Bordeaux’s wine-making credentials span almost two millennia, right back to when France was known as Gaul and was under the rule of the Roman Empire. It was during this time that the first vineyards were planted in the city known as Burdigala and its fortune grew along with the vines. As with several other outposts of the Empire, the local supply was set up to serve needs of the Roman garrisons stationed in the area, and to limit the cost involved in long-distance wine transport.
It cultivated a “little Rome” civilisation until the Francs and Normans invaded in the third century. Following a period of obscurity, Bordeaux wines experienced a resurgence during the Middle Ages when its wines were exported to Britain as part of a prosperous political union between the duchy of Aquitaine and the British monarchs. By the 14th century, the city was nearly 30,000 strong – a huge number for a mediaeval town, many of them employed by the wine industry.
The 18th Century was the third notable period of growth for Bordeaux wines and is known as Bordeaux’s golden age. The region was now annexed to France and had become an important port for trade and commerce across the colonies, with imports and exports of sugar, coffee and slaves to and from the West Indies. The architecture of this age remain as a monument to this age of grand prosperity and the historic city centre has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Baron Haussman, a Bordeaux prefect, used Bordeaux as a model when Napoleon III in 1865 asked him to modernise Paris – then still a mediaeval city.
These days, 89% of Bordeaux’s wine is red, with sweet and dry whites, rosé and sparkling wines making up the remaining 11%. And while these wines are still exported to the world, many agree that the best way to experience a Bordeaux wine is on site in the vineyard as part of a wine tour of the region.
Vivienne Egan writes for SmoothRed who provide tailored Bordeaux Wine Tours.