THERE was a bit of a whirlwind in France last week. Not one that you would see on a weather map. Perhaps because it was a blur. A very nice blur. Yours truly popped over the Channel to spend a quick couple of days in Bordeaux.
Understanding the nuances of Bordeaux wines is no easy task. Today there are around 60 appellations; 7,900 wine estates.
Wines are renowned for their ageing powers and Bordeaux accounts for about 85 per cent of “secondary sales”; wines which appear at auction and are bought as investments.
It’s been a difficult year in Bordeaux. Weather patterns have meant the harvests are running late and in some areas vineyards have been decimated by a summer hail storm.
But one of the reasons Bordeaux wines are so interesting and different is that over the centuries blending has developed as a “failsafe” against both the oddities of the weather and also the variations in soil.
In Médoc the land was reclaimed from water by the Dutch in the 17th century.
I met journalist Jane Anson at the Bordeaux Wine School and she told me people were encouraged to populate the land by not having to pay taxes. It sparked a “gold rush” and those wine pioneers were able to use new techniques.
In the Médoc alone imagine all the different permutations a wine maker can use.
Cabernet sauvignon is happy. It loves warmth and is kept toasty by the reflection of the gravel.
Cab Sav is the King – the power behind ageing. Merlot adds softness. Cabernet franc brings aromas and complexity.
Each grows in areas best suited to its needs, each susceptible in its own way. The skills are to know when to harvest; where to plant; what proportions of each grape will create signature blends.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to start discovering Bordeaux.
The Wine Society (www.thewinesociety.com) has a good value tasting case of nine wines for £89.
Baron des Tours 2011 (£10.99, Waitrose) is a blend of merlot, cab sav and cab franc and is one of the everyday wines recommended at www.bordeaux.com/uk/wines/selection.
On that link you can read about the Bordeaux Wine School.
How can these words do justice to the region? In truth they can’t.
I haven’t touched on the right-bank where soft merlot rules; the refreshing whites of Entre deux Mers; the splendid sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.
I can feel another column coming on.
Published in the saturday extra magazine September 28, 2013