If you are tuning in to read about Bradley Pitt, I apologise. The river in question is the Garonne, and the region, Bordeaux. The most famous wine growing region on the planet. Considering this, trying to understand its wines is a complete mare, how any consumer can make informed choices is difficult to see when the whole area is cloaked in history and intrigue.
This months blog is essentially for my own benefit. I just wanted a simple way of remembering what is what. So bear with me as there will be some generalisations and many omissions.
We have established that there is a large river running through Bordeaux. On the left bank of this river lie amongst others, the most famous region, Medoc and within that region you have the communes of Paulliac, St Julien, St Estephe and Margaux. These areas are mainly planted with cabernet sauvignon which produces a tannin rich blackcurranty brew with a whiff of wood.
On the right bank you have communes such as St Emilion and Pomerol where they grow merlot which produces a rich fruity wine.
So far so good, now let’s take a look at how these wines are described and marketed.
Can you imagine any product or service that was rated nearly 160 years ago and has barely changed since but this is exactly what happens in Medoc. In 1855 Napoleon III rated them essentially just on the price that the wines fetched back then. It was meant to be a snap shot but Medoc wines price and desirability are still based on this today.
The more expensive wines are classed as growths, first to fifth. Probably the most famous wine which is classed as a first growth is Chateau Lafite and it is still the most expensive. To complicate matters further you have some second growths which are classed as super-seconds. These wines such as Cos d’Estournel are almost as good or even match a first growth but cannot be classed as such.
The above is purely academic as all these wines are too much for my budget. But below this we have the Crus Bourgeois which account for about 40% of production. These too are at the very top of my price tolerance. However, I did buy a couple of cases of the excellent 2009 vintage to take me into my dotage. The next layers down include more affordable wines from “the Cotes” and just regular Bordeaux.
Let’s now return to the right bank. The St Emilion classification seems to be a bit more democratic. It is reviewed every 10 years where the judges taste the last 10 vintages. But again rather confusingly these are classed as Premier Grands Crus Classes (A), Premier Grands Crus Classes (B), and then Premier Grands Crus Classes. Phew!
I must say I do prefer the merlot based right bank wines but most being wholly unaffordable. I did dip my toe back into the declassified wine market again and purchased FVD white labelled St Emilion and it is excellent. Apparently it is made by Cheval Blanc but don’t tell anyone I told you so.
Bargains can still be found though. My mother holidayed in Bordeaux last year and bought me back a bottle of red bordeaux superior, or so she said. She later admitted she was trying to kid me and in fact it was from Aldi, but it was great and £5.00ish. I should have rumbled this as she bought a bottle for my two brothers as well, so the excess luggage with Ryanair would have been horrendous.