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Bordeaux

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Bordeaux, in the south-west of France, needs little introduction to anyone with an interest in wine. One of the world's most prolific wine regions, it also manages to rank among the most famous and prestigious. The secrets of Bordeaux's wine success (other than magical Bordeaux Blend) are its three trump cards: diversity, quality and quantity.

The majority of Bordeaux wines are the dry, medium-bodied reds that made the region famous. The finest (and most expensive) of these come from the great châteaux of the Médoc, particularly those in Pauillac and Margaux, and from the "right bank" appellations Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. The legendary reds are complemented by high quality white wines, both the dry styles of Pessac-Léognan and the sweet, botrytised nectars of Sauternes.

The official Bordeaux viticultural region stretches for 80 miles (130km) inland from the Atlantic coast. It is home to more than 10,000 producers, who turn out a vast quantity of wine each vintage. These range from inexpensive everyday wines through to some of the world's most expensive and prestigious labels. Bottles of dry red wine produced under the region's generic Bordeaux appellation can be bought for just a few pounds. Those from the top châteaux are regularly traded for several thousand pounds.

Bordeaux's climate is well moderated by its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the presence of the various rivers (the Dordogne, the Garonne and the Gironde Estuary into which they flow). The region takes its name (which translates roughly as "next to the waters") from the port city of Bordeaux, which serves as its logistical and administrative centre. Summer daytime temperatures hover around 77°F (25°C), and rarely rise above 86°F (30°C), while winter brings sub-zero temperatures only occasionally. Even the latitude here (45°N) is moderate: exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole. The Médoc peninsula feels the maritime influence particularly strongly; local winemakers talk of the gentle breezes and light clouds that take the edge off even the hottest summer days.

The region's long, relatively warm summers are ideal for growing late-ripening grape varieties. That is not to say that cool, wet weather in spring and autumn is not a concern here. A fundamental reason that most Bordeaux red wines are made from a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is that these two varieties bud, flower and ripen at different times and rates, which spreads the risk posed by poor weather conditions at flowering or harvest. In years when the autumn is wet, the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest suffers from rot and water-logging, but the earlier-ripening Merlot provides a back-up. When the spring is wet, the Merlot flowers poorly, leaving the Cabernet Sauvignon to take up the responsibility of providing a good harvest.

The vast expanse of pine forest to the south (La Forêt des Landes) protects Bordeaux from strong, salt-bearing winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean, although there is a risk of still winter air getting trapped and bringing frost to the Bordelais vineyards. The region's proximity to large masses of water, such as the Atlantic Ocean, the Gironde Estuary and the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, helps to moderate climatic extremes.

Merlot is the dominant red wine grape in the vineyards of Bordeaux, followed closely by Cabernet Sauvignon and then Cabernet Franc. Petit Verdot, Malbec and even Carmenère are also permitted. When used in combination, these varieties are variously referred to as a "Bordeaux Blend". Bordeaux's white wines are generally blends of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle.

While Bordeaux is well regarded for wines produced within specific areas, many of its wines fall under other, far less ambitious appellations. These include Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur and the sparkling-specific Crémant de Bordeaux. Bordeaux also has a distinct and historically significant classification system, which has remained largely unchanged since the middle of the 19th century.

Few regions can rival Bordeaux in terms of its impact on the wine world. The few contenders include Burgundy, Champagne, Rioja, Chianti and the Napa Valley.
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