Comments by members of the jury judging Bordeaux wines submitted under the new 1855 Classification at the Universal Exposition in Paris.
In 1855, Napoleon III requested that a classification of Bordeaux wines be drawn up to be featured at his Universal Exposition in Paris. A panel of Bordeaux wine brokers responded by drafting a list, based on market ranking, of the 60 leading Medoc chateaux, plus the famous Chateau Haut-Brion in the Graves.
The leading chateaux of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol were not included in the now famous Medoc classification, although the brokers did draft a separate Official Classification of Sauternes-Barsac of 1855. And they honored Chateau d'Yquem as Superior First Growth Sauternes, while the wines in the Medoc classification were designated only as First Growth.
Over the next 165 years, the wines on both lists, as well as the classifications themselves, have stood the test of time, making the classifications valid and useful today as a gauge of wine quality and price.
But Bordeaux is not just wines in the 1855 Classifications. The right bank boasts a number of wine regions, of which four are worth considering.
West of the town of Libourne, on the right bank of the river Dordogne, the small district of Fronsac, and the even smaller Canon-Fronsac, is known for hearty sumptuous reds and a sense of history that is largely ignored in our fast-paced times.
A Roman temple once stood on the site that today is Canon-Fronsac. Then, in the 8th century, following the long Dark Ages, the Christian king Charlemagne built a fortress in Fronsac, followed in the 17th century by the Duc de Richelieu, replacing the fortress with a palatial villa, where he entertained with the local wine.
What sets Fronsac apart are the limestone-rich soils, with some sandstone, on the higher areas above the Dordogne. Merlot predominates in Fronsac wines, supplemented with Cabernet Franc. In the cooler soils of Canon-Fronsac, the percentages are reversed, with Cab Franc the preferred grape.
|Ch. La Riviere, Fronsac|
Aside: In 1980, I was managing editor of the "Wine Spectator," located then in San Diego. One day I received a letter with a French postmark, from Alan Spencer in Castillon, a wine district not far from Saint-Emilion. Alan, an English computer software salesman, living in France for many years, was an avid student of the local wine culture. He had found a copy of the "Spectator," which in the early years was a tabloid newspaper, in an airport lounge.
Alan was offering to be the "Spectator's" Bordeaux correspondent. The newspaper was only a few years old at the time and we were looking to expand our European coverage. Alan turned out to be the right man for the job; an astute observer with an active curiosity and a charming old-school writing style.
On one of my visits to Bordeaux, Alan took me on a tour of Fronsac, stopping first at the picturesque Ch. de la Riviere, on a promontory above the river. Later, we met with Christian Moueix, owner of Ch. Petrus in Pomerol, for a visit to his two estates in Fronsac, Chateaux La Dauphine and Canon-Moueix. Although the wines were impressive, Moueix admitted it was an on-going challenge to market the wines outside Bordeaux.
Fronsac wine doesn't have the lushness of Pomerol, but it can be ripe and fruity, though at times a little harsh. Canon-Fronsac is often more refined and carries the promise of complexity with bottle age. Christian Moueix no longer owns property in Fronsac.
Wine-Searcher lists hundreds of Fronsac wines, ranging in price from $7 to $108, including La Riviere, de la Dauphine, Beausejour, Dalem and Haut-Carles.
Bourg and Blaye
Bourg and Blaye. Together, the two names sound like an old vaudeville team. Or, they do to those of us who are old enough to remember when vaudeville was still around. Bourg and Blaye are, in fact, two wine regions on the right bank of the Gironde estuary.
Bourg is the smaller of the two districts, with arguably better wines than those produced in Blaye. Bourg is just at the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne, as they empty into the estuary.
All that water provides proper frost protection. Merlot is the major grape, planted in a combination of clay, limestone and sandy gravel. Bourg rouge is a substantial wine with good concentration and a reputation for aging.
Once a source of white wine used for distillation, Blaye is known today mainly for red Bordeaux blends, relying heavily on Merlot. Larger than Bourg, the vineyards in Blaye are on steep slopes farther from the water, with soils that are mostly clay and limestone.
The wines, sold mostly as Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux, are robust and early maturing. A white sold as Cote de Blaye Blanc, is made from Ugni Blanc and Colombard grapes.
Wine-Searcher offers 25 Blaye wines, $9 to $25, and hundreds of Cotes de Bourg wines,
most priced $12 to $25
Despite its name, which translates from the French as "between two seas," the sprawling vineyard district of Entre-Deux-Mers is between the rivers Dordogne and Garonne.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, growers converted large acreage in the area from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, to meet the worldwide demand for value red wine.
Thirty years on, the market has changed, reflected in part by the rise of Sauvignon Blanc, with more people now looking for white wines that fit a lighter lifestyle.
The Entre-Deux-Mers contains numerous appellations, but few of them, like Saint-Macaire, are seen in this country. Today, Entre-Deux-Mers is the second biggest dry white appellation in Bordeaux, with Bordeaux AC (controlled appellation), by far the biggest.
|Harvest in Entre-Deux-Mers|
Sauvignon Blanc is the grape of choice for E-D-M wines. As in other wine regions, the level of wine making generally relates to wine quality, with smaller producers having the desire and time to make more stunning wines than larger wineries that often focus more on quantity.
Wine-Searcher lists hundreds of Bordeaux blend whites from Entre-Deux-Mers, with a price range of $7 to $30, although most are $10 to $12.
Next Blog: "My Life in Wine" Episode 5, plus the Annual Index.
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