The Legendary Wines of Bordeaux
An understanding of Bordeaux wines – what the classifications and districts mean, and what types of wines are produced – will really help to get the most out of your visit here, especially if you plan on doing any wine tasting and visiting the Bordeaux wineries.
Having a little background knowledge means you will also be able to decide how and where to spend your time, depending on your taste and budget.
If you’re new to the french wine regions and want to have a better understanding of the wines in Bordeaux, we’ve put together some info on this page, so you can learn about all the different types you can try (and there are lots!); all about the wine ‘districts’, or regions, in Bordeaux (what do they mean?); and some of the terminology you might come across if you plan to do some wine tasting, and how the classification and appellations work.
The Bordeaux wine region produces about 700 million bottles a year and is world-famous for its incredible vintages. Not only will you find red wines, but sweet and dry white wines, rosé and sparkling wines too – in fact there is such a variety of wines produced here that virtually every taste can be catered for.
A combination of grape varieties are used – the main ones are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot (red), and Sauvignon Blanc (white). They range from everyday table wine to some of the most expensive bottles in the world.
In a nutshell, here are the main ‘sub-regions’ within the Bordeaux wine region:
- Medoc (sometimes referred to as Left Bank) wines are mostly red. Many of the best known names are here, such as Margaux. If you’re looking for expensive french wine you’ll find plenty here! The Crus Bourgeois or Crus Artisans wines can be cheaper – ranging from between 10 and 30 euros a bottle.
- Graves and Sauternes. This area of the Bordeaux wine region is known for both red and white; the white wines here are very dry and of excellent quality. The top wines – Graves Crus Classés – can go up to around 45 euros a bottle. However most of the wines in the Graves region are reasonably priced – often less than 20 euros.
- The Sauternes are a sweeter and spicier white wine (similar to a dessert french wine). The more mature wines can be pricey (such as the famous Château d’Yquem Sauternes), although there are other varieties to try that are less expensive.
- Libournais (often called Right Bank) wines – covering St-Émilion, Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Bourg and Pomerol. St-Émilion is well known for its full-bodied reds…and is one of the most beautiful and interesting towns in the bordeaux wine region.
- Entre-Deux-Mers is known mostly for its dry white wines, and is well worth a visit alone for the pretty countryside and historical attractions such as the 10th century Sauve-Majeure abbey, in the village of La Sauve.
The classification of Bordeaux wines is complicated and has evolved throughout the course of history. The classification depends on quality, historical achievement, and market value/price.
The most well-known classification is probably the Medoc 1855, initiated by Napoleon, where the regions best wines have been categorised into ‘Crus Classés’ (classified growths).
The very top wines are premier cru and grand cru, although there are plenty of excellent wines that are not classified. You’ll find labels with vin de qualité superieure or vin de pays that are still worth trying, but without the hefty price-tag.
Quality wines are labelled according to their Appellation. Appellation is a set of french laws that specify not just where the grapes are grown but how, including the “terroir” – in other words, the terrain, type of soil, sun exposure etc.
There are specific rules that must be followed and vary from region to region. In order for the wine to be granted the right to use an Appellation, it needs to comply with these sets of rules. There are currently 57 appellations.