By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 12 September 2020
A ground-breaking new book on Bordeaux is the first in English to focus on ‘terroir’ – in a region where this subject is often dismissed in favour of big chateaux brands and vintages.
Inside Bordeaux by Jane Anson (£60 BB&R Press) is a refreshing new look at this very traditional region and its intricate web of soils and microclimates. OK, it is almost 700 pages long, but Anson’s easy-to-read chatty conversational style makes it anything but dull or dry; it is packed to the gunnels with up-to-date information and - crucially - written by someone who has worked in the region for 16 years.
“The longer I have been living here, the more frustrated I got with the approach to terroir here”, says Anson. “It was at a non-interventionist winemaking seminar in Rioja when it really hit home – the winemakers literally sniggered at the idea of Bordeaux championing terroir”.
For centuries Bordeaux has had an uneasy relationship with the terroir concept, with a classification system concerned with promoting chateaux, essentially brands. Historic 1855 Medoc classification mapped named estates, rather than plots of land, which meant chateaux could change size and shape without challenging their status.
“I wanted to start a fresh conversation about Bordeaux terroir”, says Anson. “I also wanted to keep things practical; who is doing what, why and what impact it can have in the final glass – show the stories behind the wines – as books on Bordeaux haven’t always showed the real people”.
In her first 85 pages she explains the essence of the region with its important rivers and estuary – after all Bordeaux means ‘next to waters’. She focuses on what lies beneath vineyards, the role of soil science with an in-depth study of soils and microclimates - showing why the wines taste the way they do.
The core of the book, which makes it so useful for winemakers, students, sommeliers and those who pull the corks, is the inclusion of recent ground-breaking research by Professor Kees van Leeuwen and experts at University of Bordeaux to profile key chateaux and appellations’ terroirs - published for the first time in this book.
As a map lover, I was impressed with the extensive maps (58 in total – from Left Bank gravel terraces to Right Bank limestone plateaux), some are ‘gatefolds’ making it easy to cross-section a chateaux against its landscape and terroir. The aerial colour photographs work less well, but it does highlight how flat much of this region really is.
Anson shows how to assess a vintage, how to hide or maximise terroir expression, with five conditions for a successful harvest.
She profiles 1000 personal favourite chateaux with bang up-to-date guide to owners and their vineyard practices. “One of the key takeaways of this book, I hope, is that you can find good wines in every year if you know where to look…and you don’t always need a high price tag…if you know the shortcuts”, she says.
One of the challenges of Bordeaux she agrees is appealing to a younger audience. She is keen to promote organic and biodynamic estates, the rise of sustainability in St Emilion, biodiversity project in Margaux and innovative practices of next-generation winemakers.
She explains how Bordeaux is changing. “The appellation has shrunk by 10,000 hectares which is no bad thing; but average estate size is now 17 hectares (an increase from 9 hectares in a decade) so the big guys are getting bigger”, she says.
What I particularly liked in this book – useful for anyone looking beyond classic appellations – is her focus on neglected corners: brilliant emerging properties in Fronsac, Lalande de Pomerol, Francs, Cotes de Bordeaux, Haut Medoc & so on.
In a recent RealBizWine interview Anson was adamant about the “unbeatable value” you can get from Bordeaux at E10/£10. So I thought I would put this to the test as I often find cheaper clarets quite lean and mean, with the odd exception from warm vintages. Here is my checklist of affordable clarets on the market:
£10 & UNDER
Castillon: THE SOCIETY’S COTES DE BORDEAUX 2017 Ch Pitray (14%) ***GREAT VALUE***
£9.50 The Wine Society
This 30 hectare estate is a great example of Castillon’s characterful wines with its plummy aromas, bright juicy fruits, silky texture, unoaked; a limestone-dominant Merlot which would suit St Emilion lovers.
Bordeaux: SOLLIARD 2018 Borie Manoux (12.5%)
£10 Marks & Spencer
Best supermarket claret in our line-up; cleverly crafted Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot still very young, showing sweet vanilla notes, coconut undertones in a modern fruit-forward easy-going style.
Haut Medoc: CHATEAU TOURTERAN 2011 (13%)
£9.99 / £17.99 Majestic Wine
Good buy at its mixed case price, this Cru Bourgeois (same as owner as Ch Ramage La Batisse) has an unusual herby bouquet, earthy notes and light structure with an Old World mature charm.
£11 - £20
Haut Medoc: THE SOCIETY’S EXHIBITION HAUT MEDOC 2015 Ch Beaumont (14%) ***STAR BUY***
£14.95 The Wine Society
113 hectare Beaumont estate, who share an owner with Ch Beychevelle, have crafted this impressive Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Petit Verdot blend from a superb vintage; praised for its balance, attractive sweet ripe fruits, light cedar, tobacco, silky textured tannin and good value.
Bordeaux: CHATEAU MASSEREAU 2015 Jean Francois & Philippe Chaigneau (13%)
£17.99 Raeburn Wines
Non-interventionist winemaking focus here at this 10 hectare property in Barsac (they usually focus on sweet wines); good quality traditional red Bordeaux Superieur with herby undertones, distinct savoury notes and good length.
Cotes de Bordeaux: CLOS FONTAINE 2015 Jan & Florian Thienpont (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£15.99 Raeburn Wines
“Another klaxon for a rising estate here” says Anson about this renovated property. Gorgeous Merlot from fourth-generation Thienponts using large-sized oak maturation; cedary developed bouquet, bright plummy fruit, soft smooth tannins.
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