The Four Personalities of France- Part3: Bordeaux
March 3, 2010
Bordeaux- probably the most recognizable name in the wine world today! And it has been for so many years! but is this reputation based on anything or is it just all a question of hype? Well lets have a look at the region itself- actually not as easy as it sounds, because it has a lot going on, it actually produces more wine then all of Australia… First thing you should know is the Grape varieties. The permitted grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec- with me so far? Now because the region is kinda divided by a river- the Gironde- The Wine makers in Bordeaux have come to the conclusion that certain grapes do better on one side than the other… So now we have left bank and right bank wines. The left bank focus their wine making prowess on Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Cabernet Franc playing second fiddle. The right bank swaps it around a Little with both Merlot and Cabernet Frank being the Principal grapes and Cabernet Sauvignon playing second fiddle this time! Petit Verdot and Malbec are merely considered flavouring on both sides of the river.
But whats the point of all these varieties? Well its kinda for insurance. All those varieties flower and ripen at different times and if a couple of bad days in June prevents the Cabernet Suavignon from ripening fully then its good to have something to give it that extra little bit. That’s why most Vineyards will plant most, if not all, of these varieties.
So it should come as no surprise that not all Bordeaux wine is the greatest wine in the world- and if it does then I’m sorry to be the one who broke the news to you… But having said that they do produce some pretty good wine- the problem, however, is how to spot the really good wine. Well the French recognized this problem too. And in response, what they decided to do was have a
classification system divided into First Growths, Second Growths, and so on, and so on….
Brilliant, it made perfect sense- just one tiny problem! It was introduced in 1855… and I don’t think its too out of line to say one or two things have changed SIGNIFICANTLY in the last decade and a half! They really need to fix this system up- I mean all credit to them for coming up with a classification system in the first place- but are they serious? they can’t honestly expect one vineyard to ALWAYS be better than another one, just because it was back in 1855, can they? Now in fairness to the French the First growths they picked are all pretty good- located on the best soils in the best possible regions… But come on! In recent years we have seen the emergence of the microchateau,
some of these wines will fetch even more than a First Growth Medoc. Now because Bordeaux is so confusing and annoying, like the rest of France, I’ll be doing a region by region blog series on France over the coming weeks (partly because
France really is a minefield, but also because our French sale starts today!) But until then we’ll have to give ye something to go by- and hence the whole personality thing! Now because Bordeaux has Left Bank Vs Right Bank we’ll have to pick to pretty similar personalities… Its obvious really- Its Batman and Superman!
The left bank with its Cabernet Sauvignon generally combines both the fruitiness of cassis with the firmness of tannins- its basically an Iron fist in a Velvet Glove- Clearly the Superman of the two! Sheer brute strength with out any of the gadgets or stealth… but still gets the job done pretty well. The right bank, with all that merlot and Cabernet Franc, then tends to be rounder and less tannic. Focusing more on Cherries and raspberries instead of cassis- So how is the Right Bank like Batman? Well just like Batman has Robin, Merlot has Cabernet Franc.
Also he is a much more stealthier, sophisticated superhero than superman- but still able to bust heads when he needs to! Both left and Right bank wines will tend to require food with them when they are younger- but both will reward after a couple of years ageing!