what's in a name?

Bordeaux's illustrious history of wine production extends back to the Middle Ages. In the 12th century, Richard Coeur de Lion used Bordeaux's wines for his household. His brother, King John, introduced the region's wine merchants to the English during his reign.

The English connection continued to bolster Bordeaux's status when Samuel Pepys, the English diarist, drank some claret in a cafe called Pontacks in 1663. He described the beverage as having a "good and most peculiar taste".

Fifteen years later, John Locke visited Bordeaux and was astounded by its fecundity, although, as he wrote: "Pontac, so much esteemed in England, grows on a rise of ground, openmost to the west in pine white sand, mixed with a little gravell. One would imagine it scarce fit to bear anything."

But bear great things it did, and by the following century was favoured by America's elite. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson purchased a couple of fruity little numbers - a 1784 Chateau d'Yquem and a Chateau Margaux - which he described as "indeed dear". The man who became the third president of the United States knew his wines; in 1885 both were included in Bordeaux's top five. But he may have been shocked to discover quite how dear they would become. In 1986 the bottle of d'Yquem fetched $56,000 at auction and the following year the Margaux was bought for $30,000. It was, of course, only a half-bottle.

Bordeaux's reputation has carried it a long way. The famous chateaux of the region have no need to entice passers-by with slick tourist packages and information centres; bulk orders account for 99 per cent of sales, and in recent years, sales to the Far East have sky-rocketed. But for how much longer can this continue?

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