merlot, and the balance in small quantities of Malbec (Côt) and Petit Verdot. Top chateaux often use a greater proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot dominates blends from the Right Bank with up to 30% Cabernet Franc and some Malbec to complete the blends.


    White Wines
    Although often overshadowed by its famed red blends, Bordeaux also produces white wines. There are usually a 50/50 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. South of Graves is Sauternes and the surrounding appellations, where Semillon dominates the grape blend (often 70–80%) followed in importance by Sauvignon Blanc. Some properties also add 5–10% of Muscadelle.

    Bordeaux's less expensive wines, Bordeaux rouge and blanc, tend to be made from Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc respectively, since these varietals are capable of high yields and ripen easiest.


    Winemaking
    More expensive Bordeaux wines receive longer, slower fermentations and macerations, and more time in oak casks with a greater proportion of new wood, whereas the less expensive wines often see no barrel aging. The less expensive wines also sometimes use the carbonic maceration process to give soft, deeply colored wines. Note: see the section on Beaujolais for more details on this process.

    The top wines of Bordeaux benefit from the selection process: only the best lots are used for the first wine, or Grand Vin, and the remainder will be sold as a second wine at a lower price. This allows the chateau to maintain the quality and the price of the Grand Vin.

    Inexpensive dry white wines are fermented in stainless, concrete or lined steel tanks and bottled soon after fermentation and stabilization are complete. Better wines are often fermented and aged, at least in part, in barrel. This is also the case with Sauternes and other sweet wines which may spend two to three years in cask.

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  • A unique system has developed over the last several hundred years for the commercialization of Bordeaux wines. Growers work with agents known as courtiers who work with a number of merchant firms or négociants and help to set the price each vintage.

    There are several hundred négociants in the Place de Bordeaux, and each of them sells the wines that they purchase to a different market; some specialize in the U.S., or Germany, or French supermarkets, for example. The négociants also buy wine or must or grapes in bulk to sell as branded wines. Some handle particular chateaux exclusively, completing élevage, marketing, and distribution. There are about 400 négociants in Bordeaux. Of these, 13 do 52% of the business and the top 25 do 75% of the business.

    Wine is allocated to the négociants, who routinely purchase their entire allocation for fear of losing out in a good vintage. In this manner, sales are thus taken almost entirely out of the hands of the chateaux owners. Difficulties arise in poor years and with second wines.

    Wine in Bordeaux is sometimes sold sur souche, or before the vintage, which is very risky. Most often, however, it is offered en primeur, or after the wine is finished but before it is bottled. Châteaux will offer their wine in several batches or "tranches" with the first slice being offered at the best price.


    Bordeaux Classification
    Unlike Burgundy and Alsace, the classification of the Bordeaux vineyards is not a part of AC regulation. The most well known classification of 1855 was created by the négociants at the request of the government in preparation for the world's fair that year. It represents a rough ranking of the better properties of the Médoc and Sauternes (with Haut Brion from Pessac, too) according to their relative market price at that time. The wines of the Médoc are divided into five categories called crus, while those of Sauternes are divided into two. Château d'Yquem is set apart as a Grand Premier Cru classé. A less exalted category called cru bourgeois was codified in 1932. The wines of Graves were classified in 1953 with the simple designation of cru classé for red or white, and those of St. Émilion were classified in 1955.



    Bordeaux Styles
    The least prestigious appellations in Bordeaux are Bordeaux rouge and blanc, followed by Bordeaux Superièure. These are the lightest wines, made for early consumption. Quality can range from disappointing to quite good.

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  • Médoc & Haut Médoc
    The wines of Margaux are revered for their elegance and softness. They are often considered the most feminine of the Médoc, thanks to the lightness of the soil. Margaux is the largest AC of the Medoc and can be the most inconsistent depending on the vintage.


    St. Estèphe
    The wines of St. Estèphe have a reputation of being big, tannic and unapproachable in their youth, and even when properly aged, somewhat austere. This is less true today because modern winemaking is able to help add flesh to the structure.


    Pauillac
    Pauillac has the deepest gravel beds on the Medoc peninsula. As a consequence, this is the region that grows the most Cabernet Sauvignon. The best wines are deeply colored, with full body, firm but velvety, with pronounced fruit aromas and flavor and a long finish. These are classic clarets, powerful and elegant, with distinctive aromas of blackberry, currant, cassis, and violet. As they mature, they develop aromas of cedar, tobacco and leather.


    Other Médoc Communes
    There are a host of other communes to the west of these Left Bank Villages. The two that are the most well known are Listrac, which produces rich and powerful wines and Moulis, whose wines are somewhat more supple. These wines sometimes lack the elegance of the wine produced in the top communes.

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  • Graves is the region just south of the city of Bordeaux. It is a fairly large region, where red, white, and dessert wines are all produced. The best wines in Graves come from the part of the region closest to the city. This area was later set aside as a separate appellation called Pessac-Léognan. The wines are full-bodied and long-lived, with a distinct earthy, minerally note and broad, full texture on the palate.

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  • St Émilion
    St. Émilion is located on the right bank of the Gironde, east of Libourne and Pomerol. The wines are largely Merlot-based. St. Émilion is arguably the finest terroir for Merlot in the world, producing wines with concentration and depth that have pronounced plum and blackberry fruit character, a minty edge to the nose and a silky firmness on the palate with soft acidity and great length. This is not a homogeneous region and Cheval Blanc, one of the finest chateaux, has a majority of Cabernet Franc in its vineyards because it is largely planted on a gravel outcrop.


    St. Émilion Terroir
    The terroir of St. Émilion is fairly complex, with several distinct soil types, including limestone slopes covered with clay (Côtes) and the limestone plateau with gravel patches. The soil closest to the river is richer and more fertile.


    St. Émilion Classification
    The classification of St. Émilion is re-evaluated every ten years. The top level is Premier Grand Cru Classé, followed by Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru. The top level is further subdivided into two "A" Premier Grand Cru Classé chateaux and two Premier Grand Cru Classé "B".

    These chateaux can be demoted to the next level, Grand Cru Classé, if they fail their tasting. Châteaux that are not classified as Grand Cru Classé can submit their wines to be considered St. Émilion Grand Cru on an annual basis. If a property is promoted to Grand Cru for ten consecutive years, it is eligible for promotion at the next reclassification.


    Pomerol
    West of St. Émilion sits Pomerol, with sandier soils in the west, gravel with a high iron content in the east, and high clay content in the north. These wines are deep colored and full-boded. Some describe them as a cross between the wines of the Médoc and those of St. Émilion. Others refer to their almost Burgundian richness.

    Lalande de Pomerol is a satellite area located to the north of Pomerol on well-drained gravel soils. In spite of this, Merlot dominates the blend. The wines, in general, are lighter and more rustic, sometimes lacking in finesse and tending to over ripeness.

    Unique among the other major regions, Pomerol is not classified at all.



    Fronsac
    Fronsac is the area west of Libourne, planted on limestone and sandstone soils. It produces full-bodied wines with dense spicy fruit. The area is divided into Canon Fronsac and Côtes Canon Fronsac. Cabernet Franc makes up the majority of the blends along with Merlot.


    Bourg and Blaye
    Côtes de Bourg, Côtes de Blaye and Premiere Côtes de Blaye are located along the Dordogne and planted on clay and limestone soils. Côtes de Bourg is considered the superior appellation, while the Côtes de Blaye is less consistent.


    Côtes de Castillon
    Bordeaux Côtes de Castillon is just east of St. Emilion. This area has the least maritime influence and produces full-bodied, robust red wines. The vineyards are planted on sandy gravel and sandy clay, and the wines have aromas of ripe, almost dried fruit with an earthy undertone.

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  • The Premieres Côtes produces light reds and sweet whites. Entre-Deux-Mers, between the Dordogne and the Garonne, is the largest region in Bordeaux, producing dry white wine only. Any red produced there is Bordeaux rouge AC.

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