History teaches us that vines were introduced in the Bordeaux region, mainly in the Libourne and Saint-Emilion districts by the Roman legions, that Bordeaux wine had been consumed in England and Scotland in the Middle Ages and well before the wine became famous in France.
Drunk within the Bordeaux region the wine was not known in other parts of France for various reasons, including the abominable means of communication existing at that time and also because of inner borders that existed between the French Provinces, such ” barriers ” subsequently removed in 1788 under the reign of King Louis XVI.
We must not forget that the region of Bordeaux, named Aquitaine remained an English territory from 1152 to 1372 and as a matter of fact the British were the first to import the red Bordeaux “Claret” in barrels into Great-Britain.
But it is only as from the XVIIth century that the Bordeaux wines became so well-known. Great mansion-houses (chateau) were built on the estates, in the middle of vineyards and their owners became interested in ageing their wines in barrels.
In the XIXth century French writer Alexandre Dumas wrote the Trois Mousquetaires and many at that time dared compare the Bordeaux wines: the Medocs, the Saint-Emilions, the Graves and the Sauternes to his heroes Athos, Porthos, Aramis, D’Artagnan, each having specific qualities that one could compare to these four areas.
If we attempt to classify these wines bluntly in red and white wines, we would surely note distinctive characters making these wines so special: for the reds plenty of body, aromatic savour which develops gradually upon the palate. They are silky because of glycerin elements in them, with what we call a “bouquet”, that is this particular aromas imprinted with ripe fruits. They are ruby in colour and seem to wear a “robe” as it is said and can be aged for several years. The basic Bordeaux wines would sustain 5 to 8 years of ageing in bottles whereas the great classified growths can stay for 15 to 20 years in cellars, if patience is your virtue.
It may be added, although we are focusing on the red wines, that white Bordeaux wines are different to the point that no other white wines in France are like them. Their qualities are a specific bouquet, high percentage of alcohol, a velvet smoothness. They can be dry white wines or sweet white wines.
Now a little point of geographical importance: the Bordeaux wines, whether white or red wines, are grown in a region that stretches between two rivers (the Garonne and the Dordogne) which form the Gironde when they melt a few miles down Bordeaux backed by the Forest of Landes; this geographical panorama is actually what misses to the other regions in France and this natural environment is said to be of importance through its direct impact on the vineyards.
This said, Bordeaux comprises about 3,000 estates, of different sizes, the great ones producing the great Bordeaux classics and the smallest ones producing lesser-known wines, each having a market price depending upon their classification.
And this is what it is: there is a classification linked to the areas and the wines themselves.
Such a classification was decided in 1855 when the local wine-brokers, those who travelled in the country-side on their horses or carts to pick up samples and bring them back to the wine merchants, worked in connection with the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce at the request of Emperor Napoleon III to issue a list of Chateau wines in descending order (from the 1st great wine down to the 5th in every area / appellation zone).
Although minor changes were brought about to the subject list, the latter prevails worldwide confirming the reputation of such great wines as the years go by. And indeed prices are closely linked to this classification.
It should be noted however that this classification covers the wines of Medoc and not Pomerol or Saint-Emilion.
A few words can be said about the Medoc, this land that stretches north of Bordeaux along the Garonne / Gironde river: Medoc includes little counties (Communes) each having a reputation for its great red wines named after their village in the center of the area: Pauillac, Margaux, Saint-Estephe, Saint-Julien, Moulis.
So basically, the very first thing you have to do is to have a map of the Bordeaux region, such map can be found on the internet in the first instance. It will allow you to spot these villages, put names on areas, check where Saint-Emilion is located versus Margaux (example) and begin to understand what the Bordeaux vineyards are, think about visiting these areas and begin sketching a potential route through them.
Alternatively a few books will enlighten your knowledge of Bordeaux and its wines, explaining why the Merlot grape is dominant in Saint-Emilion and why Cabernet-Sauvignon prevails in Medoc. Other books will focus on each specific area and the Properties you can find there, others will embrace the whole panorama of the Bordeaux wines going deep in every details like ageing in barrels, the history of Chateaux, tasting lessons, best routes to follow etc.
It is quite a wide subject that may lead you to building your little library of brochures and books about the wines along with a collection of certain good vintages that you will be storing in your cellar.