Château Bélair has always been classified among the best of Saint-Emilion’s First Growths, and its origins are ancient. During the period of Bordeaux’s allegiance to the British crown, the property belonged to Robert de Knolles, the great seneschal and governor of Guyenne, who owned a considerable amount of land in the region. This worthy captain, who fought in the Battle of the Thirty in 1351, also took part in the battles of Avray and Navarette; this is where he received his insignia of honor when he was awarded Bertrand Du Guesclin’s sword. When Charles VII won back Guyenne, the descendants of Robert de Knolles remained on his land. They made their name French, changing it to Canolle, and kept the property until the French Revolution.
Always the territory of powerful men, Beychevelle boasts a long and rich history. During the Middle Ages, when it was owned by the counts of Foix-Candale, the wine was shipped from the port at the bottom of the garden. Bishop François de Foix-Candale had a first château built in 1565. He was followed by Jean-Louis de Nogaret de la Valette, first Due d’Épernon and Admiral of France, his son Bernard who added the central portion of the château in 1644, then Henri de Foix-Candale. In the eighteenth century, the property belonged successively to Jean-Baptiste d’Abadie, President of the Bordeaux parliament; to the Brassier family who partially rebuilt the château, giving the building its present form; and to the ship-owner Jacques Conte.
In terms of producing fine wines Bordeaux is the largest and most important region of France for the best French wine. Throughout its long history Bordeaux has had connections with England, and during a 300-year spell from 1152, was under English rule.
Bordeaux lies on the rivers Garonne and dordogne, which join to become the Gironde, before flowing into the Atlantic. The climate, influenced by the sea and rivers, is mild, slightly humid and summers tend to be long and warm.
The soil in Bordeaux is generally gravel, clay or sand and limestone. Gravel’s warm and well-draining properties suit Cabernet Sauvignon, and can be found in the Haut-Médoc, while the clay and limestone soil of St Émilion and Pomerol is preferable for Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The Petit Verdot grape adds ‘seasoning’ to the wines of theMédoc and Graves (Left Bank), while Malbec contributes colour and fruitiness in both Left Bank and Right Bank wines, such as those from the Côtes de Bourg. These grape varieties are blended together in varying percentages from château to château, to make Bordeaux red wines.
The white French wines of Bordeaux are made from three main varieties of grape: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle, with some Colombard and Ugni Blanc being incorporated into the lesser wines. Sémillon’s lemon characteristics and relatively high alcohol content make it a popular choice for both dry ans sweet dessert wies. Lowish in acidity, it’s often blended with the early ripening Sauvignon, which is lively both in aromatics and acidity. Muscadelle adds a certain peachy, musky, and floral quality. Bordeaux also produces Rosé and Claret for the best French wine.
Bordeaux’s most famous red wines are the classified first growths, Cru Classé of the Médoc, such as Château Latour, and the Merlot-dominated wines of St Émilion and Pomerol, such as Château Cheval-Blanc and Château Petrus. Outstanding dry whites include Château Carbonnieux, but it is the sweet wines of Sauternes, which are proably better known, such as the first growth of Château d’Yquem.
Shopping for French wine can be quite a challenge, as there is often an immense range to choose from. Sometimes a little planning will be in your favour. Just knowing the type or style of a French wine you want will make your buying decision that much easier.
Château Guiraud, formerly the Château de Baylè, was classified in 1855. Along with the Château d’Yquem, it is the only First Growth to be located in the Sauternes commune. Until the 1855 classification, the name Guiraud brought to mind a powerful family rather than a wine. This family, whose roots in the region went back to the seventeenth century, had a significant impact on Sauternes. But only since 1981, when the property was acquired by Canadian shipbuilder Frank Narby, has Guiraud regained the prestige, quality, and grandeur it deserves, given its fabulous terroir.
Château Maison Blanche is a magnificent property of forty undivided hectares. Since the addition of the Lamarsalle vineyard—which also belonged to Lord Corbin’s domain—at the beginning of the twentieth century, this has become one of the biggest and most beautiful estates of the Saint-Émilion region. It is located a few acres from the meeting point of the appellations Lalande-de-Pomerol, Pomerol, Saint-Émilion, and Montagne-Saint-Émilion, and covers part of the lands of the ancient Gallo-Roman villa Lucianus.
The division of Roze Gruignet de Lobory’s estate on May 2, 1765 showed that a vineyard existed at that time on the land of today’s Château Maison Blanche. Considered one of the best crus of the Montagne-Saint-Émilion since the early 1900s, this Bordeaux wine is known throughout the world thanks to its distribution on all five continents.
With its Ionic peristyle, monumental staircase and classic facade, Chateau Margaux is as imposing as the celebrated cru of the same name. Nobility of balance and size, and a sumptuous style aptly define both this architectural jewel and the wine produced by the vine-yards that surround it. This distinguished residence housed Edward III, King of England; at the time it was one of the most imposing fortified chateaux in Guyenne. In the twelfth century, when it was known as La Mothe, it was owned by the powerful Albret family. Later it belonged to the Montferrand family, then to the Lords of Durfort.
In the mid-eighteenth century Chateau Margaux became the property of Monsieur de Fumel, a Bordeaux military commander who played a large part in building this magnificent estate's reputation. When the Marquis de la Colonilla acquired the property in 1802 he had the gothic manor house torn down and ordered the construction of the present chateau.
Monsieur Pasquet bought this vineyard in 1990 and was able to draw on his previous experience working in Saint-Estèphe on the vineyards of Château Marbuzet—a useful apprenticeship.
When M. Pasquet acquired the vineyard, which produces a Premières Côtes de Blaye AOC cru, it was already in excellent condi¬tion, with the vines averaging twenty-five years in age. His first projects were to restore the stones of the longère —a long building typical or the region— to their original blond beauty, and to bring the cellar up to his standards. For the winemaking, a sorting facility was, added, so that only perfectly sound grapes would go into the vats.
In the twelfth century, the powerful Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem established their first Libournais Commanderie in the Pomerol commune. Here they built a manor, a hospital for pilgrims on their way to Saint James of Compostela, and a church.
Though the vineyard was virtually abandoned and devastated during the Hundred Years’ War and the English occupation, it was re-established during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The vineyard again suffered during the Wars of Religion. From 1900, though, Pomerol’s wine-growers created a union to defend their appellation. One of their main objectives was to prevent winegrowers in neighboring communes from abusing the Pomerol name by stamping it on their casks.
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The Saint-Estéphe commune is one of the most northerly of the Haut-Medoc. It enjoys an exceptional location along the Gironde, which is visible from most of the hilltops that make up this region.
The commune’s first known activity dates from the Middle Bronze Age, and its first vines were planted during the Roman occupation. As with other privileged wine-growing communes of the Medoc, Bordeaux wine merchants have played a key role in establishing the region’s reputation by storing and promoting the sale of its wines. The main estates were created in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Today, small and medium-sized estates are again being grouped to create larger properties.
This hilly region’s gravelly out-crops, consisting of quartz and stone mixed with light and sandy soil, have excellent natural drainage. This is reinforced in the south by the Saint-Vincent channel, which takes the water of the Lafite marsh to the estuary, and in the north by the Mappon canal, which carries the water of the Vertheuil marsh.
The region defined by the Sauternes AOC consists of five communes: Sauternes, Fargues, Bommes, Preignac, and Barsac. This is the region that produces the precious nectar known throughout the world as Sauternes, considered by many enthusiasts to be the world's best white wine. The ultimate Sauternes wine is Chateau d'Yquem, which in 1855 was the only Gironde wine to be awarded the title Premier Cru Supérieur.
Like Cérons, this wine-growing region is included in the southern part of Graves. It is separated from the Graves region on the west by the pleasant, green Ciron valley, which serves as a border for the Sauternes, Bommes, and Preignac communes. On the north, this valley separates Preignac from Barsac. The type of soil and subsoil gives a particular character to the wine produced, which explains the slight differences between wines of different crus. Workers pick the grapes bunch by bunch, selecting the fruit that has been affected by the famous "noble rot", which is the key to Sauternes wines. This rot is caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea.