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Bordeaux: A Reputation Built on Priceless Soil
The Bordeaux region of France produces some of the world’s most celebrated wine. Check out Groupon’s overview to see what makes it so special.
As with many other categories of French wine, a bordeaux takes its name not from a grape but from a region—namely, from the roughly 10,000 estates stretching across France’s largest vine-growing territory, located along the Gironde estuary. In French viticulture, the fruit itself is not necessarily as important as the soil in which it grows, so much so that there’s a word—terroir—to represent the soul and personality of the earth in a particular area. Bordeaux’s terroir is varied and complex, as the Gironde divides the region’s pastoral villages and estates into two banks. To the north, sandy, low-lying banks trap heat in the soil, allowing cabernet sauvignon grapes to flourish. Across the river, limestone and clay hills roll into the southern bank, saturating the soil to produce an ideal crop of merlot grapes. Each grape variety could make a fine wine all by itself, but most Bordeaux estates choose to blend the two, often with additional infusions of cabernet franc or malbec and petit verdot. (The region also produces white blends, though not in nearly as great a quantity.) The result is, ideally, a seamless composite with smooth tannins that pairs well with regional fare such as lamb, duck, wild game, and French cheeses.
In 1855, the emperor of France, Napoleon III, asked Bordeaux’s chamber of commerce to compile a list of the region’s finest wines for the country’s upcoming Universal Exposition. Eyeing a potential controversy in picking favorites, the chamber deferred the responsibility to an organization of local wine merchants, who two weeks later unveiled the now-famous 1855 Bordeaux Classification. Consisting of 58 chateaus, the list separated the estates into five distinct crus classés, or growth classes. At the top, chateaus such as Latour and Mouton Rothschild still enjoy prime status as first-growth wines to this day, though even the fifth-growth wines can take pride in having been classified among an original cru classé.