The wines of Bordeaux can mean the pinnacle of fine wine, or good value, everyday drinking with prices that can go from $10 to a thousand. The amount and variety of Bordeaux wine is staggering. If you could only drink wines from Bordeaux, you would be well satisfied, quenching your thirst with some of the best wines in the world.
The Bordeaux region in western France surrounds the city of Bordeaux and stretches to the Atlantic. There are about 57 appellations (wine regions) within Bordeaux, which is the world’s most famous wine region.
Most red Bordeaux wines are made almost entirely from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with small amounts of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The proportions vary in the different appellations. The English call this wine Claret (and you’ll see some US wines using this moniker).
Wines from the Médoc appellation use primarily Cabernet Sauvignon. While those from Pomerol and St. Émilion have larger percentages of Merlot. As a general rule, wines on the left bank of the Gironde (which divides Bordeaux) focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and those on the right bank favor Merlot.
White wine lovers are not forgotten in Bordeaux. Two of the appellations, Graves and Sauternes, are known for their whites. The major white grape varieties used are Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. While Sauternes makes world famous sweet white wine, Graves is known for dry whites. Bordeaux is one of the few regions in the world to blend Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon and age them in oak.
The different quality levels of Bordeaux wines are: Bordeaux (simple drink wines), Region (from one of the 57 regions, e.g. Pomerol) and Region + Chateau. Chateau wines are the products of individual vineyards. They are entitled to have a drawing of the chateau on the label.
Some of the appellations have their own classifications. The term “cru classé” means classed growth. The term “grand cru classé” means great classified growth. Both terms indicate the wine is of a higher quality.
One of the most important events in wine history took place in 1855 in the Médoc region when a wine classification was created. Brokers from the wine industry were asked by emperor Napoleon III to rate the best wines in France for an international exposition. The top wines in Médoc were rated according to price (which at the time was directly related to quality). On this basis, the chateaus were divided into first through fifth growth classifications (or crus). The list can be found here.
The finest Bordeaux can age for a decade or more and be very costly. However, up to 80% of the total production of Bordeaux is priced between $8 and $25 – so there are plenty of opportunities at all price points.
If you haven’t yet expanded your wine map to include Bordeaux, the time has come!