Bordeaux has the most well established reputation for wine in the world. It is in this region that some of the best known, classic wines are produced. Bordeaux is one of the largest wine producing areas of France accounting for 10–15% of the total vineyard area and around 10% of the total output of wine. Red, dry white and sweet white wines are produced. Bordeaux is famous mainly for its red wines, which in Britain are commonly called Claret, but may also be referred to by the region of production within Bordeaux, such as Graves, Médoc, St-Emilion and Pomerol. Most wines from Bordeaux are sold under a château name.
Within Bordeaux, there are 60 appellations reflecting the various regions, many of which are almost more important in their own right. The Bordeaux area is subdivided in relation to the local rivers. The regions north of the Dordogne are referred to as the right bank (this includes some notable appellations such as Pomerol, St-Émilion, Fronsac, and the large areas of Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Blaye). The area in the centre of the Bordeaux region between the Dordogne and the Garonne is called Entre-Deux-Mers. Whereas the left bank refers to the western side of the Garonne, which includes the Médoc and Graves. Sauternes — famous for its sweet white wines such as Château d’Yquem, is located within the southern part of Graves. The Médoc, lies north west of Bordeaux on the western side of the Gironde estuary. It is further subdivided. The southern part is called Haut-Médoc and includes the world-famous appellations of Margaux, Pauillac, St-Estèphe and St-Julien.
Climate and Terroir
As with all classic wine regions, the climate has a significant impact on the style and quality of Bordeaux wine. Lying to the southwest of France, Bordeaux enjoys a maritime-influenced mild climate. The impact of the Atlantic means that spring frosts are not too frequent and plenty of rain means little chance of drought. However, if rain comes at the wrong time — during flowering or harvest, fruit set and quality of wine can be adversely affected. Consequently, Bordeaux wines are extremely susceptible to weather variations over the years and the quality of the vintages reflects this.
The variations in terroir are considered as major factors for the quality and characteristics of the wines of Bordeaux. The soil in Haut-Médoc is gravelly, retaining the sun’s heat and offering good drainage. St-Émilion is further inland so the climate is fractionally warmer and dryer, and the soil is a clay-limestone mix over limestone. This results in wine that is rarely as tannic as Médoc. The herb notes of the Cabernet Franc and the plumminess of the Merlot come through instead. Clay-sand and gravel-sand predominates in Pomerol with an underlying layer of iron-rich clay contributing to the power and structure of these wines. Chateau Pétrus is the most famous wine of Pomerol. It benefits most from the iron-rich clay, which is a key feature of its vineyards. This terroir produces the most powerful and sumptuous wine, which is so sought after that Chatea Pétrus is frequently the most expensive wine in the world.
In Sauternes and Barsac, the climate favours noble rot for the production of the famous sweet wines made in the regions. Cold misty mornings in these areas with warm autumn sunshine are key influences on the development of noble rot, without which these wines could not be made.
Grapes and Wines
The basic appellations covering the region are Bordeaux AOC, followed by Bordeaux Supérieur AOC. The specific wine regions have their own appellations, which are further ranked for quality according to a system of classification of the Châteaux wines originating from 1855.
The Médoc peninsula produces some of the finest reds in the world. Tannic when young they age to produce mellow and complex wines that command spectacular prices. The dominant grape tends to be Cabernet Sauvignon (typically around 70%), blended in almost all the great Médoc wines with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. For the right bank wines, including Pomerol and St-Émilion, Merlot is generally the predominant grape variety with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon constituting a lesser proportion. Other permitted varieties include Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère.
The finest dry white wines come from Graves. These are usually blends with Sémillon providing the weight and Sauvignon Blanc providing crisp fruit and a zip of acidity. Towards the southern edge of Graves lie Barsac and Sauternes, famous for their sweet wine.
Did You Know?
There is a significant historical connection for Bordeaux wines with England. When Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet, she controlled much of the region. So the Provence of Aquitaine, including Bordeaux, became subject to English rule when Henry inherited the throne in 1154. For the next 300 years, a huge trade in wine built up between the two countries and trading links have remained strong ever since.