Bordeaux’s Wine and Trade Museum

I’m not a huge museum buff, but when I discovered there was a museum just blocks from my apartment devoted to Bordeaux wine and the history of Bordeaux’s wine trade (including two tastings!), I decided it was well-worth a visit. Located in the city’s Chartrons distrinct (where Bordeaux’s wine trade was established and flourished for many centuries), the Musée du Vin et du Négoce de Bordeaux is situated in Louis XV’s Royal Broker’s building at 41 rue Borie. Though full of history, the museum itself opened only recently in December 2008.

Burgundian tasting cups offered to Bordeaux's trade merchants when sampling its wine.
Burgundian tasting cups offered to Bordeaux's trade merchants when sampling its wine.
EUR 5 (student rate) bought me a self-guided tour of the museum, a video of the Bordeaux wine region today, and a tasting of both a white and red wine from Entre-deux-Mers. The self-guided tour includes a written guide (either in English or French) that discusses each exhibit in greater detail (apparently, the museum also offers guided-tours, but I was under the impression that those occur at random, i.e. if the guide happens to be on premise at the moment you arrive).
So, there’s lot to learn about Bordeaux’s wine past, and the factors which contributed to its success as a merchant city. However, I’ll leave you with the information I found most interesting from the self-guided tour:
  • The event that ignited Bordeaux’s flourishing wine trade occured in 1152 when Henry Plantagenet married Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry became the King of England a few months later, which lead to the English discovery of the wines of Gascony (region of Southwest France) and in particular, the Bordeaux Clarets (British term for red Bordeaux wine). A huge market was created in which Bordeaux’s vineyards filled England’s cellars.
  • Establishment of the Bordeaux “Wine Privilege” by the King of England in the early 1300s specified that Bordeaux wines, exempt of taxes, were to be sold first before other wines from the region. This protected the trading interests of the Bordeaux merchants (even during The Hundred Years’ War, in which both England and France were vying for the French throne). As the decree states: “Whoever tries to buy or acquire wines outside of Bordeaux… will risk a fine of 300 sous, will be dragged through the mire, and confined in prison at Saint Eloi until he has paid the fine.”
  • It was not known how to preserve wine until the Dutch introduced the use of sulphur to sterilize barrels in the early 1700s. Until that point, Claret had to be drunk within a year of the grape harvest. Yet, the “Sulphur Revolution” marked the beginning of aging wine in barrels, which lead to the production of a new kind of Claret that was stronger in color and more full-bodied. This wine was referred to as the “new French claret” and allowed France to compete with the full-bodied red wines from Spain and Portugal that were becoming popular on the market.
  • Though the 1855 Classification is the most famous, the first classification of Bordeaux wines was made in 1787 by Thomas Jefferson, then U.S. ambassador to France. Jefferson visited the vineyards of the Médoc region and drew up a precise description of the wines’ quality with a classification comprising of three quality levels.
Variation of bottle sizes compared to the traditional 750mL bottle (l-r): Mathusalem (6L or 8 bottles); Salmanazar (9L or 12 bottles); Balthazar (12L or 16 bottles); Nabuchodonosor (15L or 20 bottles); Melchior (18L or 24 bottles).
Variation of bottle sizes on display compared with the traditional 750mL bottle (smallest to largest): Mathusalem (6L or 8 bottles); Salmanazar (9L or 12 bottles); Balthazar (12L or 16 bottles); Nabuchodonosor (15L or 20 bottles); Melchior (18L or 24 bottles).

6 thoughts on “Bordeaux’s Wine and Trade Museum

  1. Lindsay, glad to read that you already discover this great city. The rule of Bordeaux by the English is still apparant in the UK today. Its capital London is still deeply rooted to the Bordaux wine trade. I doubt that another city exists in the world where wine plays such a vital role: I lived in London for 12 years, and I could go to wine tastings on a daily basis. Every wine merchant is actively envolved, small or large. Also wine education is superb. And most of the finest bottles of Bordeaux wines that were auctioned in the last decades came from English and Scottish wine cellars. I find this fact amazing, as the English rule of France ended quite a few centuries ago.

    1. Hi Markus, thanks for having a look. Yes, it’s really amazing the role the English market has played in the development of the wine industry. You’re very fortunate to have had that experience in London. Though other countries are catching up, I believe England has the most educated wine consumers (per capita, at least), and also the most diverse selection of wines available for all price ranges (For example, I’m rarely ever able to locate a wine mentioned by Jancis Robinson in the U.S… at least not in Rhode Island!)

  2. Great photo, but I believe you’ve actually labeled them right to left rather than left to right.

    Cool tastevin pic as well!

    Glad you’re having so much fun! I’m beyond jealous!

  3. I am searching for information on the Maury and Fontaine compant which had sme sort of monolpaly onB
    bordeaux wines arounf 1660. Anything?

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