Julie Harrison - Bordeaux Wines

Publish Date
Wednesday, 21 October 2015, 9:32AM
By Julie Harrison

If you enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot then you should enjoy wines from Bordeaux. The red wines from this region are dominated by these varieties even though it is unlikely to tell you this on the label.  In addition to great red wines Bordeaux is also famous for prestigious sweet wines like Chateau d’Yquem.

The Bordeaux region surrounds the city of Bordeaux in South Western France. Strangely enough, understanding the river systems of Bordeaux helps to understand the wines of this region. The Gironde estuary/river flows into the Atlantic Ocean about 100km km north west of Bordeaux and cuts the region in half into what is known as the left bank and the right bank.  About 20km north of Bordeaux it splits into its two tributaries the Garonne River, which flows south through Bordeaux City, and the Dordogne River, which heads South east. This further defines the geographical regions as being Left Bank, Right Bank and Entre-deux-Mers (loosely translated to “between two seas”, but in this case between two tidal rivers the Garonne, and Dordogne).

The soils on the flatter, low lying left bank of the Gironde and Garonne tend to be gravely which suits Cabernet Sauvignon as the gravel holds the heat and Cabernet Sauvignon likes warmth. Soils on the Right bank of the Gironde and Dordogne are more limestone and clay which suits Merlot. Generally speaking Left bank wines tend to be more Cabernet Sauvignon dominant, tannic, rich, higher in acidity and longer lasting. Right bank wines and red wine from Entre-deux-Mers are usually Merlot based, are softer and more fruity and are usually drunk younger. Whatever the proportions the beauty of Bordeaux wine is in the blending of these two complementary grape varieties often with Cabernet Franc added into the blend. Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere can also be added albeit less frequently.

Bordeaux is further broken down into appellations, which are defined areas and indicate where the wine comes from, quality and style. There are over 7,000 chateaux in the region belonging to one of 60 appellations. In order for a Bordeaux chateau to sell its wine under an appellation it must follow the geographical and wine making practice rules associated with that appellation.  A more “run of the mill” Bordeaux will be labelled Appellation Bordeaux Controlee which represents more than half of the Bordeaux wines sold. These wines can come from any part of the Bordeaux region so you get a lot of variation in style and quality. Generally, the more specific the appellation the better the wine. Other  Bordeaux appellations include Medoc, Haut Medoc, Graves, Paulliac and Margaux on the left bank and St Emilion and Pomerol on the right bank.  So if you see a wine labelled Appellation Margaux Controllee it comes from the Margaux region and is made from grapes from that specific area and according to the rules of that area.

The left bank is responsible for some of the most sought after wines in the world including Chateau Lafite-Rothschild (Pauillac), Chateau Margaux (Margaux), Chateau Latour (Pauillac), Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac) and Chateau Haut-Brion (Pessac-Leognan).

The Right bank is home to Chateau Petrus (Pomerol), Chateau Le Pin (Pomerol), Chateau Ausone (St. Emilion) and Chateau Cheval Blanc (St. Emilion).

As well as red wine, Bordeaux produces white wines which may be dry or sweet. Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are the dominant varieties with small amounts of Muscadelle and Ugni Blanc being grown. As with Bordeaux red wines the whites are usually a blend. The two main appellations for sweet white wines are Sauternes and Barsac. These sweet wines are rich and luscious and wonderful with foie gras or Roquefort cheese. Dry white wines come from Graves or Entre-deux-Mers.

Due to its geographical location Bordeaux wines can vary markedly between vintages. If you are wanting to try these wines do a bit of research into which years were great, good or average as wine quality will reflect the growing conditions. A nice long, warm summer is ideal. We were lucky enough to have imported wine from the excellent 2010 vintage which are rich and full bodied and showcase just how good Bordeaux wines can be.


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