It was a map that did it. A map I drew, actually. And to be precise, a crudely drawn, over-simplified, partially inaccurate map of Bordeaux that I still have tucked inside my wine notebook. Yes, I have one. I’m not ashamed.
I’d been drinking wine for a while but had never been interested in geeking out about it. I’d also been listening to Winestein talk about wine ― a lot. He’s the sort who would spend his free time studying Joe Bastianich’s 544-page Vino Italiano. I listened mainly because I wanted him to continue paying for my booze.
One day, having heard enough Left Bank and Right Bank talk, I decided to put my pen to it and draw it all up.
Enter big Bordeaux-like blob with a thick line right smack in the middle. On the left is the Left Bank, trailed by four of the five first growths listed in ascending order of intensity ― Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. (All I knew at that time was the Left Bank; I had never heard of Médoc). On the side, I scribbled a little note: Cabernet Sauvignon 70%, Merlot 30% ― a rough indication that wines from the Left Bank are Cabernet-based and therefore more powerful, richer, and have better aging potential.
And on the right is the Right Bank headlined by Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. (Wha―? Did somebody say Fronsac?) Side note: Merlot 70%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30%. Here, Merlot’s fruity and accessible traits take center stage, making the wines of the Right Bank generally smoother, more elegant, and more refined.
My map was drawn and it was like someone switched the lights on.
Everything I’d heard up till that point fell into place. Bordeaux sparked off a succession of other crudely drawn, over-simplified, partially inaccurate maps. I went on a map rampage with Burgundy, Tuscany, Piedmont, you name it, I tried to draw it. And it was so much fun.
And here’s the irony: I never had a head for geography. I still don’t. But all this map drawing has helped me understand a little better where wines come from and why they taste the way they do. My maps also help me understand wine labels a lot better too, especially with wines from the Old World that don’t list grape varietals on their labels. In such cases, it becomes handy to know that a wine labelled Fronsac comes from the district Fronsac, next to Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, which means it’s Merlot-based.
All this just because I drew a map.