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Bordeaux - What makes those wines great

Wine Making Areas

Not much in the world of wine is universally accepted as true. There are shades of opinion and degrees of truth. There is, however, one truth that seems to hold across countries and across the ages, and it's this: the world's best red wines come from Bordeaux. It's worth looking at why this should have become an unarguable maxim.

Not much in the world of wine is universally accepted as true. There are shades of opinion and degrees of truth. There is, however, one truth that seems to hold across countries and across the ages, and it's this: the world's best red wines come from Bordeaux. It's worth looking at why this should have become an unarguable maxim.

When you think of Bordeaux reds what are you thinking of? I'd guess that the great names of the Medoc spring to mind; names like Lafite, Latour and Margaux. Maybe too you can bring to mind other classed growths from other appellations - Petrus, Cheval Blanc or Haut Brion. All of these wines have something in common other than their greatness: they are not designed to be drunk young. That simple truth leads to a number of effects; firstly the wine has to be made in such a way that it can survive the ageing process, secondly someone gets to pay for the storage while it ages, and thirdly there's a lot of room here for speculation, since these wines can be very expensive.

Exclusivity forms a big part of this equation. Some of the great chateaux make relatively small quantities of wine, so given a world-wide distribution, you can see that nobody gets to hold large amounts of any one chateau in any year. Rarity value, a name redolent with history and a high price tag are the defining parameters of a great red Bordeaux.

To make a red wine that will age in the bottle you need to have tannin. That's the same chemical that you find in oak bark, the same chemical that's used to preserve animal skins and turn them into leather. It preserves the wine from bacteriological infection, but until it mellows with age its taste is sharp and bitter. And that's why you can draw a bell curve to represent a wine's lifespan. It can take ten years to achieve maturity, it stays at it's peak for number of years, and then, as it approaches old age, it begins to decline. All the great chateaux follow this pattern - almost undrinkable in their infancy, they achieve their greatness after 10 - 15 years depending on the vintage.

Bordeaux's reputation is deservedly founded on this kind of wine, but the fact is they make up a tiny percentage of Bordeaux's total production. The vast bulk of Bordeaux's wines are aimed at a more modest market, and in theory, the same skill that makes the high-flyers is used for these more affordable wines.

Suggested wine

Chateau la Citadelle, Bordeaux Superieur, 2000

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