Bordeaux Wine Guide: The New Bordeaux
Bordeaux has changed a great deal over the last five decades. In this Bordeaux is, of course, not alone. No doubt any wine region you care to point a finger at has evolved greatly since the mid-20th century. It is not just Bordeaux that has taken advantage of the many new methods in viticulture and winemaking that have been developed in recent years. And it is not just Bordeaux that soldiers on when climate change brings increasingly warm weather, or even more erratic climatic events such as summer storms that batter the vineyards with hailstones the size of golf balls. Thus, some (although certainly not all, before I receive any complaints) of what I have written in this particular instalment of my Bordeaux wine guide may be applicable to a number of other wine regions. It could perhaps be lifted and transplanted into the middle of another guide elsewhere; just change any mention of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Grenache and Syrah, and any reference of Château Latour to Châteauneuf du Pape, and – hey presto! – a guide to the Rhône Valley.
Regardless of how ‘transferable’ the following comments might be, one that surely has relevance to all wine regions in France, and indeed all wine regions across the planet, is climate change. Whether you subscribe to the notion that climate change is the result of mankind’s actions, or perhaps prefer to follow the belief that the planet’s weather and climate is bound to be warming up as we (hopefully) move out of the Quaternary Ice Age, there is no denying that annual temperatures in Bordeaux are much higher, on average, than they were a few decades or a century ago. The annual average temperature for Bordeaux (taken from data recorded at Mérignac, there being a meteorological station at the airport here) during the years from 2003 to 2012 was 13.8ºC, in excess of 1ºC greater than the average annual temperature for the period from 1945 to 1954 which was 12.6ºC. Any similar analysis, of maximum temperatures, minimum temperatures or otherwise, throws up the same result; modern-day Bordeaux is much warmer than the Bordeaux of old. I recall Hervé Berland, when he was at Château Mouton-Rothschild, wondering aloud whether Bordeaux – and he was being serious – wouldn’t have to look at planting other varieties, such as the aforementioned Grenache or Syrah, to cope with the heat. I personally think hell will freeze over before that happens, nevertheless it is hard to imagine continued rises in temperature not having an effect of the quality and style of wines being made. For more on climate and how it affects work in the vineyard, and the characteristics of the harvested grapes, see my page on the Climate of Bordeaux.
There is more to the story than climate change though. There are a myriad new practices and techniques that have been introduced to Bordeaux concurrent with this period of global warming. Many of them I have already touched upon in previous instalments of this guide, but it is worth pulling them all together here, in order to highlight the wind of change that has swept through Bordeaux in the past half-century.