About the Bordeaux Wine Region
Bordeaux is the undisputed king of red wine. This region has been cultivating vines for more than 2,000 years and has perhaps the highest reputation for fine wines in the entire world.
The Bordeaux vineyard appellation is one of the largest in France. Although the region is best known for its red wines, a variety of both white and red wines are produced here.
Red Bordeaux wines are elegantly styled with firm tannin levels that develop a characteristic softness and subtlety with age. Their age worthiness makes them ideal wines for collecting and cellaring.
Bordeaux is made up of many sub-regions that each have their own soil and climate. However, there are two major areas in Bordeaux, the Left Bank and the Right Bank. The names are derived from the location of each area to the left (west) and right (east) of the Gironde Estuary and Garonne River.
Bordeaux Grape Varietals
Unlike many other regions in France, where wines are made from single grape varieties, Bordeaux blends five major varieties in the production of its reds:
1. Cabernet Sauvignon for structure and tannin
2. Merlot for softness and fleshy ripe fruit
3. Cabernet Franc for lightness in body, aromatic finesse and peppery perfume
4. Malbec for flavor intensity, complexity and tannins
5. Petit Verdot, which is used in small amounts for color adjustment and tannin
Left Bank Bordeaux
The Left Bank consists of seven sub-regions, each with its own AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), which is the term the French use to define products of distinct regional origin.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the main grape varietal used in Left Bank Bordeaux. Generally speaking, the wines in the southern portion (Graves and Margaux) are silkier and more ready to drink. As you move north (Pauillac and Saint Estephe) they become more mascoline (tannic) and require longer ageing. These wines pair well with marbled grilled meats, because their tannic edge cuts through the fattiness of the meat.
The 5 major Communes in the Left Bank are from South to North: Saint Estephe, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Margaux and Graves.
Left Bank Bordeaux Classification
For the Left Bank, the quality of Bordeaux wines falls into four levels that are illustrated by the diagram on the left.
In the outer circle you find regional wines (AC Bordeaux Superieur or Haut-Medoc). As you move closer to the center, you experience more concentrated wines from specific sub-regions like Medoc and Graves, as well as villages like Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estephe. At the center of the circle, you find wines with specific personalities coming from single vineyard estates known as chateaux.
In 1855, Bordeaux was the first wine region in the world to officially classify high-performing estates or chateaux (1855 classification). They were delineated into five layers of Crus (or Growths). Today, some estates have achieved similar levels of quality, although they were not included in the original classification. These were given the moniker Cru Bourgeois.
Wines in the regional appellation (AOC Bordeaux Supérieur) are the least expensive and ready to drink. Wines from specific villages like Margaux or St-Estephe are more expensive and more concentrated in flavor. Chateau-bottled wine is meant to age for three to five years, but wines from the more expensive and famous properties are easily capable of lasting 30 years in good vintages.
Right Bank Bordeaux
The Right Bank is made up of Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and their satellites. The soil on this side of the river is clay based, as opposed to the chalky soil on the Left Bank. Merlot (soft, fleshy, less tannic) is the dominant grape variety here, because it thrives in clay soils. Cabernet Franc (lighter bodied, aromatic finesse) and Cabernet Sauvignon (firmly structured, tannic) are also seen in the blends. However, Cabernet prefers the chalky soils of the Left Bank and plays a much smaller role in Right Bank wines.
Because of the dominance of Merlot grapes, Right Bank wines are more feminine in style, easier to drink and they mature much sooner than Left Bank wines. They can be ideal restaurant wines, because they are often more approachable and more ready to drink over Left Bank Bordeaux.
Right Bank Bordeaux Classification
Since the Right Bank was not part of the official 1855 Classification, Saint-Emilion created its own system for delineating quality wines, which, historically, has been controversial. In 2012, Saint-Emilion updated its process, but continues to remain under scrutiny.
Tasting and inspections of wines are performed by a seven member independent body from outside Bordeaux. These members include partners from regions such as Champagne, Rhone, Provence, Burgundy and others.
Properties are graded upon four criteria on a twenty point scale. They include: reputation, tasting, characteristics of the chateaux (the vineyards and infrastructure), and winemaking capabilities.
While there has never been an official classification for Pomerol wines, certain chateaux are considered among the best.
Food Pairings with Bordeaux Wines
Bordeaux wines are distinct through their multi-layered flavor profile derived from the blending of its five classic grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot). Brambly black currant (cassis), licorice and mushrooms aromas are complimented by hints of cedar that are framed by a lovely, elegant texture. In their youth, their firm tannins will be softened when combined with grilled meats that have a high fat content.
- Lamb loves Bordeaux… leg of lamb, rack of lamb, herbed (Rosemary) lamb chops
- Steaks of all kinds (especially well marbled) Rib Eye, Porterhouse, Entrecôte
- Duck of all kinds (confit!)
- Roast chicken (salty, garlic sauce)