Bordeaux. The word itself says 'wine' to millions around the world. Many historians of the subject assure us that wine has been produced in Bordeaux since the first century AD. And given the known ability for the great Bordeaux to age gracefully, one can believe it.
Located in the south west of France around the city of Bordeaux, near the Atlantic coast, the region covers 10,725 square kilometers, containing 284,000 acres of vineyards. It is home to thousands of Châteaux, the vineyard and other facilities for winemaking.
Winters are short and the climate temperate with hot summers, long falls and high humidity thanks to its location near the estuary of three rivers the Gironde, Garonne and Dordogne.
The vineyards cover five distinct regions and 57 appellations. In France, the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC), refers to a specifically defined and regulated region, which controls how wines may be produced, labeled and sold.
In the Medoc region, a 50-mile strip between the Atlantic ocean and the Gironde estuary, vines grow on gravelly plateaus, called croupes, which sit atop heavy clay and limestone. Cabernet Sauvignon finds a home here. Some wines originating here contain as much as 40 percent Merlot. Its 10,500 acres produces on the order of 36 million bottles annually from 400 vineyards.
The Graves region gets its name from the pebbles in the soil, excellent for drainage and very healthy for the vines. It covers 12,844 acres west of the Garonne River and produces a stellar garnet-colored red, with slightly more Merlot than Cabernet. The whites produced there are dry, heavy on Semillon with a moderate amount of Sauvignon Blanc.
The best wines of the region are distinguished by the name Pessac-Leognan, north of the Graves, with other Châteaux sometimes referred to as crus bourgeois.
South of Graves lies the Sauternes (and the subset Barsac) region with a warmer, drier climate and limestone rich soil. The whites labeled Sauternes produced from Semillon are sweet, a quality derived from the infiltration of a fungus called Botrytis cinerea.
Famous for the sweet, dessert wines such as Yquem, Raymond-Lafon and Rieussec, over 4.5 million bottles are produced on 4,500 acres.
Saint-Emillon, the oldest area in Bordeaux, lies east of the Gironde, where the grapes are largely Merlot. The soil type ranges from limestone gravel to sandy, both providing excellent drainage. The 13,000 acres concentrate primarily on high-quality reds, to the tune of 36 million bottles. That soil, and loving production of its superior grapes produces the most robust, fast maturing reds.
Lastly, is Pomeral with a mere 1,900 acres producing scarce but superior reds from sandy soil atop a clay substrate infiltrated with iron. The vineyards grow Merlot and a type of Cabernet Franc called bouchet. Among other excellent products, here is produced the Château Pétrus, with 95% Merlot.
Many Bordeaux reds have an aging potential of 5-15 years, with some reaching to 20-50 years. But you will find a challenge to wait that long for one of these excellent wines!
Bordeaux in a few words
Bordeaux produces about 17% of wine in France. Now, it is largely red wine - about 89% of wine produced in bordeaux is red.
Red grape production
Cabernet Sauvignon 23%
Cabernet Franc 11%
Other red 1%
Red is almost always a blend. The major grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The blend varies by Appellation. There are 39 Appellations in bordeaux. The cooler right bank Appellations - including Saint emilion and Pomerol - are largely merlot dominated. The left bank, particularly in the Medoc, is warmer and Cabernet Sauvignon is an important part of the blend. wines labelled "Bordeaux" without a specifed sub-region are likely to be Merlot dominated with Cabernet Franc.
The red wines of Bordeaux have long ben popular in Europe, particularly in the UK - since the marriage of Henry II of England to Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152 when the lands of Aquitaine (Bordeaux) were part of the dowry and remained under English control for 300 years. The red wines of Bordeaux are often called claret in the UK.
Bordeaux also produces quality whites (Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon) particularly in Graves. Sauternes is a part of Bordeaux and the home of some of the world's finest sweet wines.
See the wine classification in Bordeaux. Getting familiar with these designations is an important step to understand French wine.
Wine and food are linked together and part from the French culture.