Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Misadventures in Bordeaux

Bordeaux. The word conjures up everything elegant and rich and confusing and unknown if you’re the normal semi-literate wine snob-in-training, like me. The confusing and unknown aspects are part of the reason why so many Americans don’t enjoy these crown jewels of the wine world and the elegant and rich parts are why so many Americans should enjoy these wines.

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That being said, Bordeaux wines ARE confusing. I have no idea how to pronounce the names of all those Chateaux in the first place, except in the rather pathetic French accent I stole from Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau character. On top of that, the Bordeaux wines don’t tell you anything about what kind of grapes they used to make the wine. Instead they give you the name of some remote French village that the wine came from as if you have fond memories of the place. In high school, I had fond memories of a French exchange student named Musette, which I’m sure you can imagine on your own and really has nothing to do with this column. The way Bordeaux wines are named comes from a deliberately contorted system the French dreamed up called “Appellations d’Origine Controlee”. It gets more confusing from there, but I’m sure you’re hardly surprised.

Did I mention that most Bordeaux wines are meant to remain unopened for ten, twenty, or even fifty years? For America, the land of instant and total gratification, this is unfathomable. Buying that great bottle of wine for some serious coin and then not being able to touch it until your children are grown? It’s when the little buggers are little that you so desperately need that glass of wine! Any guesses how Budweiser became the King of Beers? It sure wasn’t because you had to cellar that Michelob for an eternity, was it?

And then there is this huge debate, more like an argument, or even a war, about whether Bordeaux or Napa is the locus of all wine greatness. This debate/argument/war began in the late 1970’s when some scheming Americans slipped some Napa wine in on some French who thought they were tasting Bordeaux but they weren’t and let’s just say things got a bit snippety after that. Thirty years later, emotions are still riding high and most Americans, not being very emotional about their wines, have shied away from the intercontinental strife.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

Sailing the Wind Dark Sea: Misadventures in Bordeaux is going to attempt to bridge some of that divide. In the words of the President, I am going to discuss Bordeaux as a “uniter” and not as a divider. And since I’m the one doing the writing, I am the “decider” (there you are; two Bush jokes for the price of one). Hopefully, you the patient reader, will pick up a few odd facts about Bordeaux that will serve you well and expand your wine horizons a bit.