Do all Bordeaux wines taste the same?

Have you ever heard anyone claiming that all wines from the Bordeaux region taste the same? This criticism has been systematically picked apart by Axel Marchal, oenology professor and consultant, in conversation with Marie-Caroline Ringot, Twins’s marketing and communication manager.

What is the taste of Bordeaux?

To understand the Bordeaux wine region, it is useful to know a few figures. It is France’s top appellation wine region with nearly 110,000 hectares, 65 AOCs (controlled appellations of origin) and no fewer than 5,000 winemakers. These winemakers of course produce red, dry white, sweet white, rosé and sparkling wines.
Looking at red wines, you often hear people talking about the taste of Bordeaux. What is this famous taste of Bordeaux? To answer this question, Axel Marchal uses the metaphor of a family:

‘In a family, we can all be similar and yet different. In the same way, Bordeaux has a collective identity, but strong diversity within this identity.’

What features do Bordeaux wines share? Without wanting to descend into caricature, Axel Marchal mentions four elements:

‘First of all I would say colour. Bordeaux is the only wine region in the world to have lent its name to a colour. This colour is never the most intense, it is a deep colour that develops slowly as it ages. I would also say the aromatic dimension, based on the grape varieties, but revolving around fruity notes. Red and black fruit are very important in the perception of Bordeaux wines. On the palate you find non-astringent tannins. These wines generally have a noticeable tannic structure, that winemakers try to keep as gentle as possible, but it can never be allowed to dry the wine out. This provides softness and sweetness without needing sugar. And finally, an impression of general harmony.’

Bordeaux, terroir wines

Beyond these similarities, if you enjoy multiple Bordeaux wines you will be struck by their diversity. Bordeaux wine connoisseur Axel Marchal puts things plainly: Anyone who says that all Bordeaux wines are the same must be lying or have sensory problems. This is clearly wrong, and anyone tasting them with even a small amount of objectivity will realise the wide range of Bordeaux styles.’
There are numerous factors involved in creating this broad spectrum of flavour experiences, including grape varieties, grape ripeness, work in the winery, and blending. Increasing numbers of Bordeaux estates are therefore using plot-by-plot or even intra-plot vinification, as Axel Marchal notes: ‘There is a definite trend towards plot-by-plot vinification, i.e. breaking vineyards down into smaller parts for winemaking in order to create as unique as possible an expression of each vineyard feature.’
This allows every element of the terroir to shine through. Since, as Marie-Caroline Ringot recalls: ‘Bordeaux wines are fundamentally terroir wines’. This is a view shared by Axel Marchal: ‘We tend to view Bordeaux wines as brand wines, since they are promoted using the name of a cru. These are terroir wines, enhanced with a brand name.’

As terroir wines, Bordeaux bottles owe a huge part of their diversity to the soils where their vines grow. Axel Marchal emphasises this point:

‘Bordeaux is a wine region with huge geological diversity. It includes gravel, clay, limestone and sandy soils. There is much more geological diversity in Bordeaux than in Burgundy, which is essentially limestone-clay. When people think of Bordeaux, they do not always remember this diverse range of terroirs. And yet, it is what creates this diversity of tastes and flavours.’

This means that under this overarching Bordeaux banner, consumers can enjoy wines with a wide, diverse range of distinct personalities. ‘Bordeaux wines’ would be more accurate than ‘Bordeaux wine’.

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