Bordeaux wines are some of the most readily available and widely enjoyed vintages in Hong Kong.
The French wine region is all about real estate - location, location, location - and history. First-growth wines, such as Chateaux Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Mouton Rothschild, command lofty prices and are considered the blue chips of the wine world.
Of particular interest in the history of Bordeaux is the 1855 classification of wines that was initiated by Napoleon, who asked that the vintages to be displayed at that year's Paris Expo be ranked in order of quality. The job was passed to the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce, which, instead of bickering over terroir, used one criterion to judge each chateau - price. The wines were divided into five tiers, from first growths to fifth growths, with the former consisting of those that commanded the best prices. Chateaux that didn't make it to the list were deemed not worthy.
There was a provision that the 1855 classification never be revised but over time and after considerable controversy, the rankings changed - once.
In 1973, Chateau Mouton Rothschild was elevated to first-growth status, thanks to the efforts of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who petitioned the French authorities continuously for more than 20 years.
Bordeaux is divided into three regions by the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, which combine to form the Gironde estuary. The three bodies of water form a squiggly looking upside-down "Y". If one were to stand in Bordeaux facing towards Paris (roughly north), on the left, towards the Atlantic Ocean, would be the area known as the Left Bank, which is south of the Gironde and west of the Garonne. The Right Bank is north of the Gironde and Dordogne. The area in between is called Entre-Deux-Mers, which translates to "between two seas".
The Left Bank is best suited to cabernet sauvignon because of the soil (gravelly, sandy, stony), climate and maritime influences of the Atlantic Ocean. Left Bank wines generally use at least 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon, with the exception being reds from the Graves subregion, which can be blends of equal parts cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Other Left Bank grapes include cabernet franc and petit verdot. The Left Bank is where you'll find all the first-growth chateaux. Palate-wise, the wines are more tannic due to the high percentage of cabernet sauvignon used in the blends.
The key grape in Right Bank wines is merlot, which thrives on soils with a higher clay content. The merlot-based wines of St Emilion and Pomerol have always been held in high esteem. Wines from the Petrus estate, in Pomerol, are made up of up to 90 per cent merlot. The other grape that thrives on the Right Bank is cabernet franc. Chateau Ausone, in St Emilion, generally uses a blend of almost equal parts merlot and cabernet franc.
Right Bank wines are more approachable in their youth due to their high merlot content, which gives them a softer tannin profile on the palate, but they're no less intense than Left Bank vintages.
Nellie Ming Lee is a food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers.