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Bordeaux: The Standard by Which All Other Wine is Judged

 

There is no more important wine region in the world than Bordeaux. Home to more iconic wineries than any other region in the world, with a long and storied history, and producing consistently exceptional wines, Bordeaux is the standard by which all other wine regions are judged.

Wine production in Bordeaux began nearly two-thousand years ago, and the range of grapes grown there today – cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot, malbec, carménère, sémillon, sauvignon blanc, muscadelle, ugni blanc, colombard, merlot blanc, ondenc, and mauzac – were already beginning to be established. There are chateaux in Bordeaux which have been in continuous operation for more than 400 years, and in many cases their vineyard and winemaking practices have changed little in the intervening centuries.

Many of the biggest names in wine are chateaux in Bordeaux: Mouton Rothschild, Petrus, Lafite Rothschild, Haut Brion, Margaux, Talbot, Latour, and others are all major red Bordeaux producers. Bottles of the premiere wines from these wineries can range from US$350 for a relatively-mediocre year to US$10,000 for extremely old, sought after vintages. Well-made Bordeaux generally improves for 7-15 years, reaching its peak sometime in its second decade of life. Exceptional vintages may last for decades longer, continuing to develop complexity in the cellar.  

Most red Bordeaux is a blend of a handful of the 'great Bordeaux varietals' – cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, carménère, malbec, merlot, and petit verdot. In the past few decades the use of carménère and malbec in blends has declined greatly, leading to a proliferation of four-varietal wines. Cabernet sauvignon dominates these blends – generally comprising 70% or more of the wine – with cabernet franc and merlot making up the bulk of the remainder, and petit verdot helping to add structure. In the regions of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, the wines tend to be merlot dominated, with cabernet sauvignon and merlot switching places.

Bordeaux is also renowned for its white wines, especially the sweet white wines of the Sauternes region. These white wines are made from grapes which have been botrytized – infected with the 'noble rot' – to allow their sugar content to increase. Top end Sauternes wines are among the most expensive and most prized in the world, and can age virtually indefinitely. The king of Sauternes is Château d'Yquem, the only Premiere Cru Supérieur in Sauternes, and arguably the most valued wine in the world. These wines can continue to develop complexity for a century or more. Chateau d'Yquem wines will surface occasionally at auction dating back to the early 1800s – as recently as 2011 a former sommelier purchased a bottle of 1811 Chateau d'Yquem for $117,000, and the wine should still be in perfect condition.