On your reading list: Inside Bordeaux

Author:

Jane Anson, photographed at Berry Bros. & Rudd
Photograph: Elena Heatherwick

Wine writer, author and critic Jane Anson has recently released her latest book, Inside Bordeaux. She is the winner of the Ramos Pinto Online Communicator 2020 award at the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards 2020. We talk to her about mapping out Bordeaux’s wine regions in painstaking detail and uncovering the secrets of its terroir.

Back in 2003, Jane Anson packed up her mother’s old BMW 628 with her husband and six-month-old daughter in tow. She thought she was off to France only for a year or so. “It was completely mad. We didn’t have a plan; we just drove to Bordeaux,” she laughs. Some 17 years later, she calls the world’s most famous wine region home.

Jane Anson on Inside Bordeaux

BB&R Press published Jane’s latest book Inside Bordeaux in May. It may be a 700-plus page epic guide – with enough material to satisfy the most enthusiastic of wine geeks – but it’s also a gripping read, keeping the less initiated turning pages. “In every case I’ve asked myself, ‘Why am I writing about this château?’”, she says. “They’re only in the book if I’m telling you something interesting: who’s making the wines now, what’s different, what’s interesting or why it’s worth finding them.”

Jane’s hope is that people who pick up the book will feel excited – enlightened, even; her aim is that readers can look at the region in a new, re-energised light. As she puts it, “We’re trying to move the conversation about Bordeaux forward.”

A head start

When she arrived in Bordeaux, Jane immersed herself in studying the art and science of wine. She worked through WSET courses and a diploma in wine tasting from the Institute of Vine & Wine Science (ISVV). She initially secured a writing job at Decanter, later deciding that she was ready to start tasting professionally. “After about six years as the Bordeaux correspondent I got to the point where I wanted to go deeper,” she says, “to properly understand the soils of Bordeaux. I wanted to explore all the things that we talk about for Burgundy: are they true for Bordeaux and why? I didn’t want to write something that would just scratch the surface. I absolutely know that there’s a tonne of stuff in this book which we’re writing for the first time.”

Mapping out the region

The key to breaking this new ground came from a contact made while Jane was studying for her diploma. “I’d spoken to Kees van Leeuwen, a professor at the ISVV, about translating his scientific knowledge into a more readable format, but that would have just been about terroir. I was so lucky that he agreed to do loads of new maps for this book. They’re so ground-breaking that they will now be used to teach new students of oenology and viticulture in van Leeuwen’s classes. And that’s really exciting.”

The finer details

As you might expect, Inside Bordeaux takes you through the Left and Right Banks. What might surprise you is the level of detail and analysis that, Jane believes, has never been brought together. “On the Left Bank, there are six key gravel terraces that have an impact on the taste profile of the wines. We have mapped them from the Médoc down through Pessac-Léognan to Graves and Sauternes, showing how they differ. That information was all out there but never in one place. Then on the Right Bank a key feature is the limestone plateau. It’s often just talked about in St Emilion but we’ve mapped it all across Fronsac, Montagne St Emilion, Castillon. Feedback even from the winemakers is that they are using it to further their understanding.”

there are these gravel terraces, which people know about but not really: what we’ve done is go all the way from the Médoc down through Pessac-Léognan to Graves and Sauternes, showing how they differ. That information was all out there but never in one place. Then on the Right Bank you have all these limestone cliffs, and it’s often just talked about in St Emilion but we’ve done it all across Fronsac, Montagne St Emilion, Castillon. Even the winemakers are going to be learning new stuff.”

The terroir of Bordeaux

“We think that Bordeaux doesn’t have terroir in the same way that Burgundy does, but these things make a huge, genuine difference to what your wine is going to taste like. It means you can start thinking, ‘Ah, that’s why I like Pomerol, because it’s that kind of soil.’” Then, Jane explains, once you’ve unlocked that information, you have the key to discovering all sorts of new wines. “We’ve found other areas of Bordeaux that have similar types of soil – which might be less expensive – so you can use it as a signpost to find unknown or less expensive wines.”

Of course, Bordeaux is not all undiscovered terroir – it is after all home to the world’s most famous wines. Jane’s work shows why it’s not money, marketing or family that have made the region’s biggest names, but their terroir. “There is a reason why Lafite can make a 12.5% wine in 2018 when everybody else was making 14%, or 15% wines. It’s the soil: eight to 10-metre-deep fine gravel.” Simply put, she explains, gravel is elegance; clay is power; sand is aromatics. “Latour has a lot of gravel but it has a lot of clay as well, and that’s why Latour is a much more powerful wine than Lafite, and why Lafite is a much more elegant wine than Latour. When those things fall into place, it’s really cool: it adds another level and appreciation and understanding.”

A changing landscape

Considering the region’s terroir brings Jane to the next big issue that her book addresses: climate change. As the world warms, and winemakers find themselves dealing with increasingly unpredictable weather, Jane has interpreted the maps to highlight where is likely to cope best.

“It’s increasingly important, with the change in climate, to look where might be good as it gets hotter,” she explains. “If you’ve got a particularly hot summer like 2003, the traditional places that get really ripe might get overripe, so you can start to look where you can get some of those qualities without it having been pushed so far.” This is exciting stuff. No matter which vintage you, as a consumer, are looking at buying into, Inside Bordeaux can help you decode what you should be buying and from where.

She has been equally rigorous about which properties she should include. “I wanted it to be different,” she explains. “One of the things that I, personally, am very interested in is organic wines, biodynamic wines, green winemaking – the people trying to do something different.”

Inside Bordeaux by Jane Anson is out now. Order your copy here.