Bordeaux: A Smidge of Royalty in a Bottle
To even the most casual wine drinker, Bordeaux wine needs no introduction. Its name is firmly entrenched in the wine world’s A-list – globally famous and intensely coveted. Very few can call themselves true equals of Bordeaux wine. Aside from the French regions of Burgundy and Champagne, Spain’s Rioja, Italy’s Chianti, and the United States’ Napa Valley, the rest of the wine regions around the world have little chance of standing shoulder to shoulder with this wine monarch.
Like many royals, Bordeaux’s history is of conflict and difficulties, but the region’s land itself helped the wine industry survive through the years. Its blend of diversity, quality, and quantity eventually propelled Bordeaux wine to dazzling levels of success.
Let’s now delve on the beginnings of one of the world’s wine making elites!
Behind the Velvet Curtain: A Wine History
Bordeaux was introduced to wine making by the Romans. During the mid-1st century, they brought vines to the region to encourage local production and consumption of wine. This began Bordeaux’s wine culture.
However, there were circumstances and conflicts that affected wine production in the region. First, in the 12th century, Bordeaux wines became popular in England due to the marriage of two influential people in England and France – Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine. The union caused more Bordeaux wines to be exported to England, but the Hundred Years’ War between the two countries interrupted the trade in 1337. It had taken 116 years before France regained control of Bordeaux and its wine production.
Also, the region was not spared when the Phylloxera epidemic destroyed vineyards in Europe from 1875 to 1892. Almost every vineyard in the region was destroyed, significantly reducing overall wine production. To save the vineyards and what’s left of it, winemakers resorted to grafting native vines onto pest-resistant American rootstock. This move proved to be a wise one as it led to the recovery of wine production back in the land.
Since then, Bordeaux has begun producing top-notch tipple that became a huge part of the French wine lifestyle. It is currently the largest controlled wine region in the country with more than 10,000 producers and a production rate reaching 70 million cases per vintage.
Growing Conditions: Earthly Glory
Its location in the southwest corner of the country, near the Atlantic Ocean, gives the region wet springs, fairly gentle summers, and mild winters. The relatively warm and long summer in the region results to an extended ripening period, which allows the grapes to grow fully.
Though the changing weather conditions affect some of the varieties like the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon, winemakers found a way to make the best Bordeaux reds by blending Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to deal with the risk caused by poor weather conditions. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grow and ripen at different times and rates, so when the Cabernet suffers from wet autumn, Merlot, which ripens earlier, provides support. Cabernet Sauvignon is in its best form during wet spring, which is a weak season for Merlot.
The pine forest in the south, meanwhile, prevents salty winds coming off the Atlantic from damaging the grapes, while the Gironde Estuary and the rivers of Garonne and Dordogne act as sources for irrigation. This lay of the land plays an essential role in the region’s wine production.
The sites where vineyards were built also proved to be instrumental in wine warehousing and production in the area. Each sub-region has its geographical features that handle producing distinct wines. Beaujolais has granite hills while Chablis enjoys chalky slopes. Medoc, on the other hand, takes advantage of its gravels. With such geology and topography, Bordeaux can achieve diversity in its production.
The Wine Heirs
Bordeaux is known for some of the most prestigious and expensive reds in the world. Though there are numerous excellent whites in the region, the reds are the crowning glory of Bordeaux pride. Best combined with the region’s cuisines consisting of lamb, duck, beef, and cheese, the Bordeaux reds add excitement to every meal as well as to the credibility of every prominent wine cellar.
Merlot is the primary red variety, accounting for 60% of the vines in the region. Cabernet Sauvignon comes next, followed by Cab Franc. Though there are also Malbec and Petit Verdot in the region, they are mostly used for “seasoning” the reds.
Bordeaux wine may be globally-recognized today, but its wine history is not filled with stories of privilege and ease. Political strife and disease threatened to destabilize wine production in the region, almost wiping out the vines that began with the Romans.
Despite the overwhelming odds, however, Bordeaux’s viticulture managed to survive and thrive throughout time to become what it is today. Surely, there is no doubt that it deserves its glorious crown as one of the world’s most exalted wine regions.
Wine enthusiasts can sample some of Bordeaux’s finest products when they head to one of Asia’s most renowned wine cellars in Singapore Wine Vault. Playing home to an advanced wine storage facility, the quality of the wines is never compromised in such a place. Now, you can savor some French royalty in your tipple.