Bordeaux, Burdigala in Aquitaine {Guyenne}  

Bordeaux, is it a wine or a place ??? Despite some exports from Bordeaux, in the modern age until about 1850, most wine was consumed locally. No, Bordeaux is a poem: a medieval French poem, written in the style of an epic (think Beowulf), dating from the first half of the 13th century. Charlot, a son of the emperor Charlemagne, lays an ambush for Huon, son of Séguin of Bordeaux; but Huon kills Charlot without being aware of his identity. Huon is then saved from hanging by performing a series of seemingly impossible tasks. Huon de Bordeaux, through the prose translation of John Bouchier (Lord Berners), furnished the name Oberon and the fairy element for Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (first performed 1595-96), Ben Jonson's court masque Oberon, the Færy Prince (1611) and Christoph Martin Wieland's verse romance Oberon (1780). Decimus Magnus Ausonius was born in Bordeaux in ca. 310. His father was a noted physician of Greek ancestry, and his mother was descended on both sides from long-established aristocratic families of southwestern Gaul. In 334, he established a school of rhetoric in Bordeaux, which was very popular. His most famous pupil was Saint Paulinus of Nola, who later became Bishop of Nola. Accordingly, there is a Bordeaux Poetry Festival and one can find a poem entitled Confessions of a Wine Buyer.

Much like a World's Fair today, Napoléon III's 1855 Expositon Universelle de Paris was a chance for France to display its very best for the world to see. The Gironde Chamber of Commerce requested that a classification system be devised to accompany their display of the fine wines of Bordeaux. The Bordeaux Wine Brokers' Union went to work on the project and came up with what we now refer to as the Classification of 1855.

Bordeaux is one of the oldest cities in France. The first inhabitants of these lands were the members of a Celtic Tribe, the Bituriges Vivisci, who came from the North of France in the 3rd century BC. Two centuries later the armies of Cæsar conquered the city and named it Burdigala. A few years later the first vineyards along the banks of the Garonne river were planted.

Burdigala became the administrative capital of the Roman province of Aquitaine in the first century AD, resulting in town planning and magnificent Roman monuments such as a forum; but only the arena is left today. According to old Limousin legends which date back to the beginning of the eleventh century, Bordeaux was evangelized in the first century by Saint Martial (Martialis), who destroyed a temple to the unknown god, which he replaced with one dedicated to Saint Stephen. The same legends represent St. Martial as having brought to the Soulac coast Sainte Veronica, who is still especially venerated in the church of Notre-Dame de Fin des Terres at Soulac; as having cured Sigebert, the paralytic husband of the pious Benedicta who made him Bishop of Bordeaux; as addressing beautiful Latin letters to the people of Bordeaux, to which city he is said to have left the pastoral staff that has been treasured as a relic by the Chapter of Saint-Seurin. The first Bishop of Bordeaux known to history, Orientalis, is mentioned at the Council of Arles, in 314.

The city was claimed by the Vandals in 409, the Visigoths in 414 and the Francs in 498. During the Merovingian period, the cathedral church, founded in the fourth century, occupying the same site that it does today, stood back to back against the ramparts of the ancient city. During the seventh century the foundations were laid for the churches of Saint-Rémy, Saint-Pierre and Saint-Siméon, and the city cemetery (outside the walls) became a place of pilgrimage. Charlemagne, having fought the Saracens near Bordeaux, visited it and is said to have laid Roland's wonderful horn Olivant on the altar of Saint Seurin. Then came the Vikings in 848 (Frotharius was archbishop in 870, when he fled the city in the face of more Viking raids). The Normans arrived in the 10th century.

In 1137 William X (le Saint), Duke of Aquitaine, joined a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, but died of suspected food poisoning during the trip. On his deathbed, he expressed his wish for King Louis VI of France to become the protector of his fifteen-year-old daughter Eleanor, and to find her a suitable husband. Louis VI naturally accepted this guardianship, and married the heiress of Aquitaine to his own son, Louis VII. Louis VII, in turn, acceded to the title of Duke, by marriage. Aquitaine was lost to France by the annulment of that marriage between Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine which was celebrated in the Cathedral of Bordeaux in the year 1137, and Bordeaux became the capital of the English possessions in France. When he divorced Eleanor, Louis VII believed that he kept the title, but lacked the power to occupy his new domain. After the second marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine, to Henry II of England, the city was under the English-Norman rule for more than 300 years. The English called the land Guyenne.

As a result of this new union, the bourgeoisie concentrated on the Bordeaux wine trade with England and the Scandinavian countries. During the 13th and 14th centuries, the city underwent expansion. Wine exports made this one of the richest cities in France. Pilgrims, in turn, made the city rich as well as famous throughout France. The French Pilgrim routes of Santiago de Compostela are on the list of World Heritage sites. Of the sixty-nine monuments accepted, three are in Bordeaux: the Saint-André Cathedral, the Saint-Seurin Basilica and the Saint-Michel Basilica. {a wonderful tour with 38 pictures from the area, and most of them not the usual suspects} The English were defeated on July 17, 1453, at the famous battle at Castillon, which finally ended the war. Bordeaux now belonged to the Kings of France, title based on Eleanor's first marriage. Picture Blog from Bordeaux that also has a few views of Castillon: {another excellent choice for views of the city and elsewhere in France).

Under French control, wine exports significantly decreased, taxes increased -- the reunion, marriage (reconquista) of Aquataine and France was full of friction. Michel-Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592) was one of the most illustrious writers of the later portion of this period. He was the French moralist who created the personal essay. Montaigne was brought up by his father under peasant guidance and a German tutor for Latin. He spent a lifetime of political service under Henry IV, and then composed his Essays. This was the first book to reveal with utter honesty and frankness the author's mind and heart. Montaigne sought to reach beyond his own illusions, to see himself as he really was, which was not just the way others saw him. Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know. Born outside Bordeaux (Périgord), Montaigne became Mayor of Bordeaux in 1581, after he had established himself as a non-conformist. He maintained peace between Catholics and Protestants during his term in office. Louis XIV entering the city in 1653 and effectively annexing Bordeaux to the Kingdom of France, ending all pretext of independence and tolerance. Ironically, the city now prospered more. Le Canal du Midi, an engineering marvel for the time in which it was constructed (circa 1680-Pierre Paul Riquet), bisects France from the Atlantic Ocean, near Bordeaux, to the Mediterranean Sea, near Béziers. It brought prosperity to the region.

It was during this time period of the latter half of the 17th Century, that this webmaster's family came to Bordeaux from the area near Pau called Béarn. It may have been here, during the time of economic growth, that some members of the family became merchants, connected with the sea. The de la Croix family later changed its name to LaRoche when it migrated to England, serving the new Protestant regime. More HERE, including a possible connection with the House of Orange.

The Revolution was the time of the Girondins of this region. They tried to promote a progressive bourgeoisie and federalism against the Jacobins Jean-Paul Marat, the journalist who fanned the flames of terror in France and would be turned into a martyr by Charlotte Corday, the young Girondist who executed Marat. She had felt that Jean-Paul, who daily demanded more and more heads, was in large part responsible for the misfortunes that the French people were undergoing. The Girondist were suppressed in May-October 1793. In 1870, 1914 and 1940, the lawful French Government withdrew to Bordeaux because of the German breakout. So, in time, Bordeaux received the unwanted nickname of la Capitale tragique ("The Tragic Capital {City}").

At it is recounted that the modern Bordeaux has 57 appellations and many producers with small acreages. The magic of Bordeaux sweet white wines is a unique balance between sugar and acidity, notably with such icons as the crus classés from Sauternes-Barsac, as well as other less well-known appellations that also produce high quality sweet wines. Medium sweet and sweet wines are made principally from Sémillon and Sauvignon and, to a lesser extent, Muscadelle. Their exceptional sugar content results from the activity of Botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot. It develops as a result of a specific microclimate which, as of the end of the Summer, combines mild temperatures and morning fog. This noble rot attacks the grape skin, cracks it, thereby allowing the grape to lose its moisture. The grape pulp transforms itself into a golden jam, in which are concentrated sugars, juices and aromas. Perhaps the most famous is from Château Y'quem.

Premières Côtes de Bordeaux (Entre Deux Mers): the terroir for this appellation begins across the river from Bordeaux, overlooking the River Garrone to the Dordogne. It is a long narrow growing area, thus the soils, the grapes grown and the wines made remain quite diverse. Reds include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenère, while the White are Sémillon, Sauvignon, Muscadelle. If you can't find a wine to enjoy from here for a reasonable price, then perhaps you just don't like the vin. Try to find Château Nénine, it's grande. Just north of the confluence of the River Garrone and the Dordogne is the town Bourg and its Appellation, Côtes de Bourg (on the northern side of the town) -- another outstanding area -- and one could go on and on and on (try Les Toyrs Seguy).

Château Talbot is an old estate that produces a Grand Cru Classé of the Saint-Julien appellation. Saint-Estephe, Paulliac, Margaux, Graves, Pomerol and Saint Emillion are its neighbors with their own distinctive characteristics. More specifically, St. Julien, the smallest of the four famous appellations of the Haut Medoc, is known for highly extracted, finely structured, Cabernet-based reds. It is nestled between Pauillac to the north and Margaux to the south. The Talbot Bordeaux classically is Cabernet-Sauvignon based, with additions from Cabernet-Franc, Carmenère, Merlot Noir, Petit Verdot and Côt or Malbec. Read a review of the 1978 vintage HERE. Pictured to the right is a 1966 Château Beychevelle, another grand St. Julien wine.

My own opinion is that this [2009 product] is a good vintage that has made some outstanding wines, especially in the communes of Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Julien and Margaux on the Left Bank. In some cases, perhaps the best wines they have ever made. On the Right Bank the picture is more mixed. Out of the first growths, Mr. Parker rates Haut-Brion, Lafite-Rothschild, Latour and Margaux from 98 to 100. Mouton-Rothschild received lower, although still very good, [Parker] scores of 96-98. In Pomerol, Vieux Château Certan, which impressed me enormously, received a 96-99 rating from Mr. Parker. I feel a tad sad about this score as its price may now be too high for many cellars. Ditto with Léoville-Poyferre, which Mr. Parker rates 97-100. Expect its value to soar.

Now here is an alternative, available in many places, Château Haut Blaignan. It is from the Médoc ration that surrounds several appellations including Saint-Julien. You can get it at Trader Joe's for less than $10, and even the outstanding 1976 vintage can be found for $20 on the Internet from European distributers -- so it is made to last, if stored correctly. At the heart of the city Blaignan, next to the church, sit the cellars of the Cru Artisan, Château Haut Blaignan. This domain has been owned by the same family since the end of World War II (1945). The Brochard-Cahier family appears in the 11th edition of Bordeaux and Its Wines from 1949. Production at that time was about 1500 cases (a 12 bottle case). The planting has grown. The production is now about 9000 cases. Today, the vintage comes from 16 acres, planted with 50% merlot and 50% cabernet sauvignon. The Vineyard with a Blaignan mailing address is south of Caussan, a nearby suburb. Both are about 3 miles due west of the Bay of Biscay.

Back in Bordeaux are many musées, as well as historic architecture such as Saint-André Cathedral, consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1096; Tour Pey Berland (1440-1450), a massive, quadrangular tower annexed to the cathedral; Sainte-Croix Church (Church of the Holy Cross) lies on the site of a 7th century abbey destroyed by the Saracens (rebuilt under the Carolingians, it was again destroyed by the Normans in 845 and 864); the Gothic basilica of Saint-Michel, constructed in the late 14th-15th centuries; Palais Gallien, the remains of a late 2nd-century Roman amphitheatre; the Church of Saint-Eloi; Basilica of Saint-Seurin, the most ancient church in Bordeaux, was built in the early 6th century on the site of a palaeochristian necropolis. A métro, three tramtrain lines, wine and great weather are just 3 hours from Paris by TGV. The TGV also serves Toulouse and Irun from Bordeaux. A regular train service is provided to Nantes, Nice, Marseille and Lyon. The Gare St-Jean is the major hub for regional trains (TER) operated by the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français) to Arcachon, Limoges, Agen, Périgueux, Pau and Bayonne. see generally (English, other languages, too, but I can only vouch for the English portion as being well-written and comprehensive) et (if you read French).

Current Newsletter -- Bordeaux once more is a Tour de France 2010 Host site.

Maritime -- Pau -- Bayonne and Dax -- Orléans -- Auch -- Poitiers -- Nantes -- Tarbes

New: 05/27/08