"We cannot talk about Bordeaux wine without talking about ze terroir," our tour guide articulated proudly with her thumb and index fingers together, stressing the r's (arhhhh's) in her last word. "Bordeaux's vineyards are deeh-vided into 60 appellations (regions) of 284,000 acres. Each type of wine is adapt-zeed to its region and...terroir (-arhh). You cannot make Margaux wine in Saint-Émilion. No no! You must make Margaux wine in Marrhhgaux. The Margaux wine varieties have been adapted to ze terroir (-arhhhh). Any-zing else will be no good." She looked at us. "You understand?"
It was a 45-min drive from downtown Bordeaux to the Châteaux (literally castle, but here meaning entities of vineyards, usually 100-150 acres, owned and operated separately either by families or now, modern day companies of shareholders). On many of these vineyards still sit castles of all sorts, which back then hosted the families who owned them as country estates away from the city.
Today, we were just 20 miles northwest of the city of Bordeaux, in the region of Margaux, famous for producing some of the best red wines in the world (or should I say ze :P).
As we drove past hundreds of acres of vineyards, we learned that Romans first planted them 3000 years ago. During this extraordinarily long history, the wine varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec, were especially created for the specific terrain of Bordeaux. And so despite being planted elsewhere in the world, they will never produce as well as here in France.
My immediate impression was that the vines all appeared much shorter than I had imagined, just 1-2 meters above ground. Apparently, because Bordeaux wines are known to last a long time (up to 3-4 decades), this requires that the juice be more concentrated than others, to allow for the gradual thinning of taste without loss of body or flavor. To accomplish this, Bordeaux vines are pruned extraordinarily short, resulting in the production of much less, but far more concentrated juice.
In a country obsessed with everything natural (GMO's are banned entirely), it's not a surprise that Bordeaux vineyards are never irrigated. This is called the hydro-stress method, which forces vines to grow enormous roots of 8-12 meters into the ground to find water. The average around the world is just 3-4 meters.
Most châteaux produce their wines on site, from harvesting to fermentation to aging. And so in these enormous barrels (many of which are now steel instead of wood to facilitate cleaning), the grapes are canned for fermentation.
It was surprising to see how clean and high-tech these facilities were. In Margaux, drones are used to take pictures of the vineyards from above to differentiate the already ripe grapes from those still needing some time.
And of course the aging process, which takes place in these oak barrels (each of which costs up to 900 euros, and changed every couple of years), helps to add that wonderful oak flavor to the red wine.
And the most important thing that I learned on my tour? That a wine from Bordeaux is never just a Cabernet, or a Merlot. It's always always a blend, and named only after its appellation. So next time you see a wine named Merlot, you know it's definitely not from Bordeaux (or France)!
We went on the Ophorus Wine Tour, which was excellent.
This post is part of the 12-day, 5-city Eurotrip in July 2014.