A Month of Harvest Part I: Bordeaux

Harvesting is the process of gathering a ripe crop from the fields. In winemaking, this is the picking of grapes and creating the finished product. The time of harvest is determined primarily by the ripeness of the grape as measured by sugar, acid and tannin levels with winemakers basing their decision to pick based on the style of wine they wish to produce. Each harvest year is known as a vintage and the year in which the grapes were grown and picked and then crushed, pressed and fermented is printed on label. The word vintage was first used in the early 15th century. It was adapted from the Old French vendage (wine harvest) deriving from the Latin vindemia (grape-gathering), in turn coming from vinum (wine) and demere (to remove).

Because it's that time of year, we'll be discussing (and more importantly tasting wines from specific places, France mostly), in accordance with the harvest. Depending on how the weather was and the geographical location of the region, harvest can begin as early as August and go as late as towards the end of October. Mostly it's done in September.

First up we'll be 'visiting' Bordeaux. Located in Southwest France, Bordeaux is easily one of the most famous wine regions in the world. Deriving from au bord de l'eau, which means "along the waters", Bordeaux itself lies in the historical region of Aquitaine, which takes its name from the Latin for a 'well-watered place' and has thousands of renowned vineyards all along the countryside. Said water is the mighty Gironde Estuary and the two large rivers that feed into it, the Dordogne and the Garonne. Much like Charleston, Bordeaux is a wine town with a port problem!

The vineyards located on the left side of these waterways in known as the Left Bank and are Cabernet Sauvignon dominant. On the right side, you are correct in thinking, is the Right Bank and here Merlot is king. The reason for this is rather simple. Cabernet, while it can thrive just about anywhere and in any kind of soil, it does especially well in gravel. And the dominant soil type on the Left Bank is gravel. Merlot on the other hand grows well in a clay-based soil and on the Right Bank clay and limestone are most prevalent. About 90% of all the wine produced in Bordeaux is red and by law must be a blend. The admissible red varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. A little more flexible is the actual blending itself. The only law is that at least two of the varietals must be used. But percentages and which grapes are used are completely up to the Chateau and the winemaker.

Less produced, but no less delicious, are the white wines of Bordeaux. Like the reds, they too must legally be a blend. The allowed white varietals are: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. Dry whites are absolutely produced, but easily the most famous Bordeaux white is Sauternes, the elegant and sweet dessert wine.

Red or white, the wines of Bordeaux set the standard for greatness. The blending of varietals is to achieve a harmonious balance with elegance, power and complexity. Perhaps more than any other wine region in the world, the wines produced in Bordeaux are designed to be age-worthy and go the distance. This week we're going to dabble in both the Left and Right Banks so that we can see the similarities, the differences and all the deliciousness!

See you there!


The Wine Shop Team

Post Script - If you ever get the crazy notion of wanting to study wine for any kind of certification, our advice to you (as well as the advice of most other wine professionals) is this: Begin with French Wine Law. The first thing to study after that is Bordeaux. Trust us, beginning here will make your life so much easier!

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