Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The French Table in Bordeaux

Autumn is an ideal time to visit France. As if France isn't charming enough, seeing this country's cities and villages blazing with autumn colours is simply breathtaking. This is also the grape harvest season, and there are numerous festivals and activities around the country. We have just come back to Bosgouet from Bordeaux where I was finalising the finishing touches to a week in Bordeaux The French Table is offering next July. We were fortunate enough to visit Château Margeaux during harvest season. I am thrilled to announce that Clive Coates ( Master of Wine) will be joining us for this incredible French adventure in Bordeaux!

1855 Classification

Napoléon III, mocked by Victor Hugo, as Napoléon le Petit, paid a fine tribute to the great red wines of the Médoc, by organizing in 1855, in Paris, the Second Great Exhibition. The Emperor was in a hurry to follow England which had inaugurated the First Great Exhibition in 1851 in London, at the instigation of Albert of Saxe, the husband of Queen Victoria. He understood the advantage for those countries participating of presenting their latest industrial, scientific and cultural innovations, and he did not want to miss this opportunity to glorify French products, including the prestigious wines of the Médoc. He wished the wines to be presented by way of a classification. A blind tasting was organised in Paris, which led to the famous 1855 official classification, which divided around 60 growths from the Médoc, plus one estate from the Graves, into 5 levels of quality. Only four growths were ranked 'First Great Classified Growth', and Margaux was the only one to be marked 20 out of 20. This classification (which is as valid today as it was then) only confirmed the hierarchy visible in the great price differences that had been practised on the world market for many years. In the 18th century, the 'first growths' had already been sold at twice the price of the 'second growths'. The 1855 classification in fact followed on from other unofficial attempts at a classification : after that made by Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century the other recommended work was the 'Map of all the Known Vineyards', published in 1816, whose author was André Jullien, a wine merchant in Paris, born in 1776. He was followed by the German wine shipper, Wilhelm Franck in 1824 and the wine broker, Paguierre in 1828. The real 'bible of Bordeaux wines', however, was 'Bordeaux and its wines, Classified by Order of Merit', drawn up by Charles Cocks, a teacher, about whom we unfortunately know very little, and published in 1850 by the Bordeaux bookseller, Michel Féret. Charles Cocks died in 1854, one year too early to see that the official classification of 1855 corresponded almost exactly to his own, as well as to those drawn up by Jefferson, Jullian and Franck. Under the Second Empire, the least we can say is that Bordeaux enjoyed a real golden age, thanks to the building of a railway from Bordeaux to Paris, and also to the commercial boom, made easier by the new free-trade agreements inspired by the liberal ideas of the Emperor, who was able to boast, in Bordeaux itself, that 'Empire brings Peace'.

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