• Bordeaux, France

    Last week I talked a little bit about Italy and the rules regarding the DOCG. In France they have their own set of rules that are set up by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée or AOC for short. These rules are in place in order for the French to control the integrity of their name and that of their regions.

    In the states, wine labels list the grape like Cabernet Sauvignon boldly on the label. In France the grapes used are generally no where to be found. Instead the region where the wine was produced is instead listed. One example is Bordeaux. In the region of Bordeaux there are many sub-regions that may be listed in place of Bordeaux on the label. Some of the more popular regions are Pomerol, Margaux, Sauternes, Graves and one of my favorites Saint Émilion.

    In Saint Émilion the grapes used are typically about 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. The thought behind having the area where the vines are located on the label and not the grape is to emphasize the importance of the soil type and the wine making style generally adhered to in that region.

    With this in mind there are two ways of buying French wine. One way is to look up either each bottle individually with a smart phone while standing in front of the wine shelf or the region if a general idea will do. The other method is to pick a few wines from a specific region explore the differences and the similarities and see if that is the style for you. If you don’t receive any guidance the second method is kind of like shooting fish with a 12 gauge shotgun in a barrel. Sure you’ll get your fish, but it’ll just be a bunch of pieces (The metaphor doesn’t really work here. I just wanted the imagery.) I recommend using both methods. Pick a region, go online to see what its made of and then drink it to see if you like it.

    Back to Bordeaux. Some of the rules set forth in the AOC are what grapes a vineyard is allowed to produce. There are six red varietals that Bordeaux allows: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère although the last is rarely used. If you recall when I spoke of  Barolo (region in Piemonte, Italy) the rule there is only one grape, Nebbiolo, is allowed. Other rules include how much wine per acre can be produced (Australia and the US have no such restrictions) and the minimum alcohol level the wine has.

    So what happens if you break these rules? The French government recently ruled on a case. The wine was Red Bicyclette. Gallo had asked for a large amount of Pinot Noir for this label. The supplier added cheaper Syrah and Merlot to fill the order. For the twelve deemed responsible, the ruling included jail time from one month to six months and fines between 3,000 and 180,000 euros.

    Seems pretty harsh huh? Except when you factor in the 7,000,000 euro profit made from the scam.

    Bordeaux produces some great wines in many shades of red, white and sweet. I definitely think that devoting some time to explore these wines would be beneficial to broadening your palate, and quaffing wine is so rarely a chore.

    On a side note I went to the 2008 Union des Grande Crus de Bordeaux tasting back in January and was able to enjoy a taste of many fabulous Bordeauxs soon to hit the shelves (all the reds were still very young and could use more bottle age, but show great promise.)

    – Jonathan Hood

    At the Bordeaux tasting

    Enjoy Bordeaux in any attire

    It all took place under the dome at the Palace Hotel