Bordeaux Primer

Though Latin descriptions by poet, Decimus Ausonius, about winemaking in the Roman dominion of Gaul are traceable to the 4th-century, it wasn’t until the early middle ages that wine export from Bordeaux began in earnest. With the fabled marriage in 1152 of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet (future king of England), they not only bore a near-mythical son, Richard the Lion-heart but also fostered a monopoly of wine trade between Bordeaux and England. The discerning customers on England’s side of the Channel would eventually nickname the region’s wine as Claret. With endless warring between the English and French disrupting trade for centuries, it was a long wait to the 1600’s when Bordeaux’s near-neighbours in the Netherlands began increasing their imports and consumption significantly. The Dutch applied a host of innovations such as sterilizing the Oak storage barrels, which made longer-term conserving of the wine possible and a proportional expansion of travel distances to new markets. Finally, they also gifted the wine world one of its premier terroirs by draining the estuary marshes and creating arable land for vineyards in Bordeaux’s sub-region of Médoc!

Bordeaux’s complex patchwork of 38 sub-regions encompassing 65 AOC appellations, also divided into a lengthy list of individual, legendary plots, is somewhat more decipherable with the understanding that most take their names from a select set of towns and villages. Moreover, they’re further distinguished by being grouped around the Gironde Estuary at the region’s Atlantic end, or inland along the converging Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Lastly, the paths of those three waterways, as a diagonal line through Bordeaux, provide demarcation for which of the vineyards and wines are of so-called Right or Left Bank origin. North of the Dordogne is Right, south of the Gironde and Garonne is Left. An added anomaly is the sizeable zone between called Entre-Deux-Mers (‘Between 2 Seas’). It all adds up as a delightfully bewildering patchwork of sub-regions that are home to a vast collection of 7,375+ wine-producing Châteaux!


As for price-point, the loose designation of Petit Château encompasses thousands of producers who don’t qualify as Cru Classés: the five top-tier, Bordeaux classifications. In some cases, petit château vineyards are next door to those of highly touted brands. In rarer instances, there are microclimate and soil composition factors that result in markedly differing wine character from adjacent plots. However, cost and desirability tend to reflect the reputation of a particular vintage, vine age, and how much production investment there’s been by the estate. Despite a perception that Bordeaux’s offerings tend toward premium pricing, a majority of Bordelais and Bordelaises vintners sell their approx. 630 million bottles of red and white wines, reasonably, at between $15 – $25.

For this week’s feature of a Merlot-driven, Château Sainte Marie Alios 2014, the blend recipe by winemaker, Stéphane Dupuch, adds a dose of 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot to lend a touch more boldness and body that’s expected of a baseline, Bordeaux red. With three years of ageing, from a harvest year that’s widely reputed to have produced balanced wine throughout the region, this is ready for consumption now — especially if you prefer brighter levels of acidity to counterbalance the tannins of bigger reds. It will hold for 3 – 5 years, should you somehow misplace several bottles in a dark corner of your basement?

CHATEAU SAINTE – MARIE ALIOS 2014
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #526848 | 750 mL bottle
Price $15.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Bordeaux, France
By: Les Hauts De Sainte-Marie
Release Date: February 3, 2018

Tasting Note
An introductory-level, Bordeaux Merlot that over-delivers at this price-point with dark berry flavours, ample oak character, and earthy accent of spices. Classic appetizer pairings such as Pâté, charcuterie, spicy vegetable pastries, or dinner mains such as lamb curry, tuna steak, Ratatouille with rustic sourdough bread, duck breast with fig chutney – would all be complementary for this medium to full-bodied wine.

Bordeaux Alert

The designation Bordeaux Supérieur is a qualified, superior grade in comparison
to standard Bordeaux AOP wines. As aspiration, they intend to be more layered
and rich due to 3 primary mandates of the appellation: higher planting density of
vines to promote healthy competition between their root systems for nutrients;
judicious pruning to tailor harvest yields and concentrate grape character, and
finally, the typical .5% increase of alcohol level, reflecting the careful selection of
mature fruit from older vines with sufficiently developed, natural sugar content.

The greatest concentration of Supérieur producers is in the peripheral areas
north of Pomerol and St-Emilion though fully 25% of all vineyards throughout
greater-Bordeaux are dedicated to achieving this target grading. The diverse
patchwork of 38 sub-regions encompassing 60 AOC appellations, also divided
into a lengthy list of individual, legendary plots, is somewhat more decipherable
with the understanding that most are anchored around key, namesake towns
and villages. Moreover, they’re further distinguished by being grouped around
the Gironde Estuary at the region’s Atlantic end, or inland along the converging
Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Lastly, the paths of these 3 waterways, roughly
drawn as a diagonal line through the region, provide demarcation for which of
the vineyards and wines are of so-called Right or Left Bank origin. North of the
Dordogne is Right, south of the Gironde and Garonne is Left. An added anomaly
is the sizeable zone between called Entre-Deux-Mers (between 2 seas). It’s all
delightfully bewildering, this vast collection of 7,375 wine-producing Châteaux!

As for price-point range, the loose designation of petit Château encompasses
thousands of producers who don’t officially qualify as Cru Classés: the 5 top-tier,
Bordeaux classifications. In many cases, their vineyards are located right next
to those of better-recognized brands. In rarer instances, there are microclimate
and soil composition factors that innately result in differing wines being yielded
from plots nearby to each other. However, cost and desirability are generally
determined by the reputation of a particular vintage and how much investment
in production there has been by the estate. Despite a common perception that
the offerings from Bordeaux tend toward premium pricing, a significant majority
of Bordelais vintners sell their red and white wines, fairly, at between $15-25.

Fronsac is among the better-known Right Bank appellations where blended reds
are distinctively built around an early ripening Merlot grape; a robust variety that
has the ability to develop adequately in slightly cooler terroirs. The nature of the
resulting wine is typically more supple and softer than the tannic and intense,
Cabernet Sauvignon, hybrid counterpart – which characterizes Left Bank blends.
Partially hidden among 180 growers in the Les Vignerons du Fronsadais co-op
is Château des Moines Menodin, which has already done the cellaring work for
this week’s DéClassé feature. The secret is out and this will rightfully sell quickly.
If you haven’t enjoyed a remarkably inexpensive 2009 or 2010 Bordeaux lately,
then here’s a great starting point for their rediscovery. Drink now thru 2016.

Chateau Des Moines

CHATEAU DES MOINES MENODIN 2010
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #424259 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Bordeaux, France
By: Catherine Mas, Prop.
Release Date: August 22, 2015

Tasting Note
This garnet coloured, fleshy, fully rounded table wine has loads of red fruit flavours
and aroma, accented with cassis, vanilla and spice. Try it with grilled asparagus,
roasted veal, or a baked Brie served on savoury bread crisps.