Bordeaux is deemed the most prestigious wine producing region in the world and is considered the birthplace of wine culture as we know it today. While steeped in tradition, Bordeaux has continually updated vineyard and winemaking practices in order to improve quality. The importance of Bordeaux in the world of wine should not be underestimated. Bordeaux is currently the leading producer of high-quality red wines in the world and has been for the last 200 years. While wineries in other areas produce great wines, at times equal to the great wines of Bordeaux, no other area in the world has nearly as many wineries producing incredible amounts of high-quality wines.
The advantages of the Bordeaux region for producing fine wine can be listed quite easily. The first advantage is ideal climate and soil conditions. Positioned by the sea and threaded with rivers, it has a stable and moderate climate. Forests on the ocean side protect it from strong winds and excessive rainfall. The bedrock is well furnished with nutrients and minerals, yet the topsoil is very poor. This forces the roots to search deep, stabilizing the vines to withstand the fluctuations of the weather. The second advantage is grape growing experience. Grapes have been produced at high-quality levels for over 200 years. Like Burgundy, this extensive knowledge concerning each piece of land results in higher quality due to the correct matching of the grape varietal to the soil and microclimate. In addition, the years of experience have greatly improved the vineyard management techniques. The third advantage is winemaking expertise. Bordeaux has some of the best winemaking technique in the world, which is the result of numerous wineries producing a high volume of extremely high-quality wines over many years.
Over the past 20 years, Bordeaux, along with other progressive wine-producing areas, modified their winemaking and vineyard management in order to produce wines that are both enjoyable upon release and capable of improving with age. Today, Bordeaux produces Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that offer the best price-value relationship of any such wines in the world. We highly recommend that you begin to explore the excellent wines from Bordeaux. Hopefully, this section will help enhance your appreciation and understanding of the wines and their regions. Our selection of Bordeaux wines offers additional value due to direct importation. In most cases we are able to buy directly from the château, thereby eliminating the middleman. In addition, the direct buying allows us to offer older vintages that were aged at the château, thus ensuring the highest quality.
The variety of soils, climate, grapes, and drainage throughout Bordeaux produce many styles of wines. They range from fresh and easy-drinking Merlot-based wines to highly concentrated, highly tannic Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines and all the multitude of styles in between. Three major red grape varieties have prevailed in this prestigious region: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Petit Verdot and Malbec are also permitted and used in small percentages.
The Gironde River and its tributaries, the Dordogne and Garonne, divide the Bordeaux region creating two distinct wine production zones—the Left Bank and the Right Bank. These two banks differ mainly in soil composition. On the Right Bank, clay, limestone and sand prevail, all of which are more suited to Merlot. On the Left Bank, gravel predominates, allowing Cabernet Sauvignon to thrive.
The Left Bank generally produces big and tannic Cabernet-based wines with pronounced blackcurrant (cassis) flavors. There are five major districts on the Left Bank. Listed from the most northerly, they are Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Margaux and Graves, which includes Pessac-Léognan. Located within these esteemed communes are the five First Growth châteaux: Château Latour, Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Margaux and Château Haut-Brion.
Also worth mentioning are the white wines produced on the Left Bank, the most prestigious of which hail from the region of Sauternes. Sémillon dominates this region and only sweet unfortified dessert wines are made here, including the renowned Château d’Yquem. Sauvignon Blanc is also planted, primarily in Graves and produces crisp, dry, refreshing whites emphasizing citrus fruit flavors. The best Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux is produced in Pessac-Léognan.
The Merlot-based wines of the Right Bank generally feature plummy fruit flavors and have less tannin than those of the Left Bank. The Right Bank contains two major regions: Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. Saint-Émilion contains over 900 individual producers. A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc produces wines that are less tannic, softer, and more forward than those of the Left Bank. There are four satellites of Saint-Émilion: Saint-Georges, Montagne, Lussac and Puisseguin. The wines produced here are similar in style and quality to those of Saint-Émilion and are sought out by wine consumers looking for excellent values.
Located to the west of Saint-Émilion is the prestigious region of Pomerol. Pomerol is much smaller in size and is best known for producing some of the richest and most decadent wines in all of Bordeaux. With such properties as Château Pétrus and Château La Conseillante, the wines produced here are among the most expensive and sought after in the world. Over 75 percent of the region is planted to Merlot, a grape varietal that thrives in the clay soil. Pomerol produces only red wines, which are widely acknowledged for their elegance, richness and exotic aromas.
Lalande-de-Pomerol is a commune attached to Pomerol on the northern bank of the Barbanne stream. The wines here are produced in the same style as Pomerol, but usually require less aging and represent amazing value. Other high-quality regions worth exploring are Côtes de Castillon, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, Fronsac, Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Blaye.
Although there are several other regions and appellations not mentioned above, our focus is on the most respected and best known areas of Bordeaux. We have worked diligently to develop personal relationships with small and large producers and properties throughout this famous region; our relationships with these quality-minded producers allow us to proudly introduce many of these fine wines to consumers in the United States.
Red – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec
White – Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle
Left Bank – Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Margaux, Pessac-Léognan, Graves, Sauternes, Haut-Médoc, Médoc
Right Bank – Saint-Émilion, Montagne Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Fronsac, Entre-Deux-Mers
319,000 acres, 2 percent of the world’s vineyards, but representing 10 percent of the dollar value of all wine exports in the world. It is over twice the acres of all the vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties combined. Production: 55,000,000 cases produced every year, of which 20 million cases are exported Number of Growers: Over 13,000
There is no single comprehensive classification system that ranks Bordeaux's 57 appellations and thousands of wines. Over the years, the estates of several Bordeaux appellations such as Médoc, Sauternes and Barsac, Graves and Saint-Émilion have been classified based on criteria of consistent quality, type of terroir, wine-growing expertise, production levels and, of course, how the wine actually tastes. A classification is a list of outstanding wines. It provides the consumer with a reliable, if not definitive, reference of the resources of a particular vineyard. Look for Cru Classé or Grand Cru Classé on the label. Realize that ultimately, your own palate is the best judge of a wine’s quality.
For the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris, the World's Fair of the day, Napoléon III requested a classification system for Bordeaux wines—France’s best—which were to be on display. The system was established by brokers in the wine industry who ranked the wines according to a château's reputation and trading price, which at that time were directly related to quality. The result was the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Red wines that made the list all came from the Médoc region, with the exception of the Château Haut-Brion from Graves, which was outstanding enough to be included. The wines were ranked descending from first to fifth growths (meaning “wine estate”), called “crus.”
For white wines, only sweet whites from Sauternes and Barsac were ranked from first great growth to second growth. Within each category, châteaux are ranked in order of quality. In the more than 100 years since the 1855 classification, there has been only one change, when Château Mouton-Rothschild was elevated from a second growth to a first growth vineyard in 1973. Today, many people critique the 1855 classification for numerous reasons: some because the great châteaux of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, among others, are not included; others because châteaux ownership and vineyard holdings are always changing.
As we start our tour of Bordeaux, let us begin on the Left Bank of the Gironde River. For educational purposes, we will divide the famous appellations of the Left Bank into two areas: the Médoc region, located north of the city of Bordeaux, and the Graves area, which encompasses the prestigious Pessac-Léognan appellation, located south of the city of Bordeaux. The wine production in the Médoc is almost exclusively red, while a quarter of the wines produced in Graves are white.