After three years of painstaking research and writing, Inside Bordeaux goes on sale today (27 May) and offers one of the most in-depth analyses available on this famous wine region.
It has been published by UK merchant Berry & Bros & Rudd, which is also the publisher of Inside Burgundy.
Author Jane Anson, who is also Decanter’s Bordeaux wine correspondent, says, ‘Many of the books on Bordeaux to date are either a compilation of information provided by châteaux, or have researchers covering different sections.
‘I did all the visits, researching and tasting myself, and I hope the book feels more accessible as a result, with personality and a point-of-view.’
Scroll down to read exclusive excerpts from Inside Bordeaux
What the book contains
Alongside a detailed account of Bordeaux history, shaped by the different nationalities taking ownership of estates over the centuries, the book also looks at modern trends. It highlights winemakers leading the way in organic viticulture and the revival of rare grape varieties, for instance.
It indexes more than 800 of the region’s estates with Anson’s own ranking system, too.
However, a core focus for the book is terroir and, specifically, how vineyard sites affect the wines – an aspect of Bordeaux that has sometimes been overlooked in the past.
Anson writes that the intention was to ‘start assessing Bordeaux in the way that we more typically do for other fine wine regions, such as Burgundy, Barolo, the northern Rhône – by its soils, and by how these individual soils react to different growing conditions year on year.’
Anson adds, ‘For many years, Bordeaux’s vineyard owners and managers simply “knew” that certain plots of land made better wine that others. Today’s generation of winemakers, consultants and scientists are no longer content to rely simply on intuition and the (still essential) knowledge stored in old ledgers and records.
‘They no longer want to concede to Burgundy the moral high ground on terroir, and are determined to prove that the concept in Bordeaux is not something frozen in 1855, and that instead the interplay between grape, soil, climate and man is becoming ever more refined.’
There is chapter of the book dedicated to Bordeaux terroirs, although soil types and climate are regularly referenced within individual appellation overviews and châteaux entries.
Anson also offers practical ways to interpret this information when it comes to purchasing decisions.
In particular, Inside Bordeaux draws on ground-breaking research into terroir profiling by experts at the University of Bordeaux, and includes 65 full colour maps, including sets in gatefolds (a first for wine publishing) depicting Bordeaux topographies.
‘It’s not to say I did all the work – the book could not have been done without the expertise of Professor Kees van Leeuwen, who has created more than 65 entirely new maps that show, among other things, the terroirs of the region,’ Anson writes.
‘I am thrilled with the result – it looks beautiful for a start, with a simple clean layout and brilliantly accessible gatefold maps that set out different views of Bordeaux in a highly digestible manner. And I feel so happy to showcase what is new and exciting in a region that doesn’t often get recognised for its dynamism.’
She adds, ‘The producers making exciting wines in smaller appellations, the trailblazers in organics or biodynamics, and the conversations about how climate change is affecting the region; I loved looking into all of these things and hopefully moving the conversation forward about Bordeaux as a whole.’
The book includes 20 appellation overviews, providing a summary of that area’s history and wine profile, and a list of key facts and figures. These include the communes, average annual productions and average size of the châteaux, key terroir types, appellation rules, grape varieties and new developments.
Exclusive excerpt from the ‘Bordeaux Terroirs’ chapter:
‘I want, in this section, and throughout the book – to look at how the interpretation of terroir is shaping the way Bordeaux wines taste today. I’m going to keep things practical – who is doing what, why, and what impact it can have in the final glass. And how to use that knowledge to your advantage.
‘It is easy to dismiss the idea of terroir in Bordeaux, but it is key to understanding the château and their vintages. This huge region is just over four times the size of Burgundy, and its location at the confluence of two major rivers, its dozens of local climates and types of rocks, soil and slopes, go way beyond the broad-brush division into Left and Right Bank.
‘Unlocking these factors helps to understand why wine styles vary across the region, and how to choose wines in different vintages – because despite the myriad advances in vineyard and cellar, the quality of a particular year’s wine in this ocean-influenced part of France remains highly dependent on how the soil and the weather interact.
‘The longer that I’ve been living in, tasting and writing about Bordeaux, the more frustrated I have become with the approach to terroir here.
‘Yes, there are many contradictions, and yes, there are undoubtedly châteaux that overuse certain vinification techniques that lessen the impact of their terroir. But there are also many working extremely hard to isolate, identify and respond to their soils.
‘This reality is often overlooked by those who either use Bordeaux terroir simply as a marketing term, or as something to dismiss out-of-hand. I have been in a room full of winemakers at a conference on low-intervention winemaking where the mention of Bordeaux led to suppressed laughter at even the idea that this region could champion terroir in any meaningful way.
‘I am not a geographer (still less a geologist or soil scientist), and yet increasingly I have wanted to understand for myself why certain Bordeaux wines taste the way they do, and why certain appellations and estates command prices that are dizzying multiples of others.
‘And to learn how these rules can be applied to unearth value in spots at present less celebrated, but with the potential – given warming temperatures and increase awareness of the details of terroir – to outperform their status.’
Excerpt from Pauillac appellation overview:
‘Pauillac wines are deeply coloured, powerful, well-structured. You can feel those tannins pulsating in the glass in the very best years, mainly because Cabernet Sauvignon is dominant in most of the top wines.
This means that they last, perhaps the longest of all Bordeaux wines, developing an extremely complex aromatic palate as they age. The high density of planting gives a further concentration to the grapes, and you can expect relatively long macerations – again to focus on structure.
‘All of which is why long barrel-ageing is needed to soften the tannins that [producers] have worked so hard to maximise. Perfectly suits vintages like 2010, 2016.
‘The little town of Pauillac is on the Gironde estuary, 50 kilometres from Bordeaux city centre. Its site on this great body of water – five kilometres wide here, with a strong hint of the sea – has a double influence.
‘The river affects the climate, and for centuries its position made Pauillac the main wine port for the Médoc, until modern land transport gradually displaced the wine shops and barges. The port, today a little forlorn, is now a leisure harbour.
‘The closer any appellation is to a large body of water, the more there is a vintage effect, as years tend to swing between rainy autumns and long, sunny Indian summers.
‘Pauillac certainly falls into the category of vintage-influenced wines, even if in a less extreme fashion than in the past; but more than the river, it is geology and soil that affects Pauillac.
‘Gravel terraces from the Quaternary era run parallel to the estuary, and these swift-draining gravel soils go a long way to explain why Pauillac is known globally for its quality. Terrace types three and four are both found here (as shown on the gatefold map).
‘The gravel banks that form the landscape have plenty of rises and falls in between; Pauillac belies the idea that the Medoc is flat. I suggest standing at the bottom of the slopes that billow upwards directly opposite the cellars of Lafite – or the one where the Lynch-Bages vines grow on the road up to Bages village, or the ones that fall steeply away in front of the tasting room at Grand-Puy-Lacoste – to get some idea of what I mean. The drainage and thermal potential is unmissable.
‘Of the three main gravel banks, the largest (Terrace Four) is in the southern half of the AOC, in the hamlets of St-Lambert and Bages. South lies the Juillac stream, along the border with St-Julien; northwards, the shallow Gaet valley runs across Pauillac, essentially splitting the commune in two, between the hamlet of Artigues and the town.
‘Across this valley, the northern outcrop is around the hamlet of Pouyalet (much of which has been turned into vines – mainly by Mouton and Lafite Rothschild buying up and then pulling down local houses in the 1980s). It is edged to the north by the Lafite marais, through which runs the Jalle du Brieul which marks the border between Pauillac and St-Estèphe.
‘This northern tract is mainly Terrace Three gravels, which also form the third main outcrop, further inland to the west of the railway line beyond Château Bataillaey and over towards St-Laurent.’
Inside Bordeaux, £60, will be available for general release from Wedneday 27th May 2020. It will be available exclusively in the UK, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore from Berry Bros. & Rudd, Sotheby’s in the US and Librairie Mollat in France.