Showing posts with label Bordeaux Wine History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bordeaux Wine History. Show all posts

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A Good Vintage . . .

Vintage is a word that has been hijacked over the years – we hear of vintage fashion, vintage cars, vintage jewellery . . . but it's original meaning relates to wine. The word initially meant a 'harvest of grapes / yield of wine from a vineyard' and its root are the Latin vinum (wine) and demere (remove). The British hijacked the French word 'vendage' (grape harvest) and anglicised it to 'vintage' back in the 1400s. British links with France were strong at this time – England had owned half of Medieval France under the Angevin Empire and our monarchies were intertwined. The British drank claret and naturally French words became integrated with our own.

Around 1746 the sense of the word shifted to mean 'the age or year of a particular wine.' This isn't surprising as back in the late 1600s we had started to recognise that good wine came from certain vineyards - the diarist Samuel Pepys wrote about the wine 'Ho-Bryan' (Chateau Haut Brion). As wine making techniques improved and developed it seems a natural progression that we should start recognising a wine from a good year too!

It wasn't till 1883 that the word vintage began to be used to refer to items as 'being of an earlier time' but it wasn't until 1928 that we started calling old cars 'vintage'! Since then it seems 'vintage' hasn't looked back and you can find it applied to anything and everything.

Vintage isn't the only French word associated with wine that we have hijacked – 'claret' is the anglicised form of clairet (the original deep coloured rosé wine from Bordeaux made centuries ago). The word 'ton' comes from the French word 'tonneaux' – there was so much wine shipped across the Channel from France to England in the 1500s that the weight of a ship's cargo became measured by the number of wine barrels (tonneaux) it could hold - giving rise to our word 'ton.

Incidentally we can also thank claret for our word 'butler'. In the 17th century claret was not sold in bottles, as corks had not yet been developed, and was sold by the cask. The customer would have the wine decanted into suitable quantities into his own bottles for service and the more fashionable amongst them would have their crests embossed on their bottles. The person who decanted the wine was known as the “bottler” who became , in time, the 'butler.

If you can think of any other wine related words we have hijacked please let me know!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Pomerol Hermitage

The only other producer I have heard of in Bordeaux producing a Hermitage wine is Michel Chapoutier (owner of the biodynamic Tain L'Hermitage) who made a batch of Pomerol Hermitage after the 2005 vintage with oenologist Michael Rolland. The wine was produced for charity and was made 50% Merlot from Château Le Bon Pasteu, Rolland's property in Pomerol and 50% Syrah from Chapoutier's l'Ermite. The wine was named, aptly, .

Rolland and Chapoutier intend to create an every time the vintage deserves it (I wonder if they made a 2009?). As this is not permitted under AOC rules since the introduction of the AOC system in 1936 will be labelled simply Vins de Pays.

The wine was sold at auction in aid of Chapoutier's charitable foundation, M. Chapoutier Vins et Santé, set up in 1994 to help children with leukemia.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Bordeaux Hermitage

The practise of Hermitaged Bordeaux goes back to 1759 (as dated by John Livingstone-Learmonth in his book Wines of the Northern Rhône). In 1775 Chateau Lafite was blended with Hermitage and was one of the greatest wines of its day. Hermitage is the most famous of all the northern Rhône appellations. The hill of Hermitage is situated above the town of Tain and overlooking the town of Tournon which is just across the river.

The name Hermitage appeared in the 16th Century derived from a legend from the 13th Century Crusade. According to the legend, the Knight Gaspard de Stérimberg returned home wounded in 1224 from the Albigensian Crusade and was given permission by the Queen of France to build a small refuge to recover in, where he remained living as a hermit. The chapel on top was built in honour of Saint Christopher and today is owned by the negociant Paul Jaboulet Âiné.

Mature red Hermitage can be confused with old Bordeaux. In a blind tasting of 1961 1st Growth Clarets, the famous 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle was included. Most people, including its owner, Gerard Jaboulet, mistook it for Chateau. Margaux.

John Livingstone-Learmonth’s book says that it was reported that Hermitage growers found it “hard to keep up with demand from Bordeaux.” In 1819 there is mention that wines from Bénicarlos (Valencia) in Spain were added to the Bordeaux blend as well as those from Côte Rôtie and Cornas. In 1826 there is a report that the best wines of the Gard and Herault in the Languedoc Roussillon were also added.

I am not sure when the practice died out, perhaps sometime around the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1870s but when the Bordeaux appellations were regulated in 1936 the practice was made illegal. It's interesting to think that those ancient bottles of Bordeaux rarely seen at auction may actually contain a very different Bordeaux to what we are used to!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

A Different Bordeaux? Chateau Palmer Hermitage

I was surprised to learn that Chateau Palmer the Margaux Second Growth has reinstated an old tradition that is no longer practised in Bordeaux. They have created Château Palmer Historical XIXth Century Blend which is a special cuvée created as an homage to the Hermitaged Bordeaux of the 19th century. Hermitaged Bordeaux refers to the practice of adding wines to the Bordeaux blend particularly in a poor vintage (this also happened in Burgundy). Chateau Palmer's Historical XIXth Century Blend is made from 85% of estate grapes from Palmer and 15% Syrah from Hermitage in the Northern Rhone. Thomas Duroux, winemaker at Palmer, explained that:

"Most of the great names of Bordeaux used to have a little bit of wine from the north of the Rhône to improve the colour and depth of the wine. They had to do this sometimes since they had difficult vintages. We now know how to deal with difficult vintages. But I was very curious to understand what would happen if we did [this] with the wine we have today."

The Historical XIXth Century Blend has been marketed in Japan, the USA and is soon to be released in France. As the wine was made outside the regional rules it can only be classified as the lowest French designation, "vin de table." Duroux even had to take the drawing of Château Palmer off his front label, since vin de table cannot, by law, have an illustration of a particular place on the label.

Apparently the wine is fuller and richer when compared to the usual Margaux style and shows more of the Syrah character. Of the 250 – 300 cases made, the chateau is holding back 50 cases for a minimum ten years to see if the wine changes back to show more of the Margaux character. Priced the same as Chateau Palmer ex-cellars, this isn’t your typical vin de table.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Bordeaux Wine History

Wine making in Bordeaux goes back into the mists of time. The Bordeaux region is the largest and oldest fine wine vineyard in the world, covering more than 284,000 acres of vines in 57 appellations. Tradition has it that wine making dates back to the 1st century AD when the Bituriges Vivisques, a Gaulish people from Burdigala (the Roman name for Bordeaux), planted Biturica vines on the banks of the Garonne. Biturica is the ancestor of today’s Cabernet Sauvignon, thought to be originally from Albania. Pliny recorded that vines were grown in Bordeaux in 71 AD. The Biturica grapevine was resistant colder winters and Bordeaux's oceanic climate and soil were ideal, and thus, the city’s most identifiable roots were planted 2,000 years ago.

The first author to mention that wine was grown in his native Bordeaux was the 4th century Roman poet Decimus Magnus Ausonius and it is believed that Château Ausone in Saint Emilion stands upon the foundations of his villa Lucaniac.

Unlike most areas of France, where the Church developed and controlled the wine, the merchant class traditionally was at the centre of the Bordeaux wine trade. Perhaps this is due to its location near a port which made for easier commerce. The ancient port of Bordeaux is called the Port de la Lune (the Port of the Moon) due to the enormous curve of the river in the city centre. The Port de la Lune unites the heart of the city around its crescent shape - which inspired the Bordeaux coat of arms and the estuary is amongst the largest in Europe.

Bordeaux's wine trade took off on the 12th century when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II bringing Bordeaux with her as part of her dowry. Eleanor brought with her a taste for Bordeaux wines and before long galleons were shipping barrels of wine to and fro the Channel. In fact there was so much wine shipped that the weight of a ships cargo became measured by the number of wine barrels (tonneaux) it could hold - giving rise to our word “ton”.

Graves was the largest producer of wines back then, with Château Pape Clement as its oldest named vineyard. In 1305 Archbishop Bertrand de Goth, who was to become Pope Clement V, presented it to the see of Bordeaux.

The wines from Bordeaux at this period in time were much paler than the red wines of today as the result of a short fermentation, usually of no more than 1 or 2 days. As soon as the wine was fermented, it was run off into barrels, so the grape skins (which contain the colour and tannins) were left only a short time in contact with the juice. These wines didn't last long, and were usually drunk very quickly. Such wines exported from Bordeaux were known as Clairet, which is the French for “clear” and this is where our word claret comes from. Originally all clarets were clairets and the English adored them.

In the 17th century, after the Aquitaine returned to French ownership, the Dutch became the main importers of Bordeaux wines. The Dutch brought improvements to the wine making techniques of the region which made longer fermentation and ageing possible. Dutch engineers drained the marshes so that vineyards could be planted and clarets began to be produced in the Graves and on the sands and gravels of the Médoc to the north west of Bordeaux. The wines were "black" (or darkly coloured) red wines that we recognise today.

In 1663 Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“Off the Exchange with Sir J. Cutler and Mr. Grant to the Royall Oake Taverne in Lombard-street . . . And here drank a sort of French wine called Ho Bryan, that hath a good and most perticular taste that I never met with.”

This wine was none other than Chateau Haut Brion made in Graves, by Arnaud de Pontac, first President of the Bordeaux Parlement. Three years later in 1666, Arnaud de Pontac sent his son to London, where he opened a restaurant, grocers and tavern named the Sign of Pontac’s Head, and here he introduced his claret to the fashionable elite of London society.

In 1725, the spread of vineyards throughout Bordeaux was so vast that it was divided into specific areas so that the consumer could tell exactly where each wine was from. The collection of districts was known as the Vignoble de Bordeaux, and bottles were labelled with both the region and the area from which they originated.

In 1855 the Emperor Napoleon III organised the Exposition Universelle de Paris to showcase the best of all that was France, hoping to surpass the one in London. The exhibition was an elaborate vehicle for boosting trade, and wine was just a small part of it. For the Exposition, Napoleon III requested a classification system for France's best Bordeaux wines which were to be on display for visitors from around the world. Brokers from the wine industry ranked the wines according to a château's reputation and trading price. In their view, the market (which was mainly British) had already determined which Bordeaux wines were best, and the classifications needed to reflect the market's judgement. The result was the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Although intended as a listing for the show, and nothing more than that, the classification stuck fast and now appears to be with us for the rest of eternity.

From 1875-1892 almost all Bordeaux vineyards were ruined by Phylloxera infestations. The region's wine industry was rescued by grafting native vines on to pest-resistant American rootstock. As Phylloxera is native to the east coast of the United States, the native American vine species generally evolved with resistance.

In the 20th century the rapidly expanding wine industry created the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine) whose mission was, and still is, to ensure the quality of wine. Today, 97% of Bordeaux wines are very successfully marketed according to AOC standards. This mission of improving quality brought the whole industry to a higher level with the creation of new classifications (Saint Émilion in 1955) and the appearance of new AOC's (Pessac Léognan in 1987).