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Bordeaux Wine: a (very) brief history

Bordeaux is a big name in the wine world. Famous for producing bold red wines fit for aging and sweet white wine, you would struggle to get far with learning about wine without coming across this region. But where did it all begin?


What do Malton and Bordeaux have in common?

Ok, so not a lot, but both places were home to the Roman empire at some point and although Malton didn't become a wine hotspot for the rest of time, Bordeaux certainly did. The Romans rocked up around 60 BC and by the 1st century AD, Bordeaux was getting a good rep for it's wine. This region, unlike Malton, had excellent grape growing soil (for the Biturica grape variety that was then popular and is potentially the ancestor of what we now know as Carménère) and easy access to a river (more like Malton) to ship the goods away. In fact there is evidence to suggest that Bordeaux wine made it's way to England at this time and fragments of pottery have been discovered at Pompeii that mention Bordeaux wine, so it really did get about. Wine production has continued in the region ever since.


Fast forward 1,000 years


Effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine

When I started working in the wine trade I didn't realise how quickly I would have the opportunity to bring together my love of the Plantagenet family and one of my favourite medieval heroines, with wine. But Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (look her up, she's a bit of an icon) are an important part of the Bordeaux story. When they married in 1152 Aquitaine, which includes the modern area of Bordeaux, came under English rule. Henry and Eleanor abolished the tariffs on wines coming into England and the Brits went nuts for the stuff. So much so that Bordeaux established a monopoly in the production, sale and distribution of wine to England. St Emilion, the oldest of Bordeaux's wine guilds, was founded in 1199 on the back of this success.


The 100 (and 16) year war


The flow of trade was stopped pretty abruptly by the Hundred Years' War which lasted from 1337 -1453 (so not 100 years at all...). Aquitaine was back in the hands of the French by 1453 and the importation of Bordeaux wines to England was off the cards. In 1475, Louis XI authorised British ships to return, but the golden age between England and Bordeaux was never restored.


Along come the Dutch


As the 17th century rolled in, it brought with it the emergence of new customers - the Dutch. The Dutch influenced the areas production towards the first fine wines, such as the famous 'Ho-Bryan' that would become Haut-Brion. With them they brought innovation, such as sterilising barrels with sulphur to facilitate the conservation and transportation of wine. But most importantly, they also drained the marshy Medoc and planted vineyards in this area. This allowed for a much larger area for growing grapes and also easier links to the river for transportation. Some of the most famous areas of Bordeaux, such as Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe are in existence due to this piece of Dutch ingenuity.

The Medoc