Vine Glorious: Bordeaux producers bank Left and Right on their ability to craft complex collectable wines

Bordeaux is considered a benchmark in the world of fine wine. Located in southwest France, the region is known for its exceptional terroir that is home to more than 7,000 wine-producing châteaux. Talented winemakers craft compelling wines within the red, white and sweet categories.

Michelle Chan, Christie’s Head of Wine in Asia Pacific, identifies Bordeaux’s unique geographical location situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gironde estuary and its diversity of soils as key factors behind its acclaimed output. She adds that the region’s long history of winemaking expertise has resulted in the development of specific winemaking techniques, such as blending multiple grape varieties to create complex and balanced wines.

Divide and conquer

bordeaux wine

Bordeaux is positioned at the centre of the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, which flow into the Gironde, and Chan stresses that understanding the difference between the ‘Left Bank’ and ‘Right Bank’ of Bordeaux is essential in grasping the region’s varied wine offerings. The area to the west, on the left bank of the Garonne, and between the Garonne and the Dordogne, “is famous for its powerful and structured red wines, predominantly made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Notable appellations include Médoc, Graves and Pessac-Léognan. These wines are full-bodied with firm tannins, ideal for long-term ageing,” she says.

bordeaux wine

East of the Dordogne is the Right Bank “renowned for its Merlot-based blends, which are typically more approachable and supple when young. The most prominent appellations are Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, producing rich, opulent wines with velvety tannins and exceptional balance.”

Chan also notes that the region produces outstanding white wines and is hailed for its sweet wines.

Pick of the best

bordeaux wine

Such is the quality of wines the region has to offer, Chan finds it difficult to choose a favourite.

First on her list is Château Latour à Pomerol 1961. “This opulent and refined Merlot-based wine from Pomerol has enticing aromas of black cherries, truffles and hints of tobacco. The palate displays a velvety texture with well-integrated tannins and flavours of ripe dark fruits, earth and sweet spices.”

Next is Château Mouton Rothschild 1945 of which she says: “This iconic vintage features a complex and captivating bouquet of cassis, pencil shavings and cedarwood. The rich and full-bodied palate showcases layers of dark fruit, leather and tobacco, complemented by a firm tannic structure and exceptional balance.”

bordeaux wine

She also adores large-format Bordeaux wines and highlights the magnums of Le Pin 1982 – expressions of lush, seductive character and incredible depth – auctioned by Christie’s in Hong Kong in May. For sweet wines, she plumps for Château d’Yquem 1967. “This golden-hued sweet wine, made from a blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes, has an incredibly complex nose with aromas of honey, apricots, candied orange peel and botrytis spice.”

Collectors’ tips

For those beginning a Bordeaux wine collection, Chan stresses it is essential to educate oneself on the various appellations, châteaux and vintages. Her recommended vintages are 1945, 1947, 1949, 1959, 1961, 1982, 1989, 1990, 1996, 2000, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2015.

Also Read: The Best Food and Wine Pairings: Which wine goes well with which dish?

Burgundy and Beyond: Wine tips from Justerini & Brooks’ Managing Director

It wasn’t so very long ago that Bordeaux, that most pre-eminent of French wine regions, claimed to have something of a monopoly when it came to making the world’s finest vintages. And, to be fair, up until seven years ago, its winemakers – particularly those of the Grand Cru persuasion – were permanent fixtures at the top of any list of top tipple producers.

Burgundy grapes are among the most prized in the world

Back in 2011, though, that all changed. Global demand for Bordeaux tanked, and Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Lafite, to name but two, suddenly found themselves jostling for table space with a bunch of upstart Burgundians. Fast forward seven more years, and the supplicant has become the master, with Burgundy now, arguably, dominating the industry – its reputation impeccable and its per-bottle price becoming ever more premium.

Now, though, some see signs that this prized province is also passing its peak. Where, then, should discerning oenophiles turn to for their next fine wine fix? Few are better qualified to conjure an answer to that particular conundrum than Chadwick Delaney, Managing Director of Justerini & Brooks, the most-lauded of longstanding London wine merchants…

Chadwick Delaney of Justerini & Brooks on Burgundy wines and beyond
Chadwick Delaney, Managing Director of Justerini & Brooks

What do you see as the defining wine trend in Asia right now?

That would have to be the rise of Burgundy, though that applies to the whole world and not just Asia. Most notably, estates such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti are commanding astronomical prices, but other lesser-known producers are also doing well. This is largely down to Burgundy’s talented new generation of winemakers who, I think it’s safe to say, are going through something of a renaissance right now. After the Big Bordeaux Bust of 2011, collectors in search of alternative high-quality wines immediately fell under Burgundy’s spell.

Burgundy vineyard

Following several years of soaring demand, is there a danger that Burgundy is now on course for its own Big Bust?

That’s very difficult to determine. The Burgundy dynamic right now is very different to that of pre-crash Bordeaux. Back then, it was a change of government policy in China – one of its biggest markets – that saw ostentatious gift-giving suddenly frowned upon, resulting in demand dropping overnight.

Thanks in part to its smaller production capacity, Burgundy has never been reliant on mass demand from China. In fact, if anything was to trigger a collapse in its value proposition, it would more likely be a change in priority on the part of collectors. It’s not inconceivable that they might one day think: “Instead of spending tens of thousands of pounds on a single case of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, I’d rather find something equally satisfying, but rather more wallet-friendly…”

Barbarescu in Italy's Piedmont region may be a Burgundy successor
Barbarescu in Italy’s Piedmont region may be a Burgundy successor

Are there any other regions that you particularly see as on the way up?

There is a notable spike of interest in the wines coming out of Piedmont in northern Italy. It’s perhaps significant that there’s a number of similarities between the Burgundy and Piedmont estates. In both cases, they tend to be small, family-owned, single varietal vineyards producing very aromatic, expressive wines. In particular, Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco are proving to be performers of note, suggesting to some that the region will evolve along very similar lines to Burgundy.

Looking further afield in Europe, Germany has won a number of admirers over recent years. In fact, it is officially our fastest-growing region. The German whites tend to be particularly dry, a characteristic that makes them eminently restaurant-friendly – a fact not lost on the sommeliers of many fine-dining establishments. Then there’s the pinot noirs, which, while having a unique German identity, in taste terms are also far more reminiscent of Bourgogne than any of their New World counterparts.

German wines may succeed Burgundy as the next big thing
German wines may succeed Burgundy as the next Big Thing

Thank you.

Text: Tenzing Thondup