France is undoubtedly the world’s most renowned wine-producing country, and Bordeaux is arguably its most famous region. This region features a landscape of peerless beauty, historical heritage, and winemaking traditions that date back centuries, with two grapes first grown here – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
A little History of the Bordeaux Region
Bordeaux was known in the 1700s for its sweet white wines and rosé wine called “claret. In the mid-1800s, Bordeaux’s red wines became more well-known, and, now, over 90% of Bordeaux wines are red.
The region has close to 10,000 different Bordeaux wines by almost 7,500 wineries with stunning chateaux that line the countryside. The Bordeaux wine region encompasses 60 miles surrounding Bordeaux and extends along the three rivers – the Gironde, Garonne, and Dordogne. The geography creates an ideal setting for winemaking, complemented by a temperate maritime climate of short, mild winters and high levels of humidity courtesy of the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
France’s largest appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC or controlled designation of origin) has 57 appellations across Bordeaux with 7,000 wine producing chateaux and 13,000 growers.
The Bordeaux region’s Left Bank is dotted with countless extravagant chateaux. However, the more naturally beautiful Right Bank, with St Emilion and Pomerol, draws the most attention.
Key Growing Regions
Bordeaux’s red blend is one of the most imitated around the world. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape takes the starring role in Bordeaux blends on the Left Bank of the Gironde River, whereas Merlot gets top billing in the Right Bank’s Bordeaux blends.
The Left Bank of Bordeaux
The terroir is mostly flat with gravelly soils and limestone underneath. However, each vineyard’s composition can vary substantially. Left bank wines typically tend to be more tannic with a bigger overall structure than their right bank counterparts. Cabernet Sauvignon tends to dominate in the blend, followed by Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Top Left Bordeaux châteaux can produce extremely long-lived wines, particularly in the right vintage conditions.
The appellations first classified in 1855 tend to be the most prestigious sub-regions in the Médoc, including Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Saint–Estephe, Margaux, and Pessac-Leognan. In particular, Pauillac has a reputation for producing powerful, muscular wines, and the wines from Médoc are some of the boldest of Bordeaux. Perfect for aging.
In Bordeaux, this area is known for its red clay soils that produce bold plummy red wines, with Merlot dominating the blends, followed by Cabernet Franc and then Cabernet Sauvignon. The most well-known and sought-after appellations include Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. The wines from Libourne are still moderately bold but generally have softer, more refined tannins. For this reason, the right bank wines are a great way to get introduced to the region.
Entre-Deux-Mers or “Between 2 Tides”
The area between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers is called Entre-Deux-Mers. While this area does produce red wines (predominantly Merlot), it is more well-known for its white wines, particularly a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and the rare Muscadelle grapes. These wines are crisp, dry whites with grapefruit and citrus notes .– a perfect summer wine.
A group of rare dessert wines from Bordeaux is made with Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes. These grapes develop a special kind of rot from a fungus called Botrytis cinerea, causing the grapes to shrivel, which concentrates the grape sugars, making them one of the world’s sweetest white wines.
White Bordeaux is a white blend dominated by Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, along with other grape varieties.
Only the white wines are known as Entre Deux Mers. The regions’ reds are labeled as red table wine or, if they are outstanding, Bordeaux Superieur.
For those who love red blends, Bordeaux is a region that was a source of inspiration to many of today’s most famous wines. Hopefully, you’re inspired to pick up a bottle or two to taste what Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot taste like from their homeland. They’re – quite simply – unique! A specialized wine river cruise is a great way to explore Bordeaux and its wines.
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