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A Historical Look at Bordeaux, France

The Bordeaux wine region, located in the southwest of France along the Atlantic coast, is one of the most renowned and historic wine-producing areas in the world.

Bordeaux, France

The history of Bordeaux wine stretches back to the Roman times, around the 1st century AD, when the first vineyards were planted. However, the region's wine industry truly began to flourish in the Middle Ages, particularly after the marriage of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, which brought the region under English rule. This marriage significantly boosted the export of Bordeaux wines to England, marking the start of an international trade that would shape the region's economy and culture.

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During the 17th and 18th centuries, Bordeaux underwent further development, with the establishment of many of the estates that are still celebrated today. The introduction of the "château" concept, alongside innovations in winemaking and vineyard management, helped improve the quality of the wines. The 1855 Classification, requested by Emperor Napoleon III for the Paris Exposition, officially recognized the top châteaux of the Médoc (and one from Graves, Château Haut-Brion), categorizing them into five levels of "Growths" based on price, which was seen as a reflection of quality. This classification has remained largely unchanged and continues to influence the market and perception of Bordeaux wines.


Thankful for Dutch Engineering

The Dutch played a significant role in the development and transformation of the Bordeaux wine region, particularly during the 17th century. They were instrumental in draining the marshlands of the Médoc, and their expertise in hydraulic engineering allowed for the conversion of previously unusable land into productive vineyards. This expansion of vineyard acreage was crucial for the growth of the Bordeaux wine industry, as it enabled the cultivation of new areas, notably in the Médoc, which would later become home to many of Bordeaux's most prestigious estates.

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The Dutch were significant consumers of Bordeaux wines and played a vital role in establishing Bordeaux as a major wine exporting region. Their merchant ships facilitated the transportation of large quantities of Bordeaux wine to various markets, including the Netherlands, England, and other parts of Northern Europe. This not only helped establish Bordeaux's reputation as a wine-producing region but also led to an increase in demand and production.


The 20th century brought challenges, including economic depression, wars, and vineyard diseases like phylloxera, which devastated the vineyards in the late 19th century. However, these adversities were met with resilience and innovation, such as the adoption of grafting onto American rootstocks to combat phylloxera. The latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st saw a significant increase in the quality of Bordeaux wines, driven by technological advancements, improved viticultural practices, and a renewed focus on quality over quantity.

Today, Bordeaux is home to over 6,000 wine-producing châteaux, encompassing a wide range of appellations that produce red, white, sweet, and sparkling wines. The region is divided by the Garonne and Dordogne rivers into the Left Bank, known for its Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends and prestigious classifications, and the Right Bank, where Merlot plays a more prominent role. The area between these rivers, the Entre-Deux-Mers, is known for its white wines. The sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, made from grapes affected by noble rot, are also highly esteemed.

Bordeaux's history is a testament to its enduring legacy in the world of wine, marked by centuries of trade, innovation, and a steadfast commitment to excellence. The region's ability to adapt and evolve continues to keep Bordeaux at the forefront of the global wine industry, cherished by collectors and wine lovers alike.


A Bit More About Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the world's most renowned red wine grape varieties, has a history that intertwines with the evolution of vine cultivation and winemaking. Its origins can be traced back to the 17th century in southwestern France, specifically in the Bordeaux region, where it is believed to have been created accidentally through the natural crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. This heritage endowed Cabernet Sauvignon with its distinctive flavors and robust characteristics, including a thick skin and high tannin content, which contribute to the wine's aging potential.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Cabernet Sauvignon gained prominence in Bordeaux, becoming a cornerstone of the region's esteemed blends, celebrated for their complexity, depth, and longevity. The grape's adaptability to various climates and soils, along with its consistent quality, led to its proliferation across new world wine regions in the 20th century, cementing its status as a key varietal in both single-varietal wines and blends globally, and becoming synonymous with high-quality red wine.

We have many other articles on Bordeaux available in our Article Collection. More to come on this exciting and historical wine region!

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