With so much diversity, France’s largest wine region has much to offer. Nuria Stylianou takes a look at the top Bordeaux wines to try, from hearty reds to modern thirst-quenchers
Say “Bordeaux” and you think of hearty, expressive red wines or sweet Sauternes. A region steeped in history dating back to Eleanor of Aquitaine, you might even think the wines are pricey with nothing new to offer.
But in fact the first grape variety planted in Bordeaux, in 1736, was sauvignon blanc. And Fiona Juby, the UK’s market consultant for the Bordeaux Wine Council, points out: “It’s a common misconception that Bordeaux wines are all grand crus and expensive. The vast majority sit in the £6 to £20 bracket, making Bordeaux wines more accessible to the average consumer. The majority of wine being exported is of the more affordable style, offering superb quality and value for money.”
With so much diversity, France’s largest wine region is increasingly focusing on still, dry white wines, made from sauvignon, sémillion, muscadelle and sauvignon gris. The grapes are blended in countless combinations and from a vast range of different terroirs, creating dry whites varying from gluggable to complex. Younger styles are refreshingly crisp and fruit forward, while the premium whites, such as those from Pessac Léognan, see some oak and have a rich mouthfeel and a nutty complexity to complement the fruit.
Bordeaux also produces impressive rosé wines made from merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes, as well as clairet, one of the region’s oldest – and often forgotten – wines. Clairet is a very light red but enjoyed as a more full-bodied rosé. Compared to rosé production, maceration times can be up to two or more days instead of a few hours, producing wonderfully aromatic wines with ripe strawberries, raspberries, cranberries and blackcurrants, giving a rich, round and velvety style with low tannins. Back in the 13th century, all reds were actually clairets, and this is where “claret”, our word for Bordeaux reds, comes from. Less well known in the UK, clairet is definitely worth tracking down.
The Dordogne and Garonne rivers divide the vineyards of Bordeaux, and with 6,300 wine growers, it’s easy to lose your way through the different styles. And with such a strict classification structure, some excellent dry whites made in unexpected appellations, such as médoc or sauternes, are released under the generic Bordeaux appellation, so it’s a good idea to experiment until you find your favourites.
And while the finest vintages of Bordeaux reds are out of most people’s price range, young wine makers such as Charlotte Molinari from Château Pont de Brion, in Graves, are making lighter, more modern styles – thirst-quenchers, that you would happily enjoy with a plate of charcuterie.
Young wine makers are bringing the region’s reputation up to date – inspiration that can also be seen in sweet Bordeaux wines. Château Dauphiné-Rondillon, in Loupiac, is making wonderfully elegant, modern styles with refreshing acidity and minerality that don’t need to be saved for the cheese course. A glass of its 2007 Cuvée D’Or with a starter of salmon tartare, smoked herring or even a bowl of wasabi peas is a great way to begin your evening.
So, help Bordeaux in its quest to dust off its intimidating Old World reputation. Try one of these – they all stand up well to the newer, trendier wine regions.