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André Simon Awards: Inside Bordeaux

Ahead of this year’s André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards, db is running extracts of all of the shortlisted drinks titles. The final work is Inside Bordeaux: the châteaux, their wines and the terroir by Jane Anson.

Is it possible to write something new on a region that has been so widely covered, studied, dissected, discarded, rediscovered, fought over, loved, despised… rinse-and-repeat?

I hope that even a brief dip into Inside Bordeaux will answer that question, and show that despite often being presented as set in stone, Bordeaux is continually evolving and constantly worth assessing afresh.

When I moved here in 2003, the region was in the heat of the garagiste movement where 200 per cent new oak was something to be proud of, and ‘hang-time’ was the word of the day. As we stand now, more than sixteen years later, there is a clear evolution towards fresher, more sculpted wines, and towards winemaking that takes far more account of what happens in the vineyard – not just in the cellar. A changing climate is demanding that we ask new questions about what does and doesn’t work in the growing of vines; a new generation of winemakers is demanding that changes are made.

And above all of this, the reality of the vastly complicated range of soil types and micro-climates – the terroir – in Bordeaux is starting to be taken seriously: this was simply not the case even a decade ago.

I have tried to give you a behind-the-scenes look at all of these developments – and to consider how to make smart buying decisions as a result. You’re going to find plenty of my own opinions in here, developed from over two decades of drinking and studying these wines, but I am very happy to say that much of this is formed by talking to, learning from, challenging and trying to unpick the advice and opinion of the various professors, consultants, historians, geologists and winemakers who work in Bordeaux, past and present.

I would also like to explain right up front why I wanted to attempt such a foolhardy project.

I did so because Bordeaux is so familiar to so many of us that we almost stop seeing it. We have become so used to the blanket depiction of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ vintages (okay, ‘best ever’ and ‘challenging’), Left Bank or Right Bank, that we forget one of the true delights of Bordeaux is its diversity, size and scope. I believe we have been overlooking many of the key things that will allow us to engage with Bordeaux afresh, and with renewed interest; it was this that I wanted to uncover and share.

It is becoming more essential than ever to stop the ‘one size fits all’ approach to Bordeaux. I hope that this book gives you the tools to find unsung estates that sit on great terroir, just as much as it does to celebrate the very real achievements of the most iconic names of Bordeaux. And I hope it allows you to find great value in any vintage, no matter what the general critical opinion.

Partly, as you will see, I think we need to start assessing Bordeaux in the way that we more typically do for other fine wine regions such as Burgundy, Barolo, the northern Rhône – by its soils, and by how these individual soils react to different growing conditions year on year. You’ll find this topic covered in detail in the chapter on Bordeaux terroirs, and you will see regular references to soils and climate within the château entries – along with clear ways to interpret terroir when it comes to purchasing decisions.

I didn’t use a team of researchers for this book. Every château that has been written about has been researched, visited and/or tasted by me. There are nearly 800 covered here, and I have done my best to understand what motivates the people behind them, and to explain why they might be of interest to you.

And where I don’t have the expertise, I went to ask the people who I most trust, which is why you have entirely new maps and geological studies drawn from the work of professors such as Kees van Leeuwen, David Pernet and Pierre Becheler. Besides the soil maps, based on their research, the maps of temperature across Bordeaux come care of Benjamin Bois, a researching professor at the Institute of Wine and Vine (ISVV). Professor van Leeuwen contributed invaluable and meticulous expertise throughout the process. I am honoured that they agreed to work on this project, and know that readers will find new understandings of Bordeaux opening up before them through their use, as I have. They, along with other brilliant researchers and teachers, have helped me to put my own knowledge in context, and I hope will allow you to do the same.

Reprinted with permission from Inside Bordeaux: the châteaux, their wines and the terroir by Jane AnsonPublished by Berry Bros. & Rudd Press in 2020. 

All these books have been shortlisted in the drinks category for the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards 2020. Founded in 1978, the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards are the only awards in the UK to exclusively recognise the achievements of food and drink writers and are the longest continuous running awards of their kind. The first two awards were given to Elizabeth David and Rosemary Hume for their outstanding contribution in the fields of food and cooking. Other winners include Michel Roux, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater and Rick Stein.

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