Question to noted wine expert: “Ever mistaken Burgundy for Bordeaux?”
Expert’s answer: “Not since lunch.”
Along with Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy may be the most well-known words in the wine world. Even people with no wine experience at all know these names and with good reason. Each began its wine-obsessed life shortly after the Roman conquest of what is today France; each is mainly famous for its red wine; each is a prime object of interest to connoisseurs and collectors.
It’s nice to know your Burgundy from your Bordeaux, but it is even better to understand that these two famous regions take quite different approaches to the question of how good wine should be made. They serve as models for two different approaches to winemaking wherever in the world it’s undertaken.
From the beginning, Bordeaux, sited along the French Atlantic coast within easy seagoing reach of lucrative English markets, took an aggressively commercial approach to the making and marketing of wine. Anglo merchants set up on the Bordeaux wharves where they could collect the wine they bought from smallholders in the high country upriver, quickly blend it into the generic light-bodied red wine the British knew as claret (better not to inquire too closely into their technique), barrel it up, and ship it in the nick of time for Christmas.