With approximately 120,000ha under vine, Bordeaux is quadruple the size of its great rival Burgundy, or indeed equivalent to all German wine regions put together. Comprising some 10,000 producers and just under 60 AOCs, Bordeaux is the single largest producer of AOC wines in France; indeed, the overwhelming majority of Bordeaux wines are produced at AOC level.
Bordeaux may account for merely 1.5 percent of all vineyards worldwide, but for the past two centuries at least, it has been the undisputed epicentre in the world of fine wine, or the gold standard in the world of wine trade. No other wine region on earth has a trade structure as comprehensive as Bordeaux’s, or recognition as far-reaching as Bordeaux’s. The bigger, more established châteaux tend to sell their produce via the 130-odd courtiers (brokers), who in turn sell the wines to the 400 or so négociants (merchants), then on to the importers and retailers around the world, whether with or without further broking and trading in Bordeaux, London, Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo.
Not all Bordeaux wines change hands multiple times; in fact, most do not. Those that do are almost invariably the classified growths. With costs and markups added each step along the way, it is hard to imagine how these big names could remain price-competitive, but for the wine critics and their ratings that seem to create the notion of price-quality ratio, wherein points scored equal quality. In new or emerging markets which do not themselves have a long-established wine culture, Bordeaux’s finest certainly hold sway, not least because of Bordeaux’s various classification systems established since the mid-19th century.
Beginning with the Médoc Classification of 1855 and the Sauternes and Barsac Classification of 1855 (which have never been and are unlikely to ever be reviewed), Bordeaux added the Cru Bourgeois Classification of 1932, the Saint-Émilion Classification of 1955 (reviewed roughly once every decade, the latest in 2012), the Graves Classification of 1959 (which has never been and is unlikely to ever be reviewed) and finally the Médoc Crus Artisans Classification of 2006.
A 5ème Grand Cru Classé from Pauillac. Dark garnet with auburn-chestnut rim, the enchanting nose presents prune, cassis confit, nutmeg, caffè mocha, cigar box and leather. With silky tannins and generous acidity, the intricate palate supplies black cherry, damson, spice box, coffea arabica, dark chocolate and forest mushroom. Medium-full bodied at 12.5 percent, the rounded entry persists through a chiselled mid-palate, leading to a spiced finish.
Château du Tertre 2003
A 5ème Grand Cru Classé from Margaux. Bright garnet with bright cardinal-ruby rim, the alluring nose offers blueberry, mulberry, sous bois, camphor and pencil shaving. With velvety tannins and animated acidity, the poised palate delivers red cherry, plum, black olive, caffè espresso and crushed rock. Medium- bodied at 13 percent, the suave entry continues through a nuanced mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages