WSET Advanced Bordeaux and Southern France Class a.k.a. the Perfect Way to Celelbrate Bastille Day

In honor of Bastille Day (or perhaps because it just happened to fall on the same day) we tasted six wines of Bordeaux including a white Bordeaux, a generic Bordeaux, a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, a Cahors, a Haut-Medoc and a Sauternes. Whoo - did I ever need a piece of bread after that one!

So this is the fourth section of the class - for a little background, I'm doing the WSET Advanced home study since there aren't any classes less than three hours away from me and my test is coming up on Sept. 4th in NYC (only seven weeks away!)

Anyway, I learned that hard way that none of my coworkers (including my boss!) are actually interested in discussing what makes the wine what it is - but they are sure interested in drinking it... so I was on my own for the tasting.

Here's a little on what I learned about Bordeaux (OK, some of it I already knew, but it doesn't hurt to reinforce):

There are actually 14 grapes permitted for use in Bordeaux, but in practice only 8 are used (5 in red- Cab. Sauv., Cab. Franc, Merlot, Malbec & Petite Verdot, 3 in white- Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc & Muscadelle) The only grape that is largely used for single varietal wines is Sauvignon Blanc, the rests are generally blends.

Unlike Burgundy, Bordeaux is not known by a plot of land, but rather by chateau - though the size of a chateau may vary from year to year. Despite this fact, no single chateau can receive AC status. This is determined by geographical location, type of grapes grown, yield, etc. AC status is then divided into three categories: Generic (i.e. Bordeaux & Bordeaux Superieuer); District (i.e. Entre-deux-mers, Haut-Medoc); Commune (i.e. Saint-Emilion Grand Cru AC.)

Bordeaux's vineyards are densely planted and the vines are trained along low wires to benefit from the heat the ground absorbs. Bordeaux generally sees long hours of sunshine and high humidity due to its proximity to water. Along the river lies alluvial soils where the lowest appellation wines are generally grown. Fine wines are grown in the well draining gravel soils further from the rivers except Saint-Emilion which is limestone based.

Bordeaux is divided into three sections by the Dordogne and Garonne rivers: the Left Bank (Medoc, Haut-Medoc & Graves) the Right Bank (Saint-Emilion and Pomerol) and the area between the rivers (Entre-Deux-Mers & Premiere Cotes de Bordeaux.) Notably, within the left bank lay the AC communes Saint-Estephe, Paullic, Margaux, Barsac, Sauternes and Saint-Julien; within the area between the two rivers lies the commune Saint-Croix-du-Mont; and within the right bank lay the communes Saint-Emilion, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Saint Emilion's satellites (9), Pomerol and Fronsac/Canon-Fronsac.

Bordeaux original classification was done in 1855 and included the regions of Medoc and Sauternes with the exception of Chateau Haut-Brion, the only first growth to come from Graves. This classification categorized select chateau in categories of growths 1-5, to this day there are only five first growths: Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Margaux. Sauternes was divided into three categories including first and second growths and one Premier Grand Cru Classes, Chateau d'Yquem.

Since 1855 Graves and Saint-Emilion have developed their own classification systems and additional chateaus are classified under garage wines (small production, concentrated wines) and Cru Bougeois.

I could go in to more detail, but they may be enough for today's mini Bordeaux lesson!

As for the wines we tasted, the white Bordeaux and the Sauternes were past their prime, the generic Bordeaux was, just that, generic, the Cahors promised much in the nose, but was missing structure mid-palate (a shame as it was a 2005!), the Haut-Medoc was good, definitely needed food but showed lots of black currant and structure that demonstrated what Cabernet Sauvignon was intended to be and the Saint-Emilion Grand Cru... that was an excellent bottle of wine. If you want the exact tasting notes, I'll be happy to send them!

Until next time... cheers!


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