Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bordeaux vs. Burgundy Wines ~ Drops of God #1 ~

The biggest takeaway from the first book in the Drops of God series is the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. First I’ll start with Bordeaux. Can you find it on the map?

BORDEAUX - the most vital facts-

- It’s the largest wine producing region in France, located near the coast.

- That means the weather tends to be humid and unpredictable.

- Mostly red wines made of blends using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc grapes. A typical ratio is 70/15/15 with the 70 being either Cabernet or Merlot.

- It’s generally split into two regions, separated by the Garonne River.

- The left bank is typically Cabernet Sauvignon based. Cabernet Sauvignon’s like gravel in their soil.

- The right bank is typically Merlot based. Merlot’s like clay in their soil.

- Rankings are Chateau based

- Chateau = Bourdeaux (Domaine = Burgundy)

- The bigger the region listed on the bottle, the lower the quality (and the price). Listing an appellation is much more expensive than the entire region of Bordeaux.
- They come in straight bottles with rigid shoulders

- Use a decanter--they’re full bodied, rich, and less acidic

- Notable Vintages (years): 2000 & 2003 (best), 1995 & 1996 & 1999 (pretty good), 1992 & 1997 (good)

In the series, the wine that introduces us to the Bordeaux is a 1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild which is likened to Jean Francois Millet’s painting The Angelus. The Art History buff in me loved finding that each year of this wine has a label painted by a different artist. There’s George Braque in 1955 followed by Dali in 1958, then Chagall (1970), Kandinsky (1971), Picasso (1973), Warhol (1975) and Keith Haring (1988). This 1982 bottle is by John Huston. See here for a full list:

Stop reading here if you don’t want details.

The Bordeaux region, like all wine regions, is broken into appellations as shown in this map:

Wines are classified by these regions (there are 57 in Bordeaux alone), as well as the estate, and the ranking of the estate. This information, along with whether the wine was bottled by a Chateau or by a negociant (an aggregator of grapes from various vineyards), the year or “vintage”, and the alcohol content, are all listed on the bottle’s label.

Chateau Ranking System in Bordeaux:

5 Premier Grand Crus:
- Chateau Lafite-Rothschild (Pauillac)
- Chateau Latour (Pauillac)
- Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac)
- Chateau Margaux (Margaux)
- Chateau Haute-Brion (Pessac-Leognan).
14 Deuxièmes Crus (2nd Growth)
14 Troisièmes Crus (3rd Growth)
10 Quatrièmes Crus (4th Growth)
18 Cinquièmes Crus (Fifth Growths)
247 Bourgeois (Everything else)

Below are some notes on the more famous appellations in Bordeaux. Happy reading.

Medoc - The name refers to the general region on the left bank, but it’s also the name for the appelation located the farthest north. Unlike the rest of the region, the soil is rich in clay so there’s more Merlot grown here. La Lagune, La Tour Carnet, Belgrave, Camensac, Cantermerle are some famous names to remember.

St. Estephe - The soil here is more retentive to moisture here than St. Julien, Pauillac, and Margaux. These four appellations are probably the most famous and prestigious in the Medoc region. Montrose and Cos d’Estournel are the biggies.

Pauillac - Remember that 1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild that’s supposed to be like Millet’s painting? That one hails from this appellation. In the Bordeaux system of wine rankings, a premier grand crus is the best, and Pauillac has three such estates: Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, and Mouton-Rothschild. These guys are all Cabernet Sauvignon based. A deuxiemes crus (second growth) winery is also mentioned in the book: Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron. Supposedly they are made in stainless steel containers, not oak.

St. Julien - As you can see on the map, it’s sandwiched between Margaux and Pauillac. Talbot is the largest estate. The second largest one used to be the largest but was split into three different ones thanks to those fun french vineyard inheritance laws: Leoville-Las-Cases, Leoville-Barton, Leoville-Poyferre

Margaux - Chateau Margaux is the most famous estate as it’s the only premier grand crus of the region. These are Cabernet Sauvignon based as well.

Haute Medoc - More Cabertnet Sauvignon thanks to the fine gravel soil.

Graves - The name comes from the gravelly soil. Haut-Brion is a famous name to regurgitate later in life.

Sauternes & Barsac - Now we’re hitting the whites of Bordeaux. Remember the term “Noble Rot”. I forgot to look that up in more detail. Sauternes is one appellation. Barsac is another. I just felt like listing them together.

Cadillac - another region for whites.

Saint Emilion - Now we’re on the right bank, which means we’re Merlot based. This appellation is the largest of the right bank at 5000 hectares. The village here is even a UNESCO world heritage site. You know how I like those world heritage sites. The terrior here is more distinctive than most as there are various ratios of Limestone, Clay, Gravel, and Sand throughout. Merlot. Cheval Blanc on gravel, Ausone on limestone and clay. Largest of right bank, 5000 hectares, compared to just 800 in Pomerol.

Pomerol - More Merlot, except this appellation is much smaller than Saint Emilion. 800 hectares. Petrus, Trotanoy, Le Pin are the famous ones here.

There are many many more appellations but I’m not going to remember them all in one try. Are you?

Although I do have to point out one more because the manga references a 2001 Chateau Mont-Perat and likens it to Queen. Yes, the Freddie Mercury-We Are the Champions-Queen. These bottles supposedly are not too expensive so many I’ll go seek out a bottle soon. Anyway, the appelation this one is from is called Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux. It’s across from the Graves section, on the right bank.

Whew. That was a lot to ingest.

Next up is Burgundy.

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