Are you curious about Bordeaux wine? Would you love to learn about its secret underground history? What about the overlooked wines and vintages that are both affordable and delicious?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Jane Anson, the world’s foremost authority on Bordeaux wine and the author of Inside Bordeaux.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
Watch the Video
You could win a personally signed copy of Jane Anson’s gorgeous, new book Inside Bordeaux. This 700-page, full-colour hardcover edition features fold-out maps, fascinating history and insider tips for buying the best Bordeaux wines, including where to find the under-priced gems.
It’s already been named the Best Book of the Year by several newspapers and magazines. It’s a beautiful coffee table book and an essential reference for anyone interested in this region. It retails for $110 plus tax.
How to Win
Post about a Bordeaux wine that you’ve enjoyed on Instagram, Facebook (Story or Feed, both are better), Twitter or LinkedIn before Wednesday, February 24th.
You’ll get an additional entry for each social post you do, so feel free to post on all four social media platforms. You’ll also get a bonus entry for each wine-loving friend you tag.
I’ll re-share your stories and posts with my followers, so that you get more followers!
Use these tags and hashtags when you post on your fave social media channel:
Instagram @jane.anson @nataliemacleanwine @bordeauxwines @drinkbordeaux @alltherightgrapes @vinsdumedoc
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Listen to a fascinating discussion about Bordeaux with Jane Anson on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast:
Join the debut Watch Party live-stream video of this discussion February 24th:
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Good luck, and I can’t wait to see (and share) what you post!
- When did Jane decide to become a writer?
- What editing mistake from 20 years ago still makes Jane’s blood run cold?
- What is Jane’s most memorable moment of her career so far?
- Which career would Jane choose if she wasn’t a wine writer?
- Would your experience of Mouton Rothschild’s 1945 Victory Vintage live up to the stories?
- How did Jane end up choosing to focus her writing on Bordeaux?
- What old English connection is responsible for the unique way you see Bordeaux being sold today?
- What caused Bordeaux to switch to the predominantly red wines you would be familiar with?
- How have foreign influences influenced the iconic Bordeaux wines you enjoy today?
- What was Bordeaux’s involvement in the slave trade?
- Why was the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 created?
- What do you need to know about the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855?
- Where can you find Jane’s informal Bordeaux ranking system?
- Why should always read tasting notes rather than relying solely on wine scores?
- How did Robert Parker influence your experiences with Bordeaux wine over the years?
- What has contributed to the general move away from big, fruity wines you can see in the industry?
- How has climate change impacted Bordeaux blends?
- Why is it important for you to look beyond the high-priced classified Bordeaux estate wines?
- How did Jane navigate the over 800 chateaux she researched for Inside Bordeaux?
- Which unusual publishing and distribution route did Jane take for Inside Bordeaux?
- What makes the maps included in Inside Bordeaux so unique?
- What green initiatives would you find winemakers undertaking in Bordeaux?
- Why should you be concerned about monoculture?
- Where should you look for bargains on Bordeaux?
- What are Jane’s thoughts on the future of Bordeaux?
- Bordeaux is so much more diverse than those big, fancy chateaux that we imagine, what I call castle marketing. I love that Jane searched for undiscovered regions, especially those that are the satellites of more famous ones like Montagne de St Emilion and the Cotes.
- Jane reminds us how important soil is with her gorgeous maps that truly reveal the diverse unground layers of Bordeaux that in turn shape what we drink.
- I’m fascinated with the British influence on Bordeaux wine that dates back to 1152 when this region became part of a Duchy of the English crown. Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was French, who owned this part of France through her father. And she married her second husband, who quickly after their marriage became Henry the second of England. That helped establish Bordeaux as an exporting region, as well as the style of claret the Brits came to love.
- It’s interesting how the rise of wine critic Robert Parker influenced the style of Bordeaux wine toward a more fruit-forward expression and how that has since receded to greater balance and elegance.
- I was pleased to hear about the many green initiatives alive in Bordeaux from eco-forestry to biodynamics. In addition to caring for the environment, I believe it also requires greater attention to growing the vines and results in better wines.
Start The Conversation: Click Below to Share These Wine Tips
Bordeaux was a wine which was made locally but was created with another outside market in mind. - Jane Anson Click to tweet
Bordeaux is perfectly capable of changing and adapting to what consumers want. - Jane Anson Click to tweet
It’s never as simple as just following the wine score. It’s always about what mood am I in, who am I drinking it with, etc. - Jane Anson Click to tweet
Maybe the skill of being a winemaker today is to step back and take your foot off the pedal. - Jane Anson Click to tweet
The downside of Bordeaux unquestionably is it’s almost a monoculture in terms of the vines. - Jane Anson Click to tweet
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Natalie MacLean 0:00
You’ve also mentioned that 70% of wine in Bordeaux used to be white or sweet. So was it the British influence that caused the flip to the red?
Jane Anson 0:12
I love that question. So those 300 years when it was English, it was mainly red there. The English basically preferred red wine, drank more red wine. But the switch in Bordeaux came after the English left when the Dutch came; because the Dutch have always been much more interested in white wine. But then from 1972, or 1973, I can’t remember the exact date now, it switched to red. And today Bordeaux is 90% red wine. We tend to think of Bordeaux as being such a kind of traditional, unchanging region. But then just that one statistic tells you, in fact, like everywhere, Bordeaux is perfectly capable of changing and adapting to what consumers want.
Natalie MacLean 0:45
Oh, that’s a great insight to draw from it and the fact that they remain outward focused with an international focus,
Jane Anson 0:51
That’s a really good point. You’re right.
Natalie MacLean 1:00
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? That’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast.
Natalie MacLean 1:17
I’m your host, Natalie MacLean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please and let’s get started.
Welcome to Episode 115. Are you curious about Bordeaux wine? Would you love to learn about its secret underground history? What about the overlooked wines and vintages that are both affordable and delicious? That’s exactly what you’ll discover in this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast I’m chatting with Jane Anson. There’s no one on this planet who knows more about the wine world’s most famous region, Bordeaux, than she does. Jane brings Bordeaux to life with colourful stories and history that she’s going to share with you today. And I’ve got a bonus for you in addition to this podcast. I’d love for you to join me on the debut watch party of the video of this conversation that will be live streaming for the very first time on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube on Wednesday, February 17, at 7pm Eastern. I’ll be jumping into the comments on all three platforms as we watch it together, so that I can answer your questions in real time. And I want to hear from you. What’s your opinion of what we’re discussing? What takeaways or tips do you love most from this chat? What questions do you have that we didn’t answer?
Before I introduce Jane, I want to let you know that you could win a personally signed copy of her gorgeous new book Inside Bordeaux. It’s a beautiful coffee table book and an essential reference for anyone interested in this region. With foldout full colour maps and photos of the Châteaux, plus practical buying tips, including those hidden gems. All you have to do is post on social media about a Bordeaux wine that you’ve enjoyed, tag me, Jane and her book distributor, All the Right Grapes. I’ll post all of this info in the show notes at nataliemaclean/115. So all you have to do is copy and paste. I’ll reshare the posts of everyone who participates with my followers so that you get more followers. And then I’ll announce the winner on the Wednesday following our live stream. In the show notes, you’ll find photos of Jane’s beautiful book, details on how you can win a personally signed copy of it or buy a signed copy of it, a full transcript of our conversation, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you can find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube live on video every Wednesday at 7pm including our upcoming live stream watch party next week. That’s all in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/115.
Now on a personal note before we dive into the show, we’re coming up to Valentine’s Day which reminds me of a matchmaking story my mother shared with me recently. When my grandfather was in the hospital, someone gave him the gift of a ceramic cube that holds a picture on each side. One of the prepackaged photos that came with it was of an attractive young woman in her 20s. My grandfather told the young man in the bed beside him, that that was his granddaughter and he really should meet her. The young man was interested but, alas, she never visited her poor old grandfather the entire time he was in the hospital, the ingrate! I just loved his humour. Okay on with the show.
Jane Anson is the world’s foremost authority on Bordeaux. She’s actually lived in Bordeaux since 2003, and is the author of the newly published book Inside Bordeaux, which has received so many glowing reviews, and has been nominated for several writing awards. She’s also the author of three other books; Club of Nine, Château Angélus and Bordeaux Legends about the historic 1855 classification, which we’re also going to talk about. She’s also the co-author or translator of more than a dozen wine and travel books; so she is prolific. She’s the contributing columnist at Decanter magazine on Bordeaux and she’s won several writing awards already, including the Louis Roederer wine Online Communicator of the Year for 2020 and the Born Digital Wine awards for best editorial in 2020. Most recently, she’s a graduate of the DUAD tasting diploma with the Bordeaux Institute of Oenology and an accredited wine teacher at the Bordeaux Ecole du Vin. She joins me now from her home in Bordeaux. Welcome, Jane. I’m so glad to see you and connect with you.
Jane Anson 6:26
Thanks so much for asking me, Natalie. I’m thrilled to be here.
Natalie MacLean 6:30
Terrific. I can’t wait for this chat. So we’re going to dive right into it. But before we get to Bordeaux, specifically, can you tell me about the moment you realised that you wanted to be a writer?
Jane Anson 6:43
I have never not wanted to be a writer. The first book I wrote, I think I was seven years old. It was called the Beech Tree patrol, which I just recently found in a trunk at home and had great fun reading it with my daughters, falling about laughing how obviously, the seven year old it was
Natalie MacLean 6:58
Was it a murder mystery, or a thriller or detective?
Jane Anson 7:01
Well, it was about a group of Girl Guides on a murder mystery. Yes, there was a murder mystery coming into it.
Natalie MacLean 7:13
Excellent. Your sense of adventure even at seven.
Jane Anson 7:15
Exactly. I can definitely say that. Yeah, I have always wanted to be a writer, and not necessarily about wine, obviously, at seven. But the thrill of publishing books, is still for me, the real, I really just I can’t believe I get to do it now.
Natalie MacLean 7:26
Wow. Take us to the moment, actually the worst moment of your writing career, if there’s been one
Jane Anson 7:30
Oh, there definitely has. Okay. So I don’t often share this, but I’m going to share it with you guys because it still makes my blood run cold 25 years later. So this was probably in 1995 or 1996. So I would have been about 23. I was living and working in Hong Kong and I had a job. It was like my first proper job, really a dream job. I was the assistant editor of a travel magazine out of Hong Kong. And we wrote about lots of different kind of travel stuff to do with Asia primarily. And this particular article I hadn’t written because I was assistant editor. So I was editing it and it went out onto Thai Airways in flight magazine. So they were probably 100,000 copies maybe of this magazine that went out to all the airlines. And this particular article was about the Thai King. So they’re taking who now has since died. He was called King Bhumibol the ninth, which is a one X. I was editing. And I didn’t notice or maybe I’d written it I can’t remember now. But it said Bhumibol X one. So 11 instead of nine. Now there are those of us who would think that is not a big deal. But in Thailand, the king is basically a deity and it was sacrilege. It was a seriously terrible thing that I hadn’t noticed one X instead of X one. And it had already been printed. It was out on the airlines. And they had to get every single copy of that magazine off the airline. And they had six women with a black pen who had to go through and just manually cross out every single time. One X instead of X one.
Natalie MacLean 9:13
Oh, no just for transposing two things
Jane Anson 9:16
Oh my gosh,
Jane Anson 9:17
Just for transposing 2 things. I mean, it still makes my blood run cold thinking about it now. But it certainly taught me the importance of checking, checking, checking, checking, checking.
Natalie MacLean 9:28
Yes, absolutely. As a writer, it’s your worst nightmare. Getting even just the little facts wrong. But oh my gosh, well, thank you for sharing. You’ve come a long way since then, Jane, we know. So let’s end on a happy note. Not this conversation; but what’s been the best moment of your writing career to date.
Jane Anson 9:47
Gosh, there’s been so many. As said at the beginning, I feel incredibly blessed to get to write and to get to earn a living through writing. I think probably looking back, that one of the moments which meant the most and when I was first convinced was: you mentioned the books that I’ve written. The very first real book that I wrote with my name on the cover was called Bordeaux Legends and it was about the five first grades; the Mouton Lafitte, the Tour Haut Brion and Margaux, and it was about how did they get to be the first grades. I can remember clearly going to Château Margaux and the guy who was running it at the time, who was called Paul Pontallier, a wonderful, wonderful man, and asking him if I could write a book about them. And it would involve me following them for a year and getting to see their archives. And I knew I had to ask all five of the Châteaux. So I picked the person who I felt closest to and who I thought would probably be the most welcoming to it. And he was amazingly open to it and said, you know, we trust you, we’ve got nothing to hide. So yes, you can do it. And that was probably 10 years ago. And that was the moment when I knew that I’d be able to write a book, my first proper book that was mine, and that it would be an interesting subject. I remember being terrified when he said, Yes, because thinking, oh my god, now I’ve really got to do it. But that was probably one of the greatest days of my career of coming out from that Château and thinking, Okay, this is going to happen
Natalie MacLean 11:13
That’s real. And did they give you unfettered access?
Jane Anson 11:15
Yes, they did. It was wonderful. I got to go in all of the different Château archives. And I would spend a lot of time. I basically followed them for a year but also looked at the history. How did they write back 400 years ago? How did they become such iconic Châteaux as they are today? It was a very, very special research process.
Natalie MacLean 11:35
Hmm. It seems you were destined to be a writer and of wine. One of my followers on social media, though, asked this question. Laurie wanted to know, if you weren’t writing, what else would you do professionally, if you couldn’t write?
Jane Anson 11:47
Okay. Well, I would say if I wasn’t writing about wine, I would be writing about something else. I think a lot of people who write about wine, probably it’s wine that brought them to writing. I would say for me, it’s the other way around; it’s writing that brought me to wine. I taught English for a year in Japan, when I graduated. I loved doing that. I wouldn’t mind teaching English literature, actually, I think that was really a fun and rewarding job to be a high school English literature teacher.
Natalie MacLean 12:14
A lot of the same skills. And you’re right, I’m with you. And writing brought me to wine. Wine, for me is my excuse. It’s my hook. It gave me the confidence to actually start publishing professionally, to get paid for it. But what I used to do was marketing in high tech, and I would write these customer success stories. So it was all marketing oriented. But that was the aspect I liked most; researching people’s stories and bringing them to life. I just didn’t have the confidence to be a writer writer. So we share that. That’s neat. I like that. You know, you’ve really focused on Bordeaux. So what’s been your most memorable experience drinking Bordeaux? Like what Bordeaux was it and where were you there then?
Jane Anson 12:54
This is a tasting that happened about 18 months ago, and I will always for the rest of my life, whenever somebody asks me that question, this will be the answer; I guarantee it. It was at the Palace of Versailles in November of 2019. And not knowing, obviously, that it would be the last time for goodness knows how long, to have that kind of an evening where you wear a beautiful new dress that you’ve just bought and you’re dressed up and there are a thousand people in the room, that kind of stuff that now seems like a another world that never happened. But anyway, it was a charity event at Château Versailles. And it was held by Mouton Rothschild, and we tasted the 1945 Mouton Rothschild, the Victory vintage; the first vintage to have a new label since the 1920s:, a special label that was painted in honour of the victory. And it’s a wine which you’ve heard so much about, you’ve read so much about and can’t even imagine that something can live up to the promise of a wine like that. But I can’t tell you the frisson of excitement of all 1000 people in that room when they brought in magnums of the 1945. And it was beautiful. It was still fresh and young. Young isn’t the right word; you didn’t need it to be young, but it was still fresh and complex and layered. And just it was an amazing wine. And also just thinking what was happening at that time when that wine was made, particularly with Mouton Rothschild. They’d had their French nationality stripped of them during the war, Baron Phillipe had crossed the Pyrenees to get out of France. He’d kind of gone into England. And then he was part of the Day landings; he wasn’t June the sixth, he was about two or three weeks later, but he was part of D day landings coming into France, reclaiming Paris and I mean, just the thought of all the history in that bottle. It was amazing. It was amazing.
Natalie MacLean 14:47
I love that story. And Versailles, the Sun King palace, I mean, oh my gosh, I can imagine you in a long gown and glittering and oh my gosh, what a story. That’s terrific. I mean, that’s a magical moment. But what drew you to Bordeaux in the first place rather than say Burgundy or Champagne or other illustrious regions?
Jane Anson 15:05
I love that you’ve picked those things because my husband and I were in London. And we just had our first daughter. We have two girls and we just had Lauren who is now 17; 18 in three months time. And we thought we would just go and spend a year in France. You know, I just had my first child, I thought, well, I’ll take a year. Maybe I’ll write a book, you know, the kind of dream that you think you have so much time when you have a new baby; I’ll just quickly write a book.
Natalie MacLean 15:35
That’s so cute.
Jane Anson 15:37
So yeah, so we thought we would go to France. And we were exactly thinking that. We were thinking, should we go to Burgundy, should we go to Champagne because we both knew that we wanted to get more involved in wine. Francis, my husband, was always a Bordeaux nut since he was a teenager, you know, he’s drunk a lot of Bordeaux and he’d been a few times and he read a lot about it. I was more Italian wine, really, I wasn’t particularly that bothered about Bordeaux wines specifically. But I knew I wanted to write about wine. So we were thinking exactly as you did, either Champagne, Burgundy, or Bordeaux; it had to be one of those three in terms of editors wanting copy and it working. And we decided Bordeaux was closer to England. So London to Bordeaux at the time, right up until COVID arrived, you could get three flights a day between Bordeaux and London at least. So you never felt very far away from home. It really it felt like I could have been moving to Scotland or Cornwall, or you know, anywhere within the kind of easy access of my family. And the weather’s nice, we’re only two and a half hours from Spain here. And I knew that Bordeaux wine, had such a great history and links with England, that I just felt that there’d be something as a writer to kind of get to know here. But I can definitely say I didn’t know enough to be scared. I think had I known that Bordeaux was so illustrious in the world of wine and the people who were writing about it then, like Robert Parker, or like Hugh Johnson, or you know, all of these really venerable people, I think, had I known that I might have been too scared to do it. Luckily, I was too ignorant to actually care.
Natalie MacLean 17:03
That’s what we do with a lot of our life choices. It’s like, thank goodness, I didn’t know all the implications, because I’d still be cowering in the corner or something. But that’s fascinating that you mentioned the British connection, because of course, you’re British. And so Bordeaux definitely has a stronger link with the British historically. Tell us about that.
Jane Anson 17:26
It’s actually quite amazing. When you start looking at the history of Bordeaux, that a lot of the actual structure of how Bordeaux wine is sold, obviously not made, but how it’s sold, really does date back to 1152, when this part of France became part of a Duchy, basically, of the English crown. And there was a woman called Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was French, who owned this part of France through her father. And she married her second husband, who quickly after their marriage became Henry the second of England, who actually was also French. Her first husband was the King of France. So she definitely did pretty well
Natalie MacLean 18:05
A good network.
Jane Anson 18:07
And when they married, the whole of her lands, became almost like English soil. So if you made wine here, and you sold it in London, you’re paying no taxes. It was really an extension of the same market; compared to if you were selling it in Paris, you were crossing enemy land to get there, you were probably paying various taxes along the way. And it meant that the trade in Bordeaux focused outwards, right from that time. It was a wine which was made locally, but was created with another outside market in mind, in a way that most of the wine regions never even are today, and certainly weren’t at that time. So today, Bordeaux wine is sold through this kind of slightly weird network of having the producer, and then a broker, and then a merchant. So you have like this three layer system, even within Bordeaux. And the reason that began was right back from when the English were here, because you had overseas merchants being the British speaking English, and then you had the local French people making the wine. And you needed people in between the two to kind of do the trade. And that’s how this strange system of Bordeaux has grown up. So it is really fascinating that even though that continued for 300 years, but from the mid 15th century, it’s gone back to being French. Of course, it’s always French now. But that kind of remnant of the English time here is still part of the DNA. So it is very, very interesting from my point of view.
Natalie MacLean 19:34
And is that what they call la Place de Bordeaux vin?
Jane Anson 19:38
Yeah, la Place de Bordeaux is kind of a virtual marketplace. And it has grown out of that original system.
Natalie MacLean 19:44
Okay, because 70%, I think you’ve written of Bordeaux wine, is sold indirectly. There’s not a direct connection between the buyers and the sellers. It’s through that third party, the négociants, the merchants, is that correct?
Jane Anson 19:57
Yeah that’s exactly right.
Natalie MacLean 19:59
Okay you’ve also mentioned that 70% of wine in Bordeaux used to be white or sweet. So was it the British influence that caused the flip to the red? The claret?
Jane Anson 20:10
I love that question. So those 300 years when it was English, it was mainly red there. The English basically preferred red wine, drank more red wine. Still, I don’t know if that’s true today, actually, maybe it’s kind of even today. But the switch in Bordeaux came after the English left when the Dutch came; because the Dutch have always been much more interested in white wine, and brandy and all that kind of thing. So there was an awful lot of white wine produced. And right up until the 1970s, there was a little bit more white wine. So in 1970, it was more like 53 to 47%, or something like that. But then from 1972, or 1973, I can’t remember the exact date now, it switched to red. And today Bordeaux is 90% red wine. So it’s really been a big switch. And I think one of the things I find interesting about that, is that we tend to think of Bordeaux as being such a kind of traditional, unchanging region. But then just that one statistic tells you, in fact, like everywhere, Bordeaux is perfectly capable of changing and adapting to what consumers want.
Natalie MacLean 21:13
Oh, that’s a great insight to draw from it, and the fact that they remain outward focused with an international focus.
Jane Anson 21:20
That’s a really good point. You’re right. And in fact, it’s kind of so interesting to see the effect the impact on Bordeaux that all of these foreigners have had over the years
Natalie MacLean 21:30
Yes. And you’ve called the region a land of immigrants. So tell me about the impact that the Irish had there.
Jane Anson 21:36
Okay. So the Irish came a little later. The English we can think of, like 12 to 15 century, and they had a lot to do with the structure. How is the wine sold? The Irish came a little later, like 17th or 18th century. So lots of English left, you’ve had the Dutch, you’ve had Germans, a lot of people from basically the Northern European countries. And then 17th-18th century, you had a lot of Irish, they ended up being up to a third of all of the immigrants who were living in Bordeaux. The interesting thing is not just Catholics, some were Protestants some were Catholic,
Natalie MacLean 22:09
Why were they coming to Bordeaux? Were they escaping something?
Jane Anson 22:13
Sometimes they were escaping from religious persecution. You know, we’re close, we mustn’t forget just how close geographically, this part of France is to England and Ireland. So it was pretty easy for them to get across the sea. And Bordeaux has always been a very successful port. There’s always been money to be made here. So the Irish have, throughout history, this incredible waves of immigration that have gone from Ireland to America to Canada to France to you know, all over the world. That’s really been a feature of Irish history.
Natalie MacLean 22:46
Absolutely. My grandmother was a Brophy, by the way,
Jane Anson 22:48
Mine were Irish too. So my great-grandmother and my great grandfather were both; one was from Tipperary and the other from Kilkenny. How about you?
Natalie MacLean 22:58
I should know where she came from. I know more of my Scottish heritage because I’ve got Scottish on both sides. And of course, I’ve watched Braveheart. So I know all about the history. My mom’s doing a family tree. So I’m going to have to ask her where did the Brophy’s come from? I should know that. But I’m more up on the Scottish side.
Jane Anson 23:17
How lovely to have Scottish and Irish. Very, very nice.
Natalie MacLean 23:21
People think it makes me an automatic, I don’t know, have a Teflon liver or something. It’s like that’s why you’re writing about wine.
Jane Anson 23:26
Maybe that’s true for both of us. So the Irish who came here were mainly merchants. And they also bought Châteaux; one of our most famous Châteaux today, Léoville Barton, is still owned by an Irish family. And in fact, the Bartons came in the 17th century, and they’re one of the very few who have, if not the only one, to have survived every single problem along the way. So the French Revolution, they were here during the French Revolution, they had to transfer the ownership of their estate at the time to a friendly local business partner of theirs, so that it wasn’t taken away and given to the state. But they survived the French Revolution. And both world wars, they were there at the 1855 classification. So they’re really a fascinating family to think about the history of the Irish. But when you look at when there were a lot of Irish here, they were responsible for a lot of the trading, but also a lot of the blending. I’m sure you know that part of the history of Bordeaux wine is today, everything is made at the Château and blended at the Château. But for a long time, it was the négociants who were responsible for blending the wine and ageing it and then selling it on. And the Irish merchants were particularly known for mixing up different Châteaux or different styles. And so if you look at old archives, you can see some of the Irish merchants taking maybe 50% of Blaye, adding in 10% of Lafite, putting in a little bit of wine from the Rhone Valley or you know, just really mixing it up because again, they were thinking about that end consumer and they were trying to find flavours that they thought their consumer would like. So it was much more kind of like making a branded wine today, as opposed to trying to kind of keep the exact imprint of a specific Château, which is how we think of fine wine today.
Natalie MacLean 25:13
Absolutely. Is that because they are all meeting at the pubs and talking and horsetrading?
Jane Anson 25:18
There’s a little part of Bordeaux called Chartrons. A gorgeous, gorgeous part of the city that’s right down on the riverfront. And that’s where all the merchants were. So I bet they will have been tasting each other stuff and checking out what works.
Natalie MacLean 25:30
Now, you said this was a famous port. So lots of trade passing through. What about the slave trade? What impact did that have on Bordeaux?
Jane Anson 25:38
So Bordeaux was, think about 16%; let’s say between 15 and 20%, of the whole slave ships of France went through Bordeaux, at the heigh of it. Places like Caen and Nantes, to name a few of the other places, the other places started earlier, to the point that actually Colbert who was the Minister of Finance under Louis the 14th came down to Bordeaux. I think he sent his son, and they were cross with the Bordelaise merchants, for not bothering to make their own ships. Because Bordeaux had always been a port, there would be maybe Dutch ships, who would be part of the slave trade and other ships that would come here. But the French didn’t own their own. The Bordelaise didn’t own their own, to the point that Colbert came down and said, right, you need to get into this trade, because there’s money to be made here. So I think the year was 1682. I do have it somewhere. But I think in 1671 a local company was formed to do slave trades. And it ended up that about 15 to 20 ships per year would leave Bordeaux and be part of this triangular trade. It is something which the Châteaux do not talk about enough, because honestly, quite a lot of them were involved, certainly a lot of the négociants. And they may not have been actually sending out the slaving themselves, but they were benefiting from the trade. They were benefiting from the fact that this was such a lively port. And what would tend to happen is it would leave France and go to either the West Indies, we had an awful lot of stuff in the West Indies, this part of France, or to Africa, and then go over to the States. And you have these wonderful big warehouses in Bordeaux along the riverfront. And they would have stored sugar or coffee or Calico, you know, different materials, as well as wine. It was really a very important centre for all kinds of trading. And so you wouldn’t really see the impact of slavery here specifically. I think in the archives, there were maybe 300 freed black slaves in a couple of years that I’ve looked at the end of the 17th century. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t benefit and an awful lot of these gorgeous, gorgeous buildings that you see in Bordeaux are made on money, which is built off the slave trade. I would say in the last decade, there has been more of a reckoning. They have now a very, very good permanent exhibition at the Musee d’Aquitaine; one of the big museums here, which is a permanent exhibition, which looks at France’s role in the slave trade. And that’s really important. And you’re starting to get that kind of thing. But I very much hope that Châteaux over the coming years will; its not same owners today, but I think it’s still important to talk about the fact that this happened.
Natalie MacLean 28:11
Yes, absolutely. And were the slaves involved in building the Château or building the buildings or was it just the profits that were used to?
Jane Anson 28:17
Yeah, it was.
Natalie MacLean 28:20
Okay. Wow. So let’s get to that 1855 classification, and what were the pros and cons. So it was Napoleon the third, and he classified all of the 61 Bordeaux Châteaux at the time into tiers of quality. So you know, five first growth and so on. What do you think are the pros and cons of that system today? Because it still remains very important.
Jane Anson 28:43
Okay. So if we take ourselves back to mid 19th century, we’re about 50 years after the French Revolution. And after the French Revolution, most other countries in Europe wanted nothing to do with France, because most countries were monarchies, of course, at the time, and the thought that France had dispensed with its own monarchy in a rather abrupt manner, did not kind of endear them to the other great trading nations around. So by the mid 19th century, you’d had various Napoleon’s in and out, the monarchy being restored, and then it had gone away again. And you were taught you were really in a sense of stability by 1855. And the French were really saying, “We’re open for business, we want to get back onto being seen as a partner for trade globally”. And so this was seen as kind of the way to demonstrate that.
And so everyone had to show what they were best at. And so obviously, it happened that Bordeaux came up with this wine ranking. There were four first grades; I’ve covered this in my Bordeaux book. It’s only one chapter, but I do look at the 1855 ranking. So you had four at that time, mid 19th century, and then 100 years later, Mouton Rothschild was promoted to join them. So part of the story I look at is just how unbelievably hard it was for Mouton to get that. It basically took them 50 years of lobbying five different agricultural ministers, and just not giving up until finally somebody agreed to do it. And anyway, I would say it’s probably the world’s first culinary ranking, probably the first time in the world that anyone can look at a list of products, consumable products and say, “Okay, I get it. This one is better than that one.” And it was simple. I would say that’s a lot of its power. The fact that it’s there, even though obviously, we know everybody knows really behind these things, it isn’t simple. And because it hasn’t changed since 1855, there are plenty of Châteaux that have changed in terms of quality. And maybe if we did it again today, what position they would be in? So that kind of thing could change.
But I can guarantee you, they will never redo 1855, because there’s just too much invested in it as it stands, and you don’t need it to change. I think today, it’s part history, it’s part of something to live up to. So in the 1970s, after World War Two, a lot of these Châteaux had absolutely no money. And a lot of them nearly disappeared. So in the early 1970s, probably four or five estates that are in 1855, very, very nearly went completely out of existence because they had almost no vines left and they had no money to invest. But the fact that they were part of the 1855 system, gave people something to live up to. And I think it was really a great reason why people might come in and buy that estate, or a new family member might come along and think you know what, there’s something here. And so they reinvested and now they’re all back up to really fantastically high quality. There’s a benefit for that. I would say don’t follow it slavishly, definitely, but I think it has a value.
Natalie MacLean 31:45
Did you come up with your own informal ranking system of Bordeaux?
Jane Anson 31:49
My latest book Inside Bordeaux, I have for each one put the 1855 ranking and the JA ranking for these
Natalie MacLean 31:58
Sorry, what’s the JA rankings?
Jane Anson 32:00
Jane Anson ranking
Natalie MacLean 32:03
I see, be familiar with that soon.
Jane Anson 32:07
It is not a big part of the book for me, really it isn’t. But I thought it would be a fun thing to do. I’ve only ever taken people down one. I’ve never taken people up more than that. Because the point is not to be cruel. The point is not anything other than to say, I sometimes think that these guys could maybe do better. But I have more put people up that I feel like they really are truly making brilliant wine. So I can give an example of somebody who’s put up; Pontet-Contet, so a fifth growth in 1855. And I put it up to being a second growth in my JA ranking. So I’m totally happy to promote people more than one rang; row, rang is Franglais, sorry. More than one row; but I don’t put them down more than one.
Natalie MacLean 32:49
Did anybody make it up to the first growth?
Jane Anson 32:51
I think I put Léoville-Las Cases up from second to first. Okay. And one other I think; I put Palmer from third up to first.
Natalie MacLean 33:00
Oh, wow, that’s great. They must be happy with that. Then do you think that sort of hierarchical structure of 1855 led or played a part in any way of the craze for scoring wine? Which is another way of ranking wines? Do you think the two are connected in any way?
Jane Anson 33:18
I definitely think this has kind of a downside as well as this idea that it’s simple. Here we can see this is one, two, three, four, five and of course, it’s the same thing with scores. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, this 98 is much better than this 93” Is seems simple. But actually in just the same way as 1855 sometimes. What are we? Monday evening? I want to have, let’s imagine I’m going to have a really simple supper tonight of I don’t know, tomato pasta or whatever. I would much rather have a 93 point wine with that than I would have a 98 point wine with that, because I wouldn’t be looking for big, powerful, impactful, going to take 20 years to age, I’d be looking for something which is smoother and easier and maybe more friendly and more approachable.
So I think just that tiny thing tells you that it’s never as simple as just following the points. It’s always about what mood am I in? Who am I drinking it with? Etc. And if we think about the points out of 100, I mentioned Robert Parker a bit earlier. Clearly, he’s the person who is most associated with the one hundred point score. But I guess to be completely fair to Parker, when he started it, he was actually hoping to go against the 1855. He was trying not to be such a straight jacket. And I think he was very much trying to say, “it doesn’t matter what they have on their label, I am bothered about how good is the wine?” And can I show consumers wines which are really over delivering and it doesn’t matter if they’re classified or not.
So I think it started out probably with very noble intentions. But I definitely score wines because, you know, you have to really, it’s really very difficult not to now, but I very strongly feel read the notes rather than just the scores. And for me, it’s a snapshot in time. There are certain wines which do blow you away with how great they are. And it’s cool to be able to say oh my god, this is a 98 or this is 100 but it’s only one tiny part of the joy of wine.
Natalie MacLean 35:13
Absolutely. As I’ve always thought you know, it’s hard to trap a subject experience into a number. But I tried to go without scores for the first three years that I wrote about wine. I just got so many emails going, “Come on, we don’t want to spend more time on buying wine than we have to. It’s like buying toothpaste, just tell us if it’s good or not, and signal that simply in a score.” So anyway, I caved
Jane Anson 35:36
Yeah, I hear you, I had exactly the same thing
Natalie MacLean 35:41
Yes. How much influence did Robert Parker or does Robert Parker have on Bordeaux wine? What was it? And what is it today? His influence
Jane Anson 35:50
So I mean, he was obviously in his heyday when I moved here in 2003. So he’d already been 20 years of being a very important part of Bordeaux. And there is absolutely no question that for a long time, he had an enormous influence to the point that people no matter what they say now, there was no doubt that there was at least a strong motivation to make your wine in such a way that he would have awarded good points. So you know, there’s just no question about that. I would say over the last decade, it has really righted and gone back. And I mean righted purely in the sense that I’m not trying to be anti Parker, I mean, it’s kind of stabilised and gone back away from those high extracting wines, big, big, big alcohols, and more towards what is probably a more natural Bordeaux style, which is a slightly more balanced, slightly more elegant because we are in an oceanic climate here. We’re not like Napa, where you can very naturally get to hugely high, big overripe fruit notes. If you want that you’ve got to really push it. So there’s a lot of just a return, I would say to a slightly more balanced style.
Natalie MacLean 36:59
And why is that? Why have they gone back to a balanced style?
Jane Anson 37:03
Well, I think because Parkers’ influence has lessened obviously now he’s retired. I think that there’s a general feel in the world of wine, generally moving away from those big over extracted kind of flavours. It’s such an interesting question. And I expect even if Parker was able, none of us are able to do this forever, but even if he was still doing what he did now, I’m sure he himself also would have evolved away from that style. Sometimes I wonder,” Is it because now we’ve got global warming every year? Now, the question is not, can you get ripe enough? The question is, even here in Bordeaux, can you control your sugars, can you control your alcohol, all of those kind of things. So maybe it’s not so clever anymore to push and get all of those extreme flavours. Maybe the skill of being a winemaker today is to kind of step back, take your foot off the pedal, because we have the very real problem of summers being too hot and too dry. So I don’t know, I guess it’s a mix of lots of different things. But I would definitely say there is a sensibility, a realisation now of how to take your foot off the pedal with winemaking.
Natalie MacLean 38:14
I like that metaphor. And you’ve mentioned climate change. So what has been the impact on Bordeaux with climate change that you’ve seen over the past whatever, 5 to 10 years
Jane Anson 38:24
I would say it’s interesting looking purely at the grape varieties. Here in Bordeaux, we’re a blend of different varieties. So you have a little bit more leeway in terms of what you use and what percentage to use. But when I moved here, 20 years ago, there was a lot less Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot than there are today and even Malbec. So these kind of grapes which are used in 5%, 10%, even 2% of a blend, they are now being used more and more, because they give a bit of extra spice, a bit of extra acidity, slightly lower alcohol. Merlot is still hugely important in Bordeaux. But there is a realisation that Merlot, more than any other grape, is at risk of going too far of becoming too big, too ripe, etc.
So people are doing a lot to try and work with other grape varieties to help the blend. In terms of viticulture, there’s changes from when I moved here. And again, it’s not fair if we just use the shortcut to say Parker style. It is not specifically him. But what is certainly true that back in 2003, 2004, 2005, though, people were stripping the leaves so that they’d expose the grapes entirely to the sun to get them as ripe as possible. Nowadays, you would cover the leaves as much as possible to try and shade them from the sun to keep those kind of fresh flavours and not make it too jammy or too high in sugar. So just little things like that, and seeing those kind of changes.
Natalie MacLean 39:52
That’s great,that’s good to know. So when a lot of us think about Bordeaux, especially, I think, in North America, we think the grand Châteaux, we think really expensive wines out of reach. But why is that a really incomplete picture?
Jane Anson 40:04
So these classified estates, the kind of, let’s say, $30 $40 plus estates only make up about not even 5%, of the whole production here. Let’s imagine 5%. There are about 6500 Châteaux in Bordeaux today. That’s a lot less than when I came because a lot of guys are kind of amalgamating or they sold up or whatever reason, but there’s still a lot of winemakers, 6500. And I would say, really, maybe 500 of them are the kind of people that we’re talking about that, we imagine with their grand Châteaux, where they can sell for whatever price they want to, or certainly at an expensive price where they know that they’re sustainable, they can employ somebody to do the marketing, they can have their first class seats on the plane and go off to do some wonderful tasting in New York, etc.
But most estates here are like wine makers everywhere in the world, they are family run, they’re doing it the best they can to hand on to the next generation, or they’re changing from a different career. And they’re doing something bigger. “I’ve always wanted to be a winemaker.” So they’re just trying it out to me, there are a lot of fun, interesting, smaller estates, who are really pushing at the boundaries. And that’s one of the things that I really have tried to do in Inside Bordeaux, in my latest book, is to give just as much respect and space to those guys as the classified estates. For all of them I have tried to give enough time to say why this estate is interesting, who’s running it today. Not about the history so much as what’s happening now.
And I’ve done that just as much if it’s a small Côtes de Blaye estate or Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux estate, or if it’s a classified Château Margaux, because I think in each case, we as wine drinkers will go right back to what we said at the beginning, both of us, it’s the stories behind them. That’s so interesting. Why are they making wine? What is it that’s making them stand out from other people? And what were you as a wine drinker? What can you tell your friend when you’re opening this bottle? What’s kind of cool? There’s one guy whose family make wine today, but he designed the Orangina bottle, you know that very, very famous kind of bulbous Orangina bottle in the 1950s.
Natalie MacLean 42:17
Does he make orange wine? I have to ask.
Jane Anson 42:20
He should. They’re really missing it. There’s a good opportunity there.
Natalie MacLean 42:27
Yeah, exactly. I love those tidbits. And you’ve got 800 Châteaux in this. You surely didn’t have to visit 800 Châteaux.
Jane Anson 42:34
I visited a lot of them. What I definitely didn’t do was get somebody else to visit for me and tell me about it. So I either visited every single one myself, or I had tasted every single one in some instances. So for example, like a Lalande de Pomerol, which is a smaller appellation here that that of course I knew, but I didn’t know as well as I knew I had to know for writing this book. So I went to the Maison de Vin, the local kind of wine body. And I said to them, can you set up a tasting for me, and so they would have set up maybe 50 different estates from there. I would then do a horizontal tasting of them all. And then the ones that I particularly thought were really interesting and brilliant, then I would go to visit them. So sometimes I would have a kind of paring out process before I got to the actual visit. But I definitely wrote an awful lot, I mean, it took three years of research. So that was a lot of visiting. And also, I mean, I visited a lot of estates that I hadn’t visited before, even if I thought I knew them well, or, you know, the thing about Bordeaux is, it doesn’t matter how long you’re here, you never know, everything in this place. There’s just so many estates
Natalie MacLean 43:45
And they keep increasing or amalgamating or whatever. They won’t stay put for you. Three years, that’s a lot of work. Oh my goodness. I’m going to screen share Jane. And let’s look at this beautiful book. Oh, look at it. 700 pages.
Jane Anson 44:00
They have done a wonderful job, this gorgeous kind of gold leaf
Natalie MacLean 44:05
Oh my gosh. Okay. Let’s see. Now. Um, there we go. And let’s see if I can get this enlarged. There we are. Okay. Can you see my screen? Okay. So here it is. We were just looking at that. What do they call these little ribbons, I guess they’re bookmarks, beautifully designed. Now you went through an unusual publishing process. How did you find a publisher for this? ,
Jane Anson 44:12
You’re absolutely right. This is not a publisher in the traditional sense of the word. This is through a wine publishers, who is a wine shop in England, called Berry Bros & Rudd (Berry Brothers), one of the oldest and most venerable wine merchants in England. And they, over the last 10 years, have paired with a brilliant, brilliant, small pair of publishers called Chris Foulkes and Carrie Segrave, who for their career, have been publishers. Many of the great wine writers of England have worked with this couple previously. And when Berry Bros decided they wanted do just a very small amount of high quality wine books they went to Chris and Carey and asked if they could start an imprint. So it’s separate to Berry Bros.
At no point was I told by Berry Bros to include these estates, etc, etc. It is a separate imprint, but they’re the people behind it. And about, I guess now maybe eight years ago, they did a book called Inside Burgundy. Inside Burgundy is written by Jasper Morris MW, and he wrote a brilliant, very in depth guide to Burgundy. And so this Inside Bordeaux is kind of a companion piece to Inside Burgundy. I had almost signed a contract to do a book about Bordeaux with somebody else. And it was a very happy meeting that I met Chris and Carrie, at a time when they were basically saying, they were looking for somebody crazy enough to take on the project of doing Inside Bordeaux. Because you could not write this book if you didn’t live here. And you couldn’t write it if you weren’t just prepared to work really, really hard. And so luckily, when we met each other, it was the right time, both sides knew that we would be able to do it justice. I was so lucky to meet them.
Natalie MacLean 46:02
And I just want to remind those of you who are watching. One of you is going to get a personally signed copy of this gorgeous book. In Canada, the distributor is the wine agent, All the Right Grapes; you can also purchase a copy from them. Now, Jane, you have your distribution around the world. It’s all very exclusive, like Sotheby’s. And so on people can’t just go to Amazon and get this book.
Jane Anson 46:16
But that was a really important decision that was made. Because making this kind of a book, it is really a big investment in the terms of, that’s why I’m so lucky to have met a publishing house, who was prepared to put in the time and the effort and the budget to make a book with these kind of maps, and this kind of research. And, you know, we all know, it’s difficult to find publishers now who will be so patient. So for example, we thought initially, this would be a two year period of writing, but it stretched to being three years. And we thought that it might be 500 pages, it turned out to be 700 pages. And at every point, they said, “We want you to make the best book you can do, you know, do the work.” They were just so, so great.
But because of that, we made the decision not to sell through Amazon, because Amazon takes such a large percentage that it would have been difficult for the publisher to put all that investment in, and then not control the distribution. So the way we’ve chosen is, we’re in 20 countries, it’s been really wonderful. But for each country, we have a distributor and you’ve got the links. All the Right Grapes is amazing; I’m pretty sure we made our first contact via Instagram or Twitter or you know, we were talking about the book and he said he was interested and it went from there. So we’ve been so lucky to find people who really supported us. But it has meant that this kind of a book has a life, which is wonderful,
Natalie MacLean 47:46
It’s a classic that should be part of every wine lovers library, not just those who are studying, perhaps for certification, but anyone who loves Bordeaux wine. It is just beautiful. Tell us about the maps, there are 65 of them. And we’re looking at one right now. You call it a gate-fold or sort of a ladder fold-out. What’s unique about that?
Jane Anson 48:06
So this is something I haven’t mentioned so far, I was incredibly lucky to find BB&R (Berry Bros. and Rudd) press, so and Chris and Carrie. But the other thing that I was lucky about was that I got to write this book with a scientific adviser who’s called Professor Kees van Leeuwen and he is a Dutch professor, who has lived in Bordeaux for I think longer than I have, I think probably 25 years or 30 years. And he’s a terroir expert. You said right at the beginning of your intro that I had done a course at the Institute for Wine and Vine Science; he was one of my professors. I’d also known him as a journalist, because he used to be kind of the technical director of Château Cheval Blanc.
And he did a lot. I’ve met him before he was my teacher. But as soon as he was my teacher, I really had my eyes opened to how brilliant he is, because he has the ability to talk about things like terroir and soils and these concepts, which could be a little bit boring or a little bit complicated and certainly difficult for us to connect with emotionally. And he had this ability to make everything seem so fascinating and clear. And it was during one of his lectures, this is now probably 10 years ago, that I first thought, “Oh my God, why is nobody talking about Bordeaux in this way. And I know that I can help wine people, wine lovers get excited about whatever again, by just starting to see it in a different way.” And that is by going a little bit underground and approaching Bordeaux in the way we approach Burgundy without even thinking about it.
We talk about terroir and Burgundy and we kind of don’t here. So anyway, Kees and I had discussed writing a book together, off and on. We’d had discussions about it. But then, when I met Chris and Carrie, I knew that I had to go back to Kees and say “Please, will you be the scientific adviser and thank God he said yes.” So the maps have come from that, from his brilliance. But what we did and why they’re so unusual, is that we basically did a stocktake of all of the maps that were out there about Bordeaux and that had been put together over the last couple of decades. And you had various maps by different people, sometimes they might have been geologists, sometimes they were soil scientists, whatever. So they were all coming from different angles.
Some of them were very small scale, some were huge scale, some had actually been published, some just sat in the drawers of various professors. And so what we did, was we brought all of those together. And then Kees, either he’d done them originally or he worked with the people who had or we redid them so that they’re standard. So this really is new material that has been brought together, overseen by Kees and other people as well. But every single time he has made sure that the colours are the same scale, it’s the same, so it makes sense for people who are reading it. And there are a couple like from Fronsac, Montagne-Saint-Émilion and up in the northern part of the Médoc that we’ve redone just for this book. So they are completely new research. And where we don’t have them, if there’s any places that are missed, it’s because it doesn’t exist.
And we will do it for the next time. But you know, this really is super, super exciting. And it’s why this book has worked for so many different people. I have had at the end of last year, probably the most satisfying week, in terms of reviews. This was given Book of the Year by The Irish Sun, which is a normal tabloid in Ireland and at the same time, The Times literary supplement. In one week, both of them gave this book one of their Book of the Year awards.
Natalie MacLean 51:38
Oh my goodness, not just wine Book of the Year, but Book of the Year category!
Jane Anson 51:41
It made me think it’s so cool that we’ve managed to hit those different target audiences. Because the bits which I write, I really hope I make it kind of fun, and clear as much as possible and a lot about human stories. But then there’s also this really quite in-depth scientific, adding to the conversation about Bordeaux and adding to what people know about Bordeaux through genuine research. So you know, that was really very satisfying for Kees and for me to get that reaction.
Natalie MacLean 52:11
Fantastic. And now these maps, not only do they fold out, making them easier to read, you don’t have to get totally microscopic, especially for people of a certain age. But you’ve done something really interesting. So on one side, we see the maps and the soils? What’s on the flip side of some of these maps?
Jane Anson 52:29
Let’s look at the picture that’s up in front of us right now. So on the left hand side of that gate-fold we have kind of a classic view. It is in green, you can see the river and this is basically your classic look at the appellations and in each one of that you will see the names of the Châteaux, you’ve got little points that show you where the Château is. But then on the other side, on the right hand side, the different colours you’re seeing here are different terraces, gravel terraces. So the Médoc is made up of six different gravel terraces. They’re one to six. And I tell you in the book, what does that mean, what’s the difference between these terraces? One of the crazy things when you start to look is, that of the 1855 classified estates, they are all bar none, on terrace three or terrace four, really incredible.
So what you can do here, is you can look and see the name of the Château on the left hand side, and then you can flip over and see what kind of soil is it on, on the right hand side. And through the book, I kind of try and tell you as much as possible. Of course, it’s complicated. And there’s always an exception to things. But I try and say to you, if the Château is on this type of soil, this is what it will taste like in this kind of a vintage. So if it’s a dry vintage look for wines on limestone, because they will keep their freshness more than a wine that’s on a very, very dry, gravelly soil that might get too hot. That kind of thing.
Natalie MacLean 53:50
Sure. So you’re getting back to the real dirt, the real stories, the real people, and it’s kind of neat. It is the sort of underground history. It’s like, let’s look below the layers because we think only of these grand Châteaux; I call it castle marketing. But there’s so much going on underneath here. And you’ve shown it so beautifully with all of these maps. Alright, so cool. Well, I wanted to hear more of those stories that you had in the book. You’ve talked about how wine methods and wine making methods have changed due to climate change, but there’s also been a lot of invigoration in wine making techniques. Like you mentioned, eco forestry and biodiversity, a lot of big initiatives. What are those about and how how’s that happening in Bordeaux?
Jane Anson 54:10
Because Bordeaux is such a big region and makes so much wine it can also be the poster child for a lot of the bad stuff about wine. So I would say probably five years ago or so there was a big exposé on French TV about the amount of chemicals that were being used in Bordeaux wine making, in traditional Bordeaux wine making. It was slightly unfair because they were measuring the overall amount of chemicals across the whole region. And this is a much bigger region than most other regions. So in that way, they were unfairly pointing out what was happening in Bordeaux. But that’s not to say that they didn’t need to make huge improvements; they definitely did. And over the last decade, and particularly over the last five years what you’re starting to see is not just estates moving towards organic and biodynamic, which is happening, it’s about 10% of the region today that is organic or biodynamic certified, but you’re also seeing bigger, wider projects.
So the appellation of Saint-Émilion, for example, as of next year, I think next year, maybe 2023, if you want to have the name Saint-Émilion on your label, you must be making your wine under some green initiative. So you must either be organic or biodynamic, or there’s a thing called HBE, which is an environmental certification. You know, they’ve got a list of about 10 different things that you can choose to be. But if you’re not doing that, you can no longer call yourself Saint-Émilion. So that’s a great initiative. And then the appellation of Margaux, they have huge biodiversity programmes, which about 70% of the population has signed up to and there, you have to do things like planting hedgerows, making sure that you have places for birds to nest, or everyone’s making honey. Now in Bordeaux, it’s like the big thing.
Natalie MacLean 56:11
Because that encourages the bees, which in turn encourages other good things
Jane Anson 56:14
Gets the biodiversity going exactly. So agroforestry is something else where either it’s happening within their estates, or there’s a few properties who are planting in the centre of France in compensation for what’s happening in terms of vines. So people are just starting to kind of open their minds a bit more and be a bit more aware. The downside of Bordeaux unquestionably, is it’s almost a monoculture in terms of the vines, and vines are everywhere here. And if you look right back again, in the archives, one of the things that I just love so much about the history is look at Pauillac. Pauillac today is one of the most famous appellations in the world, really makes all these wonderful wines and three out of the five first growths come from Pauillac. The real planting happened in Pauillac between 1700 and 1750. Before that, they were mixed use farms.
So people had a bit of vines, but they were doing other things as well. But in the early 18th century, suddenly, people realised you could make a lot of money planting vines. And because the people who owned the land didn’t live here, they were wealthy, they lived in Paris, or they lived in Bordeaux or wherever. But they weren’t the people who were actually trying to live off that land. So they just planted vines everywhere, to the point that everybody was starving. Because at that time, you know, you had to be growing locally, you couldn’t pop down to the shop and buy whatever, Everything was what you were making yourself.
So one of the problems that they think happened by the time of the French Revolution was that in this part of France, and in the Médoc, there were so many vines planted, that people were genuinely having problems getting any other food. And so it was creating all of this unrest. You look back in history, the problem of monoculture has always been a problem, even if it’s not to do with the environment. But what’s happening today is that people are much more aware of plants and other trees among the vineyards or make sure they’ve got them. There is a lovely estate, Château le Puy, which is on the right bank. And they say for every single hectare of vines that they plant, they’ll have a hectare of wild flowers, or a hectare of forest or something else.
Natalie MacLean 58:20
That mindset is pervasive. You chronicle another winery; Is it the Château Fleur Cardinale that does something with their crates that they sell the wine in?
Jane Anson 58:28
Yes,just this year. Château Fleur Cardinale, exactly, Saint-Émilion. And so on the base of that wooden crate when you buy the wine, they have instructions on how to turn it into a box for birds, how to turn into a bird box. And they’re going to do it as a competition each year where anyone who’s a consumer can write in with ideas for how to recycle the box. And they’ll print the best one on the bottom of the of the wine box each year, which is very cool.
Natalie MacLean 58:55
That’s creative. That is great. So for those of us who are hunting for bargains, there’s quite a diversity we’re understanding now, but where should we be looking? What regions and or vintages are going to offer us the most value?
Jane Anson 59:10
The great thing about the fact that Bordeaux is led by vintages, is that if you find a vintage which is less media kind of championed, you’re likely to find better prices. And again, one of the things I’m really trying to do in the book, because I want to be as consumer led as possible, is trying to say there’s no such thing as a good or bad vintage. You know, there’s always places that do well and places that do less well. And also, my suggestion would be to think of it like this. “Is this a vintage to wait for a long time, or is this a vintage where you can drink it sooner? So there’s years like 2007, for example. 2007 wasn’t so media friendly. Over the last decade, people have not really talked about it, but it’s tasting really delicious right now, because it isn’t a vintage to put away for 500 years or 50 years whatever. It’s a vintage to drink. And now a lot of those wines are ready to drink. I’m talking of the bigger estates, the classified estates. And so 2007 is a great place to look right now.
Years like 2011 again, tasting delicious now, but people don’t really think about them and you’ll always find slightly lower prices. Even in big great years, so if you think of 2010 or 2016, both years, which everybody said were brilliant, and they are, but they were very expensive. That’s when I would suggest you go to look at places like Fronsac or Lalande-de-Pomerol, or these smaller appellations, because everywhere did well in those kind of vintages. So you don’t have to spend the money necessarily to go to the big estates, unless you’re wanting to do it as an investment and keep it for decades. But most of us, that’s not why we’re buying wine.
Natalie MacLean 1:00:49
That’s true. And I love how you’ve written before; just go over the hill, or across the street, just outside the big marquee names. Instead of Saint-Émilion is it Montagne-Saint-Émilion or something like that, or the Côtes?
Jane Anson 1:01:03
Yeah, exactly. And that’s where you’ll often find, for example, that’s a great example there’s a Côte called Castillon and another one called Francs-Côtes-de-Bordeaux. And both of them are over 50% organic or biodynamic. They are really the centres of green winemaking. And there’s so many delicious wines, and particularly because now we’re having warmer and drier summers nearly every year. Limestone is absolutely coming into its own right now. And those places Castillon and Francs-Côtes-de-Bordeaux, they have a lot of limestone. So they do great in hot summers.
Natalie MacLean 1:01:38
And that’s because they have a lot of acidity, is it the drainage is that what it is?
Jane Anson 1:01:44
Basically any terroir is good if it monitors, if it controls water supply. That’s why it can be great on clay, it can be great on gravel, it can be great on limestone. It’s all about how it supplies the water to the vines at the right moment in the growing season. And in a hot year. limestone is great because people say it’s like a sponge, but it’s true. It holds water, but it’s not too waterlogged, and it will kind of let the vines get the water when they need it. And it keeps freshness; it keeps acidity as you say.
Natalie MacLean 1:02:19
That’s great. And so are you optimistic about Bordeaux’s future Jane?
Jane Anson 1:02:23
Yes, I do think that we probably will see changes and I think in 50 years, it’ll be interesting to see how it changes. I think that Bordeaux is adaptable and they have the money which is important. They have the money to be able to invest in research to how to adapt. I think that what we’re seeing now; we talked about viticulture, different things like all kinds of rootstocks and how high they’re training combines all kinds of things, different grape varieties that they can introduce that is still within the traditional grapes of Bordeaux but in different blends, different percentages. But I definitely think that parts of Bordeaux, which have been discounted before for not getting ripe enough, will become more and more important. So like Castillon, like Côtes-de-Francs, like Fronsac. And like the northern part of the Médoc, which, for years, people said, “Oh, rustic tannins never get ripe enough. Lots of green notes because they just don’t get ripe.” I think we’re gonna really start to see that they make some great wines in the coming decades.
Natalie MacLean 1:03:19
Well, that’s good news for consumers. Oh, my gosh, what an amazing conversation. I could go on for hours. But I know you have a life Jane. Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to mention now as we wrap up?
Jane Anson 1:03:34
No, just that I’ve come here as an outsider. Now, I love Bordeaux. But I didn’t come here thinking I was gonna fall in love with Bordeaux. Definitely one of the things that I’ve loved about writing this book and doing the research is just feeling kind of enthused again, just how much there is happening here, which people don’t talk about it and don’t know. That’s very fun.
Natalie MacLean 1:03:54
Absolutely. Hold up your book again, please. And I just want to remind people as we’re looking at this gorgeous book, go and buy yourself one from All the Right Grapes, or is there a central website where you list all distributors around the world.
Jane Anson 1:04:08
Okay, bbr.com, this website in London, on that website, they have all the different distributors around the world.
Natalie MacLean 1:04:15
Okay, perfect, because we do have an audience outside of Canada as well. So they’ll want to know where to get this.
Jane Anson 1:04:21
I really appreciate so much you asking me on and taking the time. Thank you.
Natalie MacLean 1:04:25
Absolutely. Jane, you are a delight. And I’ve learned so much about Bordeaux. I’m enthused. I’m ready to dig back into Bordeaux. And I’m going to get your book too. And just do a tasting and then go to the maps. And I want to see what layers am I drinking? Literally, I can’t wait. All right, Jane. So we will say goodbye for now. But good luck with your future projects. And let’s stay in touch.
Jane Anson 1:04:49
Thank you. Yeah, definitely. I can’t wait to come to Canada and do some tastings with you; it would be wonderful.
Natalie MacLean 1:04:54
Oh, awesome. Thank you, Jane.
Jane Anson 1:04:56
Thank you. Bye bye bye.
Natalie MacLean 1:05:03
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Jane Anson. Here are my takeaways.
Number one: Bordeaux is so much more diverse than those big fancy Châteaux that we imagine, what I call castle marketing. I love that Jane searched for undiscovered regions, especially those that are satellites of more famous ones, like Montagne-Saint-Émilion rather than Saint-Émilion itself or the Côtes like Côtes-de-Bourg. Jane reminds us sometimes those hidden gems are just over a stream or around a mountain.
Two: Jane reminds us just how important soil is with her gorgeous maps that reveal the diverse underground layers of Bordeaux that in turn shape what we drink.
Three: I’m fascinated with the British influence on Bordeaux wine that dates back to 1152 when this region became part of a Duchy of the English crown. Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was French owned this part of France through her father. And after she married her second husband, who became Henry II of England, that helped establish Bordeaux as an exporting region. It gave it that outward focus internationally, as well as the style of claret that the Brits came to love.
Four: It’s interesting how the rise of wine critic Robert Parker influenced the style of Bordeaux toward a more fruit forward expression, and then how it has since receded to greater balance and elegance.
Five: I was pleased to hear about the many green initiatives alive in Bordeaux; from eco forestry to biodynamics. That’s so much more important than a newfangled marketing campaign. In addition to caring for the environment, I believe that these initiatives also require great attention to growing the vines, and that results in better wine.
In the show notes, you’ll find photos of Jane’s beautiful book, details on how you can win a personally signed copy of it, or buy a signed copy, a full transcript of our conversation, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, where you can find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube Live video every second Wednesday at 7pm, including our live stream watch party next week. That’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/115.
You won’t want to miss next week when I’m talking with Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, who wrote the Wall Street Journal’s wine column tastings for more than a decade. They’ve created the annual International Open that Bottle Night, a celebration of wine and friendship that takes place on the last Saturday in February every year. We’ll dig into what it’s all about during our conversation, and how you can win a signed copy of their book, Love by the Glass.
In the meantime, if you missed Episode 10 go back and take a listen. I talk about wines for seduction on Valentine’s Day. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
The research firm cyber pulse found that 59% of women ages, 21 to 39, wish their sweethearts would give them wine, not candy on Valentine’s Day. And London UKs Sunday Times reported that wine tastings rank above all other venues for finding a date. The reason? Wine means spending time together. In fact, I can’t think of an unromantic wine. However, when it comes to choosing the wines to celebrate Valentine’s Day, there are certain bottles that hold a special place in my heart. These are delicious wines that I can depend on year after year. And dependability and loyalty count for a lot, when it comes to both wine and love.
If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the tips that Jane shared. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week. Perhaps a beautiful Bordeaux. Post on social media about it and you could win a beautiful Bordeaux book.
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at nataliemaclean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Natalie maclean.com forward slash subscribe. May be here next week. Cheers