The wine region takes its name from the French city of Bordeaux whose port and easy access to the sea enabled easy distribution of the regions wines, and those wines from areas further inland who had to pay taxes to ship their wine through Bordeaux. Indeed, so important was the wine trade that the capacity of mediaeval ships was measured in how many wine barrels, known then as tuns, they could carry, and even today ships are rated by their tonnage.
Bordeaux is home to some of the world’s most desired and expensive wines where bottles are sold from the winery to distributors at more than $1000 each and subsequently much more when they finally reach the retail shelf. But Bordeaux is a huge region, eight times bigger than Napa Valley, making wine at all price points. There are 10,000 producers making 800M bottles annually, 47 co-operative wineries and many more brands produced by merchants and shippers.
Most of Bordeaux wines are red blends, made from predominately Merlot, Cabernet Sauvgnon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. White wines are made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Superb sweet, and expensive, benchmark wines are produced as well as some pink and fizz.
Bordeaux city is located where two major rivers, the Dordogne and Gironde, meet to flow north into the sea. The most famous vineyards line the bank of the conjoined rivers along the estuary known as the Garonne. On the left bank is the Medoc wine region where Cabernet Sauvignon is predominate; the right bank is mostly planted to Merlot with the region around the pretty town of St Emilion and Pomerol are the most famous.
Bordeaux’s red wines are meant to age and their bottles, with tall straight sides, were designed to stack easily. That shape is one of two in wide use around the world and is known as the Bordeaux bottle.
Bottles are but one influence Bordeaux has on the wine world. Most wine producing countries grow the Bordeaux grapes and blend them to make a ‘Bordeaux blend’; so ubiquitous was the use of the ‘B’ word that American vintners came together to invent an alternative word. The name they chose was Meritage, combining merit with heritage.
The heritage of Bordeaux has affected the world, from bottle shapes, grape varieties grown, and even the term for a ship’s capacity.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle and Apple iPad.
Disclosure: Peter F May travelled to Bordeaux at his own expense and paid full price for all his accommodation, meals, tastings and wines.