Bordeaux’s secret weapon
It is commonly said that the Petit Verdot originated in Bordeaux. But genetically, it is closer to a group of vines from near the Pyrenees, which are most likely descended from wild clematis. In French, these wild plants are called “lambrusques”, and the Petit Verdot is also known under the synonym Lumbrusquet. It is a high quality grape: very dark and spicy with notes of cassis and graphite, plenty of robust tannins and strong acidity. Most major Bordeaux contain a small proportion of Petit Verdot. Appropriately, it is valued wherever wines are produced according to the Bordeaux recipe. For example, in Italian Maremma or in California, where it covers the largest area worldwide. It is almost never vinified purely by itself. Incidentally, its name, derived from “vert”, meaning green, alludes to its Achilles heel: in cool weather it tends to form small, seedless green grapes.
The backbone of Bordeaux
The Cabernet Sauvignon gives the Bordeaux its backbone, yielding deep violet wines with powerful tannins and endless ripening potential. It is the top dog in Médoc, and is placed in all five premier crus of Bordelais. When young, it often appears strict and unapproachable, but with advancing years, its tannins round off. It is wonderfully velvety, and yet always maintains its freshness. Typical flavours include cassis, graphite and cedar. Wherever Cabernet Sauvignon is found, Merlot is not far away. It complements the robust structure of Cabernet with softness, fruit and richness. The Cabernet Sauvignon is the most-exported vine in the world. It delivers persuasive qualities in Italy as an ingredient of the Super Tuscan, or as the flagship variety from California. There, it is lovingly titled “Cab Sauv”. Meat fans should be aware that it fantastically accompanies a grilled entrecôte. The family tree of Cabernet Sauvignon is surprising: its parents are Cabernet Franc and the white Sauvignon blanc.
Merlot is the most charming member of the Bordeaux family. It shines with rich colour, fragrant fullness, velvety tannins and sweet, plummy fruit. It even makes itself easy for the vintner, as it matures without issue in cool years as well. This is in contrast to the stricter Cabernet Sauvignon, which it complements as a blending partner. Its good qualities have made the Merlot famous worldwide. At over 100,000 hectares, it is the most-planted grape in France. It also covers large areas in California, Italy, Australia and recently in Eastern Europe. The only catch is that pure Merlot varieties rarely turn out well. Its charm is often associated with a lack of substance. Only the best specimens improve with maturity. They then develop complex notes of leather and truffles. This succeeds in the top wines from the Bordeaux appellation of Pomerol and those from Ticino, among others.
Forefather of the Bordeaux varieties
The Cabernet Franc is one of the oldest varieties of Bordelais and a parent of three other red grapes in the Bordeaux assortment: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère. It is distinguished by its complex, flavourful bouquet of raspberry, graphite, violet, liquorice and white pepper. In addition, it presents round, crisp tannins which turn out less strongly than those of Cabernet Sauvignon. While the Cabernet Franc always appears as part of a blend in Bordeaux, it is pressed alone on the Loire. The most renowned appellations are Chinon and Bourgueil. Incidentally, the Cabernet originates not in Bordeaux but in the Spanish Basque Country. Cabernet owes its name to the Latin “carbon”, meaning black.
Saint-Julien: in the heart of the Médoc
Although Saint-Julien often stands somewhat in the shadow of the neighboring Pauillac and Margaux appellations, wines from this region promise the best Médoc characteristics. It is also the communal appellation that is the most clearly and compactly structured. The area resembles a square, with sides roughly four kilometres long and an area of 900 hectares. The eleven crus classés occupy 75 percent of this area. Nowhere else in the Médoc does the grand cru classé occupy such a large share of the total vineyard area.
Bordeaux: high prestige, high quality
With a total area of around 115,000 hectares, Bordeaux may not be France’s largest wine-growing region, but it is certainly its most prestigious. The range of wines produced here today is enormous: ranging from red everyday wines with a great relationship between price and quality to exclusive, and accordingly expensive, premier crus. Elegant white wines and noble sweet specialties round out the spectrum.
France – Philosophy in a bottle
According to French philosophy, wine should be an expression of the soil and climate. They use the word “terroir” to describe this. Terroir makes every wine different, and many especially good. French wine is regarded worldwide as an expression of cultural perfection. The French believe that humans are responsible for the quality of the berries, the vine variety for their character, and nature for the quantity. This philosophy can be expressed succinctly as: “the truth is the vineyard, not the man.”