“Over the bottle, many a friend is found.” This saying proves especially true when the bottle in questions holds a fine Bordeaux, the gold standard of French wines.

Bordeaux is the largest (284,320 acres) fine wine-making region in the world. Though its legend ws built mainly on red wines—especially those from the Médoc, Saint Emilion and Pomerol—the region also produces whites (both sweet and dry) and claret, as well as a sparkling wine called Crémant de Bordeaux.

Thanks to an ideal climate and diversity of soils, Bordeaux is home to a variety of grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot (reds); and Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle (whites).

Thanks to centuries of wine-making experience, ongoing research, the skills of its winemakers and the subtle blending of the different grape varieties, Bordeaux produces wines for all tastes and budgets.

Though its most famous names—like Lafite Rothschild—command extravagant prices, there are many of what noted wine purveyor Sherry-Lehmann describes as “unsung heroes of Bordeaux,” all drinkable and often delightful wines, many priced at under $30 (and some under $20).

A pleasurable way of getting acquainted with Bordeaux’s legendary wines is to taste them at the source. Every two years, often in June, Bordeaux throws a big party, the Féte du Vin, a three-day extravaganza featuring opportunities to taste hundreds of splendid wines, sample local delicacies and generally celebrate the fruit of the vine.

Even when there is no festival, there are tastings galore, as well as a number of wine-related events in the capital city of Bordeaux.

Another option is to visit the region’s vineyard and sample wines bearing such iconic names as Médoc, Margaux and Latour. From late spring through October is an ideal time to drive from one magnificent châteaux to another, enjoying the local landscapes along with the wine. Tastings are often free or at nominal cost, though reservations must be made in advance.

A popular favorite with tourists is the famous Château Mouton Rothschild, which houses a fascinating museum housing antiques and artifacts collected by this glamorous family, as well as wine labels created for the Rothschild wines by such artists as Picasso, Chagall, Dali and Warhol.

Another interesting stop is the Château Smith Haut-Lafitte, one of the most prestigious estates in the Gironde region. In the midst of the vineyard is Les Source de Caudalie, a charming hotel that looks like a child’s vision of fairyland and a modern spa that uses products extracted from the polyphenols of grapeskins, seeds and indigenous yeasts.

If a trip to France is not on the calendar, the next best thing is to try the many good Bordeaux that are available in fine restaurants and wine shops.

Tasting Bordeaux

Bordeaux’s wines “go” with everything, from haute cuisine to sushi to a sample sandwich.

Forget the “rule” that says red wine goes with meat and white goes with fish. Dedicated oenophiles experiment to find their own favorites and make their own pairings. However, there are a few general guidelines that could be helpful for the beginner. For example, the lighter wines pair nicely with lighter dishes and the fuller-bodied wines make a nice accompaniment to heart dishes.

With seafood, fish and fowl, try light- or medium-bodied whites or medium-bodied reds. With meats such as beef and lamb, try some of Bordeaux’s famous full-bodied reds.

If several wines are to be drunk during a meal, the progression is generally from light to full-bodied.

Most red wines taste best between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit; whites and rosés are best served between 55 and 60 degrees.

To open a bottle of Bordeaux, cut around the top foil with a sharp blade about a quarter-inch below the rim, wipe the rim and then remove the cork. The cork should be moist; if it’s dry the wine may have been stored upright and has oxidized. Pour a partial glass, swirl the wine to aerate it and release the bouquet. Smell the wine. If there is a musty smell, the work may be bad. If you detect the smell of sherry, the wine may have been “maderized” as a result of exposure to heat or poor storage. If either of these should occur in a restaurant, you have a valid reason to send the wine back.

When tasting a very young wine, open it early to give it oxygen and let it “breathe.” This will soften the wine and release the aromas. When tasting an older wine with sediment at the bottom of the bottle, handle it carefully and leave it upright for a few hours. Then carefully decant it to remove the sediment. Use a clear-stemmed tulip-shaped glass to help release the aromas. Fill the glass about one-third full so you can swirl the wine and savor the “nose” (aromas).

Keep in mind that what makes a wine “good” is that you like it.

Kosher Bordeaux

With Rosh Hashanah so near—it begins the evening of September 29th—it’s good to know that there are fine alternatives to some of the less distinguished wines of yesteryear. Today, the same grapes used in the better French Bordeaux go into wines vinified, blended and bottled under kosher conditions.

One of the most famous of French winemakers, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, whose house makes the famous Château Mouton Rothschild, offers a true Bordeaux, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (like most of the region’s wines) under the Mouton Cadet Rouge label. Other fine kosher Bordeaux include: Marquis de St. Estephe, Château Roc de Boissac, Château Bel Air (Bordeaux Supérieur) and Château Haut Breton Larigaudière Margaux.

Wine May be Good for You

Louis Pasteur called wine “the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.” Modern science appears to support his claim. Wine, both red and white, contains polyphenols, natural compounds that act as antioxidants, protecting body tissues from damage.

According to a number of studies, wine (in moderation) may have several health benefits. For a long time, scientists were puzzled by what was known as “The French Paradox.” The French loved to cook with butter and cream, they enjoyed rich meals and desserts. So why didn’t they have a high rate of heart disease? The answer was: wine. It seems that drinking a glass or two a day may reduce the risk of heart attack. Studies also suggest that wine breaks up blood clots and raises HDL (good cholesterol), which reduces the risk of strokes. Still more studies suggest that moderate consumption of wine may lower the chances of developing kidney stones, blindness (in people over 65) and Alzheimer’s disease.

À votre santé! Cheers!

For more information about Bordeaux’s wine country, visit bordeaux.com; for information about visiting the region, check bordeaux-tourism.com. The next Féte du Vin is in 2020 bordeaux-wine-festival.com.