Bordeaux: An introduction to the wine region

Lying on the Atlantic coast in the southern part of western France, and divided by the Gironde Estuary and its two major rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne, Bordeaux remains one of the finest wine producing regions in the world.

France’s fourth largest city, Bordeaux, lies in the centre of the region which is divided into key areas with the Médoc and the sub-regions of St Estèphe, Pauillac, St Julien, and Margaux on the left bank and Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Bourg and Blaye on the right bank of the Gironde River. Additional wine regions include Graves which is south east of the Médoc and includes the sub-regions of Pessac-Léognan, Sauternes and Barsac. Across from Graves on the right bank is the Entre-Deux-Mers (literally ‘between two seas’) area between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.

The Appellation d'origine controlee hierarchy in the region is split into three levels; generic, district and commune. Generic applies to AC wines produced in the Gironde, while District refers to the highest attainable appellation in a particular locality such as the aforementioned Entre-Deux-Mers. Commune Appellations are the highest appellations in Bordeaux, excluding the Saint-Emilion Grand Cru AC.
Northerly in the winemaking context and residing in a temperate environment, the vintages of Bordeaux wines vary each year. Reds and whites produced in the region are almost always a blend of grape varieties (Sauvignon Blanc being the exception to the rule) so to contend with the varied weather patterns and subsequently unpredictable vine growing conditions.

The region boasts as many as fourteen grape varieties under Appellation d'origine controlee regulations, but five black grapes and three whites are principally used more than the others.

Cabernet Sauvignon is Bordeaux’s classic and archetypal black grape and accounts for three-quarters of the blend in Medoc’s finest wines, although this figure significantly decreases across the rest of the region’s plantings of black grapes. At its best it produces tannic wines with strong blackcurrant tones.

Cabernet Franc is predominantly grown in Saint-Émilion but also in the Medoc and Graves and produces a far greater yield than Cabernet Sauvignon but with a less significant body and finesse.

Merlot produces a medium yield of full-bodied wine which, like Cabernet Franc, matures quicker than Cabernet Sauvignon and when added to the latter it adds richness and a fuller body. An important grape in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, Merlot is often blended with Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon because on its own it can lack character, fruit, colour and tannin.

Malbec’s importance is declining due to its susceptibility to coulure (a viticultural hazard that prevents the grape from developing after flowering) but is used in wines from Bourg and Blaye, while Petit Verdot is used in blends but not significantly so. When added to other varietals it can produce exotic spicy notes.

In Bordeaux, the white grape Sauvignon Blanc is increasingly used for single varietal, dry white wines that produce distinctly vegetal and elderflower aromas. Its high acidity balances out the heaviness of Semillon, which is the most widely planted white grape in Bordeaux and used frequently with sweet wines. Muscadelle is blended in sweet wines due to its Muscat flavour.

To view all our wines from Bordeaux click here
Images by Martin Greffe


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