Bordeaux, on the southwest coast of France, is generally acknowledged to be the greatest wine-producing region of France and, thus, of the world. The history of wine-making in this r.egion extends back over 2,000 years and the area was already famous for its wines during the days of Imperial Rome. The Senechaussee of Bordeaux (Gascony) belonged to the English crown from the twelfth to the fifteenth century. During this time English merchants developed a flourishing trade and firmly established the popularity of Bordeaux wines in England. The red wines of Bordeaux were then called clairet (literally, ‘light- coloured’) by the Gascons, which soon became corrupted into the English word claret. Claret has now become a general descriptive term for red Bordeaux wines.
The soil of the region produces only the finest quality of grape, for it is composed of limestone, gravel and sand with a clay subsoil. Bordeaux is one of the areas covered by the appellation controlee laws enacted by the French government during the 1930’s, which strictly maintain the standards of wine-making and labelling and even designate the wine districts, what type of grapes can be grown on them and how much wine can be produced per acre.
Bordeaux wines differ widely in character, with each district producing a readily identifiable and distinct type. They are, therefore, assessed and labelled according to the locality in which they are grown, and within each main area are many sub-districts. Individual vineyards are referred to as chateaux, after the country houses or storage buildings which most of them contain, and almost every bottle of Bordeaux wine carries its chateau name on its label. Those wines bottled at the vineyard-mis en bouteille au chateau or, literally, chateau-bottled- are the best of the Bordeaux wines.
Bordeaux is divided into five main wine-producing areas, three of which produce red wine (Medoc, St. Emilion and Pomerol), one which produces white wine (Sauternes) and one which produces both red and white wine (Graves).
The wines of the Medoc are probably the best-known of the Bordeaux reds, and 62 of the leading vineyards of this region were, in 1855, subjected to classification by a group of wine brokers in Bordeaux -rankings ranging from premiers cms (first growths) through cinquiemes crus (fifth growths). Despite some controversy, the rankings have generally stood the test of time and today there are still only four Medocs meriting the description premiers cms (Chateau Lafite, Chateau
Latour, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild). Wines which failed to make the list at all were given the general description of cms bourgeois, and these wines still form a major part of the claret trade. Twenty-two of the white wines of the Sauternes were also classified by the 1855 committee, one, the ‘Queen of Sauternes’, Chateau d’Yquem, being of such outstanding quality that a special category was created for it of grand premier cm. Eleven Sauternes wines were classed as premiers crus.
The wines of St. Emilion and both the red and white wines of Graves were ranked in a similar way during the 1950’s – Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval-Blanc being considered the best of the St. Emilions, Chateau Haut Brion leading the red
Graves and Chateau Carbonnieux being considered the most distinguished white Graves. The wines of the Pomerol have not been officially classified, but Chateau Pctrus and Chateau Certan are generally considered to be the leading wines of this area.
Clarets go well with roast chicken, turkey, veal, fillet of beef, ham, liver, lamb, pheasant and such soft, fermented cheeses as CAMEMBERT. Dry white Graves wine can be drunk with veal, poultry or ham dishes while medium sweet whites usually accompany dessert mousses, creams, souffles and cakes. Those rich golden Sauternes should be served chilled at the end of, or after, the meal.