Bordeaux Drink

 


Wine

Bordeaux has been in the business of wine making for 2,000 years. It is primarily known for its blended red wines (85%), but also for its mainly still, dry white wines (11%) and its sweet wines (4%). As a viticultural region it has some challenges, being next to the stormy Atlantic and with wide, lush rivers, so the weather is not consistent and the early morning fogs lead to various types of rot.  On the plus side, the well-drained river gravels, which make up the core soil, ensure that the vines' roots have to go deep and hence extract maximum flavours.  Laws on grape varieties and planting densities have helped keep the area in the forefront of the wine market for centuries.

For those of us lacking a bottomless wallet, the 60 appellations (ACs) and 1,000s of châteaux can be broken into the following types:

  • Medoc and Graves reds - blends of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (in that order of proportion), plus tiny percentages of a few others, grown on the spit of land to the north and south of Bordeaux.  The varieties are harvested separately and, after fermentation and contact with oak barrels, blended to achieve either consistency or the height of quality for long term storage. The better wines will be sold at amazingly high prices, years before they are ready to be drunk.

  • Libourne reds from north of the Dordogne river, normally sold under AC St Emilion, Pomerol etc. These are blends of Merlot, Cabernet France and Cabernet Sauvignon, usually vinified with more of an eye on early drinking.  But prices can be high here too, eg Chateau Petrus.

  • AC Cotes de Bordeaux from the right bank of the Garonne, based on the same Bordeaux blend as above but at more reasonable prices.

  • Entre-deux-Mers - traditionally this relatively flat area between the two rivers was used to produce white wines, but as they have declined in popularity it has become the source of simpler “Bordeaux” and “Bordeaux Superior” red wines designed to be drunk early.  Reasonable prices, mainly Merlot based.

  • Dry whites, mainly based on Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion.  The wines can range from tart to subtle and creamy and come from all over the area.  If you are having fish it is worth asking the waiter to recommend a wine to go with it than just picking one you don't know.

  • Sweet whites, based on the above white grapes and sometimes with the addition of Muscat.  There are some 10 appellations of which Sauternes, Loupiac, Cadillac and Montbasillac are best known. These are small enclaves where the morning fogs linger longest and so support the growth of “noble rot”, the fungus that extracts water from the grapes and leaves a pitiful, wizened-looking husk behind. Pressing the, frankly, rotten bunches releases extremely concentrated sweet juice which when fermented makes some of the world's greatest sweet wines.  (For those who say, “I don't like sweet wine”, good, it leaves more for the rest of us.)  Do try a chilled glass as an aperitif (if it is not too sweet), with liver pâté or a blue cheese. Restaurants will normally offer it by the glass or you might be able to try it at a vineyard "degustation" (tasting).  Failing that, buy a half bottle in a supermarket.

Other local wines and similar drinks

  • Bordeaux-style red wines from Bergerac, Bourg or Blaye are normally designed for early drinking and are reasonably priced.  Cahors (which is just up the river from Bergerac) makes deep reds based on the Malbec grape or using Tannat.  These wines, it has been suggested, have health-giving properties. We will let you decide if that is true, but they are usually high in alcohol so make sure you don't negate their benefits by drinking so much that you fall off your bike.

  • Some producers in the Bordeaux region have developed their own blends of wine and herbs. The most easily available is Lillet made from white Bordeaux and fruit (orange) brandy, which is drunk before the meal as an aperitif.  There is also a red version, rich and oaked, which is served with ice and soda water.

  • The French tend to drink Port before the meal but there is nothing to stop you having a glass at the end (except an odd look from the waiter). 

  • Pineau de Charentes is similar in style to Port but is a mixture of grape juice and brandy.  This gives a sweet, perfumed taste.  Drink as an aperitif or, if it is very sweet, with a pudding.

We would recommend that you drink plenty of water at lunch on your bike holiday in hot weather as you need to replenish your body’s fluids.  However, that does not mean you should not add wine to the water and a jug of the local wine certainly helps the water go down. 

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Beer

Mass produced French beer (and German/Dutch equivalents) is freely available. Luckily, there are still micro-breweries in France and so it is in the Gironde. Four for you to seek out are:

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