Bordeaux is situated in South West France within the Gironde Department. There are two rives running through this Department – the Dordogne and the Garonne. The city of Bordeaux sits astride the Garonne. These rivers, as well as Bordeaux’s proximity to the sea, make for some very unique wines.
Bordeaux now accounts for about a quarter of all wine produced in France and are probably the most influential and debated wines of the world, with critics such as Robert Parker, responsible for huge fluctuations in case value, once he has deemed whether a particular vintage or even a particular Chateau is worthy or not.
The classification of Bordeaux wine is incredibly complicated.
In Medoc and Sauternes, wines are classed using the official classification of 1855. There are 61 ‘Crus Classes’ which are subdivided into 5 sections:
1. Premiers Crus – red wine first growths; these are Ch. Haut-Brion, Ch. Lafite, Ch. Latour, Ch.Margaux, Ch. Mouton-Rothschild.
2. 2nd growths (14 Chx)
3. 3rd growths (14 Chx)
4. 4th growths (10 Chx)
5. 5th growths (18 Chx)
Since this classification only covered a very small number of producers within the Medoc region, a further classification (Cru Bourgois) was introduced in 1932. This covers an additional 200+ Chx and divides them into Grand Cru Bourgeios Exceptionnel, Grand Cru Bourgeois and Cru Bourgeois.
For wines from the Graves area, there is no ranking but all wines listed may be called Cru Classe.
Saint-Emillion wines work differently again. There is a separate AOC called Saint-Emillion Grand Cru which is divided up again into two sub categories, Saint-Emillion Grand Cru and Saint-Emillion Grand Cru Classe.
Bordeaux grape varieties
There are 14 grapes allowed to make Bordeaux wine but in reality only 5 black grapes and 3 white grapes are used. These are:
Red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet France, Malbec, Petit Verdot
White grapes: Semillon, Sauvigon Blanc, Muscadelle.
Click here for more detailed information on grape varieties and their attributes.
Medoc wines are almost all red, grown on clay and gravel and with Cabernet Sauvignon as the main grape. Wines best known from this region include Saint-Estephe, Paulliac, Margaux and Saint-Julien. All of these wines command extremely high prices. A visit to the are is well worth it and is only a short drive away from the centre of Bordeaux.
Graves wines are both red and white, with most of the reds coming from north of the region. The soil is gravel and the grape (for the reds of course!) is Cabernet Sauvignon. The white wines tend to be very dry and of excellent quality.
Wines from Sauternes are considered the finest sweet white wines in the world and are made from mainly Sauvignon and Muscadelle grapes. The damp river conditions are perfect to encourage Noble Rot, which concentrates the sugars in the fruit and produces the intense sweet taste. Mostly the grapes are picked by hand and yields are low, both of which drive up the price of these delicious wines.
Saint-Emillion wines can be found to the East of Bordeaux, centred around a beautiful village of the same name. It is a nightmare at the height of summer because of the influx of tourists, but go out of season and you’ll be charmed. Most of the wines are red, using the Merlot and Cabernet France grapes. Whilst you are there, drive on over to Pomerol where the famous Chateaux Petrus and Le Pin are produced, but don’t forget to take out a second mortgage first.
Pocket Vintages Recommends
At 14% alcohol it packs a punch but the easy blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc makes it a smooth mouthful.
Which French wine vintages were the best? Click here to find out.