Everyone needs a weekly escape and my indulgence is wine school. You always need to keep learning – especially when it comes to things you love. Wine school is pricey but I love it. As a wine lover I have been drinking wine for a number of years but I can tell you I had NO IDEA about wine. Seriously, it is amazing how much there is to know.
Wine study is more than just tasting wine. In this case, they really don’t care if you like it or not, that’s not the point. The point is to understand styles and tastes of different regions. There is tasting but no drinking (yes, you spit it out). This is serious stuff, requires a lot of reading, study and class is extremely intensive. Wine school brings together a study of geography, history, climate, viticulture (growing of grapes) and viniculture (wine making). It is incredible how much information there is to know when you start to dig into this. I am excited to share what I’m learning with you!
One of the things you will learn at wine school is that the quality of a wine is made in the vineyard. This is why the Old World (European wine) is divided into different grades. This is also when “terroir” comes in. Terroir is what links the style of wine to specific places that can’t really be replicated anywhere else. It helps to explain the unique taste and smell of the wine from a particular place. These things are all created by the conditions of climate, soil, landscape and proximity to water, and ultimately the wine made from them. This is really what wine tasting is all about. This is why a Pinot Noir from Oregon cannot really be compared to a Burgundy. This is why Old World wines are labeled by the village, town or region they are from as opposed to the variety. Terroir is what the French believe defines a wine.
Any good wine class will start with France. Why? All the main grape varieties came from France originally and French wine is some of the most famous in the world. France follows a system that all other wine is based on, in some form, and French wine is often used as a comparison point for New World wines.
In France, the highest level that a French wine can attain is called the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). There are an incredible amount of rules and restrictions imposed on Old World wines that the New World (all other countries in the world) do not have to follow. Grand Crus are at the top of the AOC “pyramid”/hierarchy, followed by Premier Cru (1er Cru), Village, District then Region. Below the AOC level there are two other levels you may have heard of: Vin de Pays (23%), followed by the lowest level, Vin de Table (22%). Anyone that wants to learn about wine needs to understand the French system.
This brings me to Bordeaux. I wanted to write this post because I love blends but really hadn’t explored Bordeaux wines that much. There is so much to know here and it is perfect for red (and white) lovers that want great wine.
Bordeaux is ALL about blends. Bordeaux has great, great wines that range from some of the most expensive in the world, as well as those being really affordable. There is something for everyone.
Bordeaux is the second largest city in France and is a port city, which makes it very convenient for shipping and exporting purposes. Bordeaux has a maritime climate. It is humid, rainy, flat and sandy. This is important info to understand when we are learning about why this is one of the world’s most famous wine regions.
One of the major differences between Bordeaux and Burgundy is that Bordeaux was and is much more driven by business, because it is a port and a large city. Burgundy, by comparison, is a collection of towns, it is very fragmented as well as being more dominated by the church. Most vineyards in Bordeaux are known as estates under single ownership, called Châteaux, and in Burgundy they tend to be called Domaine.
The main grapes grown in Bordeaux are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. So although we think of red wine when we think of Bordeaux there are some excellent whites, including the delicious white Sauternes, made from Sémillon grapes.
Another important aspect for understanding wine in Bordeaux is the Gironde River that separates the region into the “right bank” and “left bank”. This is important as the wine is different depending on which bank the grapes were grown on. The left bank is gravelly with “poor soil”, conditions that are best for red wine that needs warm soil (Cabernet Sauvignon) – you will recognize the names of Margaux, St Julien, St Estephe and Paulliac.
On the right it is sandy and clay with heavier soil that gets colder. Here they grow a mix of red and white varieties – you may recognize the names of St Emillion, Pomerol, Graves and Sauternes. Very good to know. Merlot is very successful here and Sauternes has the most incredible dessert wine – we are talking hundreds of $$ a bottle so make sure you try it if someone else is paying for dinner. We tend to think of Argentina for Malbec but Cahors in Bordeaux is another great discovery for delicious and relatively affordable Malbecs.
Sauternes is made from Sémillon grapes that have been botrytised. This means they are left on the vine longer in order to get extremely ripe, sweet and they start to rot. This makes the most incredible sweet wine.
Some Bordeaux wines I recommend:
Château Bonnet, Entre-Deux-Mers, 2007, (Sémillon & Sauvignon Blanc), $12, 12% alc, grass, citrus, gooseberry, butter, good
Château Guiraud 1er Cru, 2005, Sauternes, (Sémillon & Sauvignon Blanc), $39 half bottle, 13.5% alc, honey, vanilla, marmalade, pineapple, extremely good
Château Lagrange, 2004, St. Julien, (Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot), 13% alc, $40, black fruit, spice, oak, mineral, very good
Château Chauvin, 2005, St. Emillion (Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot) 13.5% alc, $40, red fruit, coffee, oak, spice, mineral, very good
Château Lagrezette Cru D’Exception, Cahors, 2003 (Malbec), 14% alc, $33, blackcurrant, smoke, oak, herbaceous, very good
French wine facts:
- France has the world’s second-largest total vineyard area, behind Spain
- France is the source of many grape varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah)
- Languedoc produces more wine in quantity than any other region in France
- France has 7 areas wine production: Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, the Loire region, and the Rhone.
- 54% of French wine produced is AOC grade
- Bordeaux has 14 major grape varieties
- Bordeaux is the second largest city in France
- Bordeaux is a major harbor and port, important for exporting purposes
- Sémillon is the most important white grape variety in Bordeaux