A list of the most frequently asked questions.
- Q: What are the significant events of the history of Bordeaux Wines ?
- Q: Which blends are used in the production of Bordeaux wines?
- Q: Why are Bordeaux wines made with blended grape varieties?
- Q: What does "vintage" mean? And what does it mean for Bordeaux wines?
- Q: What is the difference between a “cuvee“ and a barrel?
- Q: What are tannins?
- Q: How do you read a label?
- Q: What are the basic rules for serving wine?
- Q: How do you know if wine can be conserved for a long time?
- Q: What is a Grand Cru?
- Q: What is a Cru Bourgeois?
- Q: Some descriptions are hard to define! What do “ample”, “full-bodied” and “supple” mean?
- Q: How do I find sale locations and prices of wines?
In 1152, after Aliénor d'Aquitaine's marriage with Henri Plantagenêt, the future King of England, Bordeaux established a monopoly on the production and distribution of wine in Great Britain. Later, in the seventeenth century, the market expanded to England, Holland, and the market cities in northern Europe. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw a sharp increase in sales but also the spread of illnesses and parasites of vines. Once these illnesses were eradicated, the expansion was slowed by fraudulent product and a price decrease. This was worsened by World War I, the Russian Revolution, and Prohibition in the United States. Bordeaux winemakers, who wanted to establish the quality of their wine, agreed in 1936 to the creation of the INAO (National Institute of Origin Appellation). Today, 97% of Bordeaux wine production is distributed under AOC with great care for high-quality results.
Bordeaux is the home of grapes renowned the world over, most notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon blanc. Red wines in Bordeaux are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and white wines are Sauvignon blanc and of Sémillon.
Blending aims to produce a wine of better quality from wines made from complementary varieties. For example, in red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon gives structure and good aging potential, while Merlot provides body and softness. In white wines, Sauvignon provides the freshness and aroma while Semillon adds body.
The vintage is the production in a given year. By extension, it is also the character of a wine produced, by definition, under unique conditions. The vintage expresses everything that touched the vineyard during the year and which you can thereafter discover in the bottle. The geography of Bordeaux is particularly favorable but the climate changes every year and the production has to be adjusted accordingly. The “vintage” effect is particularly relevant to Bordeaux; every year has its own personality.
During the period called maturing, the wine is refined in a tank, made of steel, or in a barrel, which is made of wood. The tank doesn't fundamentally change anything about the wine, but the barrel modifies its personality. It allows a slower penetration and continues the oxygen flow, which ensures the transformation of the wine. The oak of the barrel adds vanilla notes and strengthens its tannic constitution. In order to protect the wine's fruit constitution from the wood, the barreling of the wine and the maturing period must be adequately measured.
Tannins are a natural substance found in grapes, but they can also be found in the wood of the barrel. They give wine its structure and they help it age properly. They can make the mouth, tongue and teeth dry. In time, they combine with the coloring of red wine, thus stabilizing its color. They are also anti-oxidants, which can help in the preventing of certain cardio-vascular diseases when consumed with moderation.
The label is the distinctive sign of a bottle, like its signature. On it, you will find important information to remember: the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, the name of the producer or bottler, the mandatory mention of Bordeaux, etc.
The rules are short and simple:
1. Order: Choose the wines you are going to serve: young wines are served before aged ones and dry ones before sweet ones.
2. Temperature: Make sure that your chosen wines are at the right serving temperature, because it can affect the aroma. This varies according to the wine. For dry white wines, roses and bubbly, 44-50°F is ideal (a few hours in the fridge), strong white wines and fortified wines at 48-54°F (1 hour in the fridge), light red wines at 55-59°F, while strong, complex red wines at 59-63°F.
3. Uncork: Before you uncork the bottle, the metal cap must be removed. When you serve the wine, it shouldn't come in contact with this metal, as it will alter the taste.
The ability of a wine to age depends on many factors including tannins (which dry the mouth), acids, and for white wines, sugars. Tannins and acids (which come from the grapes) are conserving agents: the more there are in a wine, the longer it can age. Wines of the Medoc region are known for being able to age the longest because it is cooler there and wines contain more acids, and Cabernet Sauvignon, is more tannic than other varieties. But most Bordeaux wines can be consumed young, so there's no need to wait!
The notion of Cru emerged in the seventeenth century. It recognizes the value of the ground and the wines that come from it. Of course, professionals hand out this classification. The brokers (intermediaries between winemakers and merchants) then decide on a classification that is more official which evaluates the taste, originality and quality of the wines.
In 1855, at the Paris Universal Exposition, Napoleon III asked each winemaking region to establish a classification. Only the wines from the left Bank of the Garonne (Médoc, Graves and Wines of Sauternes-Barsac) were represented and were the only ones classified.
This classification was reviewed once, in 1973, and the Château Mouton-Rothschild took the rank of 1st Grand Cru Classé.
Find out more on the Bordeaux Classement des Grands Crus at www.grand-cru-classe.com
Its origins go back to the Middle Ages. The city of Bordeaux saw its first bourgeois society in the 12th century, under English domination. They had rights and privileges, most notably an exemption from charges for the wines on their land. In the 15th century, when Guyenne returned to the French, they conserved their rights to these lands. These rich merchants could acquire great terroirs in the Medoc region, which were called "Crus des Bourgeois" then later, "Crus Bourgeois."
In 1932, the Bordeaux brokers (under the double aegis of the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Bordeaux and the Chambre d'Agriculture de la Gironde) named 444 Crus Bourgeois. After the Second World War and the freeze of 1956, their number fell to 94.
The exceptional success of Bordeaux wines in the eighties and nineties replaced the Crus Bourgeois so it became necessary to give them an official recognition. Since 2007, the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc is working on this, it is called the “Reconnaissance Cru Bourgeois."
The tasting terminology is extensive, but you don't need to be an expert to appreciate a Bordeaux wine!
Here are a few definitions:
Ample: A rich and full-bodied wine that assures good harmony and lasts in the palate.
Full-bodied: A wine that has a fullness, weight and concentration that gives a wine a pleasurable balanced mouth feeling.
Supple: A wine that is smooth, mellow and well rounded. As it has been matured for a short period of time, it is consumed young and has a fluid and light texture.
You will find more definitions in our Glossary.
The Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux does not have a commercial mission, so we cannot indicate costs, which vary according to merchants, age and year.
For more information,
visit www.wine-searcher.com or refer your question to an auction house or auctioneer.