Charles Winn on the world’s fine wine capital



The majority of the world might remain in lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic but, for some industries, life must go on as normal – including fine wine. And in Bordeaux, the fine wine capital of the world, producers are hard at work preparing their crops for the next season.


A port city on the Garonne River in southwestern France, Bordeaux is renowned for its wine-growing regions. With a river running directly through it, the left side includes Gironde and Garonne and on the right side you’ll find Dordogne.

Typically, the left of the river is where wines such as Sauvignon hail from. Whereas the right is known for its Merlots.

In total, Bordeaux has 57 grape-growing regions making it the biggest wine producer in France. Made famous by kings, nowadays Bordeaux and its chateaus are popular modern-day attractions.

The Wines

As one of the biggest wine-makers in the world, you’d expect Bordeaux to have a variety of wines. However, more than 90% of the drink produced here is red – specifically Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec andCarménère.

In 2019, however, Bordeaux’s regulatory body approved four additional dark grape varieties adding Marselan, Touriga Nacional, Castets, and Arinarnoa to the mix.

Bordeaux’s first-growth wines are made by blending 70%Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot. In contrast, White Bordeaux is made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.

The history

Bordeaux’s wine-making goes back centuries. In 1855, the Association of Bordeaux Wine Merchants established official classification and certification of the wines after Emperor Napoleon III requested they do so.

Ranking the wines from first to fifth growths, the merchants evaluated market prices over the previous years. They noticed that the red wines that made the list came from the Médoc region, except for one: Château Haut-Brion from Graves.

Since this original classification in 1855, there has only been two changes. In 1856, Château Cantemerle was added as fifth growth and, in 1973, Château Mouton Rothschild was promoted from second growth to first.

Picture on the right: Château Margaux

Global flavour

It wasn’t long before the wine’s popularity grew all over the world. When King Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, interest in wine from the Bordeaux region began to grow in England.

The marriage established the province of Aquitaine, covering almost half of England and France. A new dark rose wine was created called ‘Clairet’ and soon became the most common wine exported to Britain.

After the battle of Castillion in 1453, the Aquitaine region returned to the French. Since then, and due to its global popularity, the word ‘Claret’ was anglicised and is still used today.

The exterior of the château

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