Everything You Need to Know About Bordeaux
Bordeaux might just be France’s most misunderstood wine-producing region. Although best known for its classified ‘Growth’ bottlings, the region’s viticultural scene goes far beyond just that. Home to crisp whites, dry (affordable!) reds, and one of the world’s most complex sweet wine productions, it’s safe to say that Bordeaux is no stranger to versatility. The region’s savory, food-friendly bottles are perfect for popping on weeknights at home with a variety of cuisines, and best of all, most of them are more affordable than you think. Get to know the ins and outs of this renowned French wine region, here.
The wine region of Bordeaux is located in southwest France and is centered around the city of Bordeaux. Over 120,000 hectares of vines are planted, which makes it one of the largest wine producing areas in France. Although best known for its classified Growth bottlings, most of Bordeaux’s wine production is centered around everyday table wines, produced in red, white, and rosé formats. Most of Bordeaux’s vineyards are situated around the Garonne River, which helps moderate the region’s overall climate. More than 700 million bottles of wine are produced each year in the region.
Classification Systems / Styles of Wine
As with the rest of France, Bordeaux classifies its wines under the Appellation d’Origine Protégée system. There are currently 60 appellations in Bordeaux, and over 8,500 growers call the region home. Unlike Burgundy, where winemakers refer to their estates as domaines, Bordeaux-based wineries are usually recognized as châteaux.
Powerhouse reds may be Bordeaux’ claim to fame, though the region is also home to an incredible white wine production, too. Crisp, dry whites are produced from Sauvignon Blanc and/or Sémillon, and some of the world’s best dessert wines are made in the Sauternes and Barsac appellations. Bordeaux is also home to an extensive sparkling wine production, known as Crémant de Bordeaux. These wines are produced from the region’s white handful of white grapes and are made via the méthode traditionelle.
Rosés are also widely produced within the region, ranging from pale-hued pinks to dark, near-red clarets. On the red wine front, the biggest takeaway is that not all dry reds from Bordeaux are expensive! Bordeaux’s production of ‘everyday drinkers’ is vast, versatile, and definitely worth exploring. When it comes to variety, Bordeaux’s got the right idea.
Bordeaux is broken down into two major regions: Left Bank and Right Bank -- though it doesn’t stop there. Bordeaux’s Left Bank is home to most of the region’s big name châteaux, including the five classified First Growths. To the north of the city of Bordeaux, one can find the powerhouse appellations of Saint-Estephe, Margaux, Haut-Médoc, and more. South of the city sits Pessac-Léognan and Graves, as well as the dessert wine appellations of Sauternes and Barsac. Reds from Bordeaux’s Left Bank are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon dominant, with other local varieties smattered into the blends.
On Bordeaux’s Right Bank, Merlot reigns king. Here, one can find the famed appellations of Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, and Fronsac, most of which are centered around the city of Libourne. To the north, most of the region’s Côtes de Bordeaux lies centered around Blaye. Wines produced on Bordeaux’s Right Bank tend to be more supple and approachable in their youth, mostly due to their higher percentages of Merlot.
Wedged in between the two banks lies the Entre-Deux-Mers region. This part of Bordeaux is known for its affordable table wine production, most of which is meant to be consumed in its youth. Red Bordeaux Supérieur, dry whites, and rosés/clarets are produced all across the region on both Banks, as well as in Entre-Deux-Mers.
Image credit : Decanter
One of the many reasons that Bordeaux’s winemaking scene is so vast and robust is that its climate is basically perfect for cultivating grapes. The Gironde, Garonne, and Dordogne rivers help naturally irrigate the land and moderate temperatures, and the region’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean also plays a huge role in its overall climate.
Bordeaux’s Left Bank is mostly dominated by gravel soils, while the Right Banks soils are more clay heavy (hence Cabernet production on the Left and Merlot cultivation on the Right). The region’s top vineyard sites are cultivated on the hills surrounding these three main bodies of water and are composed of well-draining soils. The region’s overall climate is Atlantic, which means vineyard sites can get rather humid -- however, this isn’t a bad thing. Although humidity can lead to vine disease and pests, it also helps create foggy conditions, which in turn, leads to the growth of botrytis (noble rot). This noble rot is an essential component to the make the famed sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.
Grape Varieties / Flavor Profile
The six main grapes used in Red Bordeaux production are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenere. As of July 2019, Marselan, Touriga Nacional, Castets, and Arinarnoa are also permitted in regional blends. Most Left Bank blends consist of at least 70% of Cabernet Sauvignon, while Right Bank blends are usually made up of at least 70% Merlot.
Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon are the two main white grapes used in white wine production (both dry and sweet). Muscadelle, Sauvignon Gris, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and a few other lesser-known varieties are also cultivated, though in much smaller quantities.
Wines from Bordeaux, particularly the highly sought after reds and dessert wines from the Left Bank, are known for their impressive ability to withstand the test of time. These wines have been known to age for decades in the cellar, thanks to their high amounts of acidity, prominent tannins (red wines), and structured backbone. Most reds from the region will usually benefit from at least a few years of age, though many can certainly be drunk in their youth. Dry whites tend to be consumed young, though these bottles certainly won’t get worse with a touch of age either.
Read More: Everything You Need to Know About Aging Wine
When it comes to serving Bordeaux wines on the table, the possibilities are endless. These wines tend to show their best when consumed alongside equally flavorful dishes, so we always recommend sipping wines from Bordeaux with food. For bold reds, especially those with some age on them, pair them with red meats, lentil stews, and all things grilled. In the realm of dry whites, oysters and Bordeaux Blanc are a match made in heaven. And for the most decadent of them all? Dessert wine pairings. While savoring these bottles with fruit pies, tartlets, and other equally sweet treats is never a bad idea, popping these wines alongside something savory (think foie gras or pungent blue cheese) is absolutely out of this world. Trust us, these pairings will change your life!
Read More: Our Tips for Pairing Food & Wine
As always, knowing who to drink from is key. Here’s a short list of some of our favorite Bordeaux-based producers that you absolutely need to know:
- Château Brane-Cantenac
- Château Grand Puy Lacoste
- Château Lafon-Rochet
- Château le Puy
- Château Talbot
- Domaine de Galouchey
- Vieux Château Certan