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Navigating Bordeaux wines

The conditions seemed just right to the ancient Romans — the soils, the climate that was moderated by the ocean, and the Garonne river running through Bordeaux offered easy shipping.

And so, around about 61BC, they planted the first vineyards.

Much of the reputation today is the result of an event that happened in 1855, when 61 wines were “classified”. This was at the request of Napoleon III, who wanted to show the best at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris, which was held to show the best of France to the world.

The leading wine merchants in Bordeaux were asked to produce a list of wines at five levels, based on a history of prices paid for them over a defined period. Not all areas were included, probably the most notable being St Emilion.

Overall, there has been only one change to the 61 wines selected from thousands, and this took place in 1973 when Mouton Rothschild was elevated from a second to a first growth.

Before that year, the Mouton labels read: “Premier ne puis, second ne daigne, Mouton suis” (First I cannot be. Second I do not deign to be. Mouton I am).

Out of the present wineries, more than 7,300, the 61 classified wines of the Medoc account for only five per cent of the total production that produces over 900 million bottles a year from 296,000 acres of vineyards.

Due to the enormous production of Bordeaux wines there always seems to be a supply of well-aged bottles that are ready to enjoy when bought.

There are reasons why deserving wines are not classified. I understand that the folks at Château Lanessan were asked to fill in the necessary paperwork, and declined as they thought nothing would come of it. Oops!

We have various vintages of Château Maucaillou that Robert Parker considers of “Fourth Growth” quality, but it was not built until 1875.

I feel the best way to navigate the thousands of non-classified wines available is to trust in your wine merchant. I would like to suggest some examples that represent very good value.

Here is one review of Château Maucaillou 2003 in the commune of Moulis: “Olive, cedar, pencil lead and oak on the nose which is complex and above its pay grade with enough stuffing underneath to carry it well.” $24.70.

Few have heard of Carignan Prima from Côtes de Bordeaux, but their 2009 rates 93/100 from James Suckling and 92/100 from the Wine Spectator. Suckling writes: “Impressive for this appellation with ripe fruit and light espresso character and hints of mushrooms. Full-bodied with velvety tannins and a long flavourful finish.” 2005, 2009 and 2010 are stupendous vintages for Bordeaux and much sought after. $21.

Château Fourcas Dupre 2009 — Listrac gets 90/100 from the Wine Enthusiast that comments: “Slowly opens up and develops a rich character through its wood-aged and liquorice flavours and fragrant acidity. It is dense and rich, as one expects from the vintage, and it certainly will age for many years.” $21. We also have the 2010 vintage for $32.45.

I always find Château Bernadotte from the Haut Medoc to be quite exceptional and we have the blockbuster 2010 for $38.40. The Wine Spectator says it has the potential to rise to 92/100 and calls it racy and bright with good length.

We usually carry a few vintages of Château Cambon la Pelouse — Haut-Medoc and 2006 Decanter magazine has this to say about it: “Presents a beautiful structure, both ample and elegant. It is a safe bet and it would be a shame to deprive yourself.” $32.40.

Château Rollan de By 2006 — Haut-Medoc received these comments: “Cru Borgeois at its best. We think this wine has wow factor. Served on Air France Business Class. Recently outranked Château Margaux and Cheval Blanc in a blind tasting.” $36.90.

Let me tell you about a baby in the family that produced its very first vintage in 2001. The overall production is tiny compared with most, but we have followed it from the start and I think that it is just wonderful. For this, we go east and cross the river to get to St Emilion and Château la Confession 2012.

As the dominant grape is merlot in this appellation, the wines are usually ready to drink earlier than cabernet sauvignon. Young owner, Jean-Philippe Janoueix, likes to experiment.

For instance, in 2005, he warmed his barrels before placing wine in them. He believes that this technique allows for a gentle extraction with no shock to the grapes. He feels that this gives him a softer and more natural wine. $56.10.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George's (York Street, 297-0409). Visit

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George's (York Street, 297-0409). Visit www.wineonline.bm

The Bordeaux region of France

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Published November 03, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated November 03, 2017 at 11:17 am)

Navigating Bordeaux wines

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