Bordeaux is one of the most famous French wine regions, and it’s known for its impressive Châteaus — extraordinary estates producing some of the most coveted wines in the world.
Bordeaux, though, is not one thing but many. Winemakers here produce various wine styles, from approachable everyday reds to luscious, sweet dessert wines. Getting to know this unique wine region intimately is incredibly rewarding but quite a challenge. Therefore, here’s a brief introduction to the region. Sit back and relax, and let’s imagine ourselves at the banks of the Gironde estuary, where the magic happens.
We spoke with Pierre Hourlier, founder of hourlierwines.co.uk. “Bordeaux wine has a lot of history and production here is ideal due to the region’s climate. The Bordeaux region is home to some of the best red and white grape varieties France has to offer. There is a Bordeaux wine for everyone and demand for these historic wines continues to grow.”
The History of Bordeaux
Bordeaux history is extensive, as it goes back to the Ancient Romans 2000 years ago. The region’s ideal climate for viticulture means people have consistently grown grapes here. The city of Bordeaux was a prominent port that shipped wine, mainly to England, where people fell in love with the region’s ‘clarets’.
Part of the larger Aquitaine, Bordeaux was part of England for a few years, which led to the Hundred Years’ War in 1337. A breakthrough came from the Dutch wine traders in the 17th century, who drained a large portion of the land, then a swamp, to uncover the flatlands now paved with vines.
Bordeaux has enjoyed popularity since then, and it’s still as well-known as ever. The quality, though, continues to improve, making Bordeaux a region to keep an eye on.
Bordeaux More Prominent Appellations
Reading French wine labels can be confusing. They’ll seldom tell you what’s inside the bottle, so knowing a few appellations is critical to understand what you’re getting. These are some of the most common appellations in Bordeaux.
Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superior. This appellations are reserved for fruit-forward wine meant to be enjoyed young. These are often affordable and have an excellent quality-price ratio.
Sauternes. An appellation reserved for sweet white wine made with grapes infected by noble rot. These are celebratory wines with high sugar levels and balancing acidity.
Pauillac, Margaux, Pomerol, Saint-Emilion, and others. These appellations cover the vineyards surrounding specific communes or towns. They represent the highest quality and are often made by exclusive Châteaus. The wine is primarily red, and it ages very well.
-What is a Cru? Some wines in Bordeaux are part of an exclusive classification that took place in 1855 for the International Fair. A handful of wine estates were classified in Premier, Second, Third, Fourth or Fifth Crus or growths and are Bordeaux’s top wines. Premier Crus are amongst the most exclusive wines in the world, but Fourth and Fifth growths represent an outstanding value.
Terroir is a French term that can’t be translated easily. It kind of means ‘sense of place’, but it talks more about how the climatic and geographical conditions influence the wine’s personality.
Bordeaux’s terroir can be tasted in every glass of wine. You can taste if the wine came from a cloudy and rainy season or a rarer bright summer. You can taste if the grapes grew in the regions deep gravel banks or its clay slopes. That’s terroir.
Bordeaux lies on the left and right banks of the Gironde Estuary formed by the Dordogne and the Garonne rivers, and folks in each side of the river specialise in subtly different wine styles.
The Left Bank
Left Bank Bordeaux is famous for being home to some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes in the world. Here, gravelly soils left by the Dutch engineers that drained the area in the 16th century are perfect for growing red grapes — the vines must dig deep for water and nutrients.
Names like Medoc, Graves, Pauillac and Margaux are common, as every commune along the river has its own wine appellation or AOP. These communes make extraordinary red wine. Other communes in the Right Bank specialise in sweet white wine, mainly Sauternes. Winemakers here harvest grapes affected by the noble rot that dries up the fruit leaving nothing but the most luscious sugar behind.
The Right Bank
Right Bank Bordeaux is even older than the other side of the river. The Ancient Romans tended the vineyards here! Here, the soil is mostly clay and limestone, so Cabernet Sauvignon is less common. Instead, winemakers blend Merlot and Cabernet Franc for impressive red wines.
Saint-Emilion is a prominent commune in the Left Bank and is the source of pretty famous wines. The neighbouring Pomerol needs no introduction — this is Merlot’s ancestral home, and the wine is gorgeous! There are many satellite wine regions around Saint Emilion and Pomerol, and they represent an excellent value.
The vast land between the Dordogne and the Garonne rivers is called Entre-Deux-Mers and means ‘between two seas.’ Although you won’t find expensive wine coming from the region’s richer soils, Entre-Deux-Mers is the source of refreshing white wines and fruity reds for everyday enjoyment.
Not Bad for a 2000-year-old Wine Region!
Bordeaux is a source of collectable wine and delicious red, white and sweet wine to enjoy every day, on any occasion. There’s a reason why most wine regions worldwide imitate Bordeaux’s wine style; they’ve truly mastered their craft. Now it’s your turn to make their wine part of your life!