When hearing the word “Bordeaux”, what comes to mind? You might think like me a few years back, when my mind went to big chateaus, expensive wines with a bit of an unapproachable, stuffy image and wines that were out of my league. This is why I stayed away from this region for so many years, thinking it was only for millionaires and collectors.
While that might be somewhat true of part of the region, there are also areas in Bordeaux filled with small farmers and family vineyards, who are just as passionate about their wines as anyone else. They produce beautiful wines and work with nature to come up with a product that really mimics its terroir and evokes a sense of place. These are the kind of wines we love to feature and represent here at Vegan Wines.
But for those of you who have absolutely no idea about Bordeaux or its wines… well, this blog post is for you!
Bordeaux is a big topic, one I’m not going to attempt to fit into one simple blog post. But I do hope to shed some light on what is a beautiful, interesting region with an amazing history, and be able to evoke some curiosity in you and desire to try some of the otherwise undiscovered wines here. We have also interviewed Sophie Kevany, a writer based in Bordeaux, which you can find further down in this post.
Bordeaux is the largest Appellation d’Origine Controlee in France, producing more than 661 million bottles of wines every year, including some of the priciest wines in the world. The range of wines are astounding; from stunning, long lived white table wines and incredible sweet wines (of which Sauternes is one) to an amazing range of red wines from simple table wines to first growths that often costs up to $1,500 per bottle. 1
Bordeaux is broken down into five main regions and classifications, each one with its own system and terminology; The Medoc, Sauternes and Barsac (sweet wines), Graves, St. Emilion and Pomerol.
The Right Bank is located on the Dordogne and Gironde River (and includes St-Émilion and Pomerol) and produces Merlot dominant wines, with some Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon added. (Bordeaux wines are always a blend of more than one grape). This is where the famous Petrus is produced.
The Left Bank, situated on the Gironde and Garonne, includes the Médoc, and is where some of the most famous Châteaux are located. Here the wines are made mainly with Cabernet Sauvignon, and blended with Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc. This is where you can find Chateaux Margaux, one of the four wines to achieve Premier Cru (First Growth) status in the Bordeaux classification of 1855 (picture of the chateau below). Graves is also located here, which makes excellent dry white wines, and some great reds as well.
Then we have Entre-Deux-Mers (translated to “between two seas”), a region between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, that is known for dry, affordable white wines. Reds are produced here as well, but only whites carries the AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée. Reds are sold as Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur,
Sauternes and Barsac are technically situated on the Left Bank, and this is where some of the highest quality and famous sweet wines are made, from grapes that have been infected by Botrytis (fungus).
Grapes grown in the region include Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle for whites, and Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec for reds. Red wine is definitely the king here, accounting for 89% of the production.
There is a lot more we can write about when it comes to Bordeaux, in fact there are hundreds of books about this fantastic wine region – but hope this short overview helped make a little bit more sense of how it is comprised and what it offers.
We are so thrilled to be offering two red wines from Bordeaux to our club members this fall, of which one is Chateau Beausejour, Whereas the Medoc is essentially comprised of grand estates, St. Emilion’s 400 or so smallholders are essentially farmers dedicated to a single crop. Montagne-St-Emilion, where Chateau Beausejour is located, is the largest satellite appellation in St. Emilion with about 3,930 acres in production in 2013. The appellation applies to red wine only. 2
The quality of this wine is impressive, even in a vintage that wasn’t super favorable -but a testament to the fact that talented winemakers such as Pierre Bernault, are able to produce incredible product in every year.
We were lucky enough to connect with Sophie Kevany, a journalist, researcher and wine writer who is based in Bordeaux, and talk to her a bit about the region and ask her a couple of questions about Chateau Beausejour. Her interview is below.
For a bit more context on this wine and the region, as someone who is based in Bordeaux, what in your opinion, makes this region so special?
Bordeaux is a totally unexpected place for me to be living. When I thought of France it was Paris. I first moved there in 2004 and began buying Bordeaux wines in the local supermarket at (to me) unbelievable prices of 4e or 5e a bottle. And they tasted great. The strange part was that when I moved up to, say 8e or 10e a bottle, they didn’t always taste better, and sometimes they tasted worse. It was when I began to ask questions about that, and to write about it, that I discovered what an unbelievably varied place it was. And how some of the wines at the very top of the pile (Petrus, Cheval Blanc, etc.) tended to overwhelm what was going on in thousands of other vineyards. So, in short, the special part about Bordeaux for me is: it’s incredible range of different winemakers and regions; the fact that a region that produces something as well known as Cheval Blanc or Lafite, can also produce some really bad, overpriced wines, as well as some incredibly good, apparently underpriced ones. Also, that its really all about the different people, the experimentation, the passion for wine and the mix of nationalities that is Bordeaux, right from the start when the Irish and the Dutch came there in the 1700s.
Chateau Beausejour is one of the wineries we are very proud to represent at Vegan Wines. What did you think of it and what is the general perception of this wine?
Beausejour, literally, means ‘nice stay’. I have tried the “La petite robe Poivrée”. It was fruity, slightly peppery and quite light. I loved it. And love the label. I must try a few more. People tend to describe the wine as charming, understated and elegant, with a good balance between minerality and ripe dark fruit. The taste will evolve as you work down the bottle. I suggest decanting it to get some air in there early to open up the flavors.
Chateau Beausejour is located in the region of Montagne St. Emilion. Can you tell us a little bit about this area and what wines are typical / what to look for, etc.?
This area is seen as a good appellation to buy from when you want some of the richness and complexity of Saint Emilion, without the huge price tags. I would generally look for lower alcohol wines from this area. And I tend to go for ones that have a high levels of cabernet franc which is always interesting.
What is the current trend in Bordeaux for wineries? Do you find that they are moving towards more sustainable, organic winemaking and perhaps vegan alternatives to fining methods?
I think the main trend leans toward biodiversity and keeping soils, plants and vineyards healthy, vibrant, and as chemical free as possible. The biodiversity trend encompasses organic, vegan and biodynamic winemaking. I also notice a strong trend toward low-impact winemaking. In other words, doing as little as possible during the wine making process to allow the natural flavors and terroir to take precedence.
And finally… while we have the pleasure of your attention and expertise: what is one thing our club members absolutely must do when visiting (besides tasting wine obviously!) or place to visit in Bordeaux?
Get out on the water in any way you can. Go to the beach or do a river cruise. Eat in one of the restaurants that sit near or on the river in Bordeaux or any of the towns on either side. Go up to Paulliac and visit the Isle de Patiras. Bordeaux is about water. It’s ocean coast and its huge river and estuary. And they say all the top chateaux in the Medoc can ‘see’ the river.
Sophie Kevany is a freelance journalist and writer based in Bordeaux specializing in business, wine, and animal and planet welfare. She has written articles for Decanter magazine , Dow Jones, Client Planet and others. You can connect with Sophie on Twitter.
- MacNeill, Karen. The Wine Bible. New York: Workman Publishing Co. 2015. Print
- Robinson, Jancis. Oxford Companion. Web. September 11, 2018.