By Kat Thomas
Being an American trying to learn about French wines is like being a Muggle trying to learn the game of Quidditch: the rules are extremely old and complicated, you’ll never completely feel like you’ll ever totally understand them, and you’re constantly chasing the potential of catching a piece of flying gold that always seems just out of your reach.
But just like in Harry Potter where it all really came down to the Gryffindors and the Slytherins (‘cause really at the end of the day the Hufflepuffs and the Ravenclaws were really just window dressing) in the world of French wines it’s really all about Burgundy versus. Bordeaux. I was lucky enough to attend two different events hosted by Ian Blackburn’s Learnaboutwine.com in the last month (one hosted by Le Cercle Rive Droitean organization that has brought together the most prestigious chateaux from “The Right Bank of the Gironde” estuary in the Bordeaux region of France, and the other a Burgundy Master Class hosted by Vintner, Owner, and Operator Albert Bichot of Burgundy) each highlighting these two extremely different (though distinctly French) wine regions.
So with that in mind here’s a basic Quidditch primer on these two opposing teams!
Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River located in southwestern France. With a population of 242,945 inhabitants, the city of Bordeaux is the 9th largest city in France. Bordeaux wasn’t always part of France, after the marriage of Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine it was under English rule from 1154 to 1453, giving the city an anglophile spin that still exists today.
Several rivers run through the Bordeaux region: on the Left Bank (facing the sea) are the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan appellations (which is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon based) and the Right Bank includes St.-Emilion and Pomerol (where the Le Cercle Rive Droite is located and pretty much dominated by Merlot).
Bordeaux is best known for its Red Blends. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot-based wines, blended with support from Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. White Bordeaux, or Bordeaux Blanc, is primarily a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. The dessert wine Sauterne also come from Bordeaux, such as the famous Château d’Yquem.
Burgundy is a region in eastern France in the valleys and slopes west of the Saône River, a tributary of the Rhône. Although Bordeaux produces five times as much wine every year (only 5% of French AOC production comes from Burgundy), Burgundy’s estimated 74,000 acres of vineyards are considered to be of equal importance, producing some of the most exclusive wines on the planet.
Burgundy is known equally for its white and red wines. The main grape varieties are Chardonnay (aka White Burgundy, Burgundy is actually the birthplace of Chardonnay!) and Pinot Noir (aka Red Burgundy). There are approximately 4,300 estates in the Burgundy region with the average size being 16.25 acres. On a whole, Burgundy is not a big fan of blending wines.
Burgundy wines come from several sub-regions each with their own particular characteristics (just like the Houses of Hogwarts!). Four of these are located in the heart of Burgundy in an area of land starting at the town of Dijon and running 75 miles to the town of Macon these include: Cote d’Or (which includes the Code de Nuits and Cote deBeaune), the Cote Chalonnaise and the Maconnais. Chablis is located in an isolated pocket of limestone hills in the northwestern section of Burgundy and produces wines so distinct they’re usually treated as specific region in its own right. 130 miles south of Chablis is Beaujolais, another wine so distinct (made pretty much exclusively with Gamay) it is treated as a sub-region of Burgundy (even though its technically in the Rhone-Alpes region).
So now that you know some basics about these two magical French wine regions look for a couple more posts focusing on some more detailed Factoids (Factoids, factoids, factoids!!!) about each of them!