I am usually successful at adhering to this philosophy – with the notable exception of last Monday. No acts of penance were paid to my waistline or general health after I reluctantly (who are we kidding?) agreed to indulge in steak, truffle chips and wine.
When I sat down at the table, I observed that three bottles of red from Bordeaux had been carefully selected for the occasion. This filled me with two competing feelings: trepidation (on account of having to shelve my healthy Monday philosophy) and excitement (because… well, it’s obvious).
Bordeaux is wonderful for so many different reasons. Did you know that the area is home to the longest shopping strip in Europe? The Rue Saint Catherine is a 1.2km-long stretch of brasseries and high-end shops, including the famous Galeries Lafayette. The region is also home to the largest square in Europe, Esplanade des Quinconces, in addition to hundreds of historical monuments.
But let’s be honest – if you find yourself in Bordeaux, you’re probably more likely to spend your time (and cash) on wine.
Each year, the region produces almost approximately 800 million bottles of wine with an annual value exceeding €2 billion. Unlike Burgundy, winemakers in Bordeaux don’t tend to stick to one single grape variety but rather a blend of two (sometimes three). The famous ‘Bordeaux blend’ has been so successful that many winemakers in New World regions such as New Zealand and South Africa regularly try to emulate it. So what’s it all about?
Red: Bordeaux is most well-known for its red wine. Sometimes known as ‘claret’, it’s a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot (and, to a lesser degree, cabernet franc). The result is full-bodied and robust wines with blackberry, plum and blackcurrant flavours. The cabernet sauvignon provides the structure, backbone and tannin to the mix, while merlot offers fruit and fresh, round flavours. On the left side of Bordeaux (known as the Left Bank), wines tend to be dominated by cabernet sauvignon, whereas winemakers in the Right Bank frequently use more merlot. After a period of ageing, Bordeaux reds tend to develop subtle notes of truffle, cedar, leather and toast. When it comes to food and wine pairing, these robust wines can easily overpower light and delicate dishes; the firm tannins and body make this wine a pleasure to drink alongside steak, lamb chops, venison and roast duck.
White: the region makes dry white wines too, although these make up less than 10% of total production. Winemakers blend sauvignon blanc and sémillon (and, to a lesser extent, muscadelle) to produce fresh, zesty wines that develop richer honeyed flavours when aged. The sauvignon blanc grape contributes acidity, crispness and herbaceous flavours to the blend; sémillon offers richness and body. Along with Burgundy, some of the world’s finest and most expensive white wines come from Bordeaux. These wines are delicious with with barbecued prawns, grilled sea bass or lightly-spiced Asian-style seafood, although the aged, fuller styles can absolutely handle dishes with bolder flavours.
Dessert: using the same grapes as white wine, Bordeaux produces sensational sweet wines too – most notably Sauternes and Barsac. These are lusciously sweet, gold-coloured wines that display notes of honey, apricots, peaches and nuttiness, underpinned by a refreshing acidity. If aged properly, exceptional vintages can last for over 100 years. All of the grapes need to have been affected by ‘noble rot’, causing them to become partially raisined resulting in concentrated and distinctively flavoured wines. The French drink Sauternes with foie gras on New Year’s Eve – talk about ending the year in style! If that doesn’t float your boat, pair it with blue cheese (particular Roquefort) or desserts such as apple crumble, crème brûlée, and Crêpe Suzette.
Wine from Bordeaux can be expensive – a bottle was recently sold for an eye-watering £135,000. The good news is that you don’t need to spend that much to get a great wine; choose a good vintage or a good producer (or both!) and you won’t be disappointed. Technology is making wine produced in the region a bit more consistent between vintages – winemakers are better equipped to handle poor weather and growing conditions than in the past.
I hope this provides some clarety (sorry – I mean clarity – there I go with the bad puns again) on wine produced in this highly acclaimed region.
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Photocredit: giphy, Decanter, Telegraph, Ch. de Fargues