When shopping for wine by region, it’s common to want to start with the best. Which frequently leads people to France’s Bordeaux region. Everyone wants the greatest experience possible when choosing a wine. Why risk getting bad wine?! What can be frustrating about this process, is that “best” can mean “most expensive”. Although it’s nice to splurge sometimes, it isn’t always possible. Classifying the “best French wine” is a subjective topic that we can start to break down by understanding the region better. What makes the Bordeaux wine region so special? Let’s find out!
What is Bordeaux Wine?
The name Bordeaux derives from “au bord de l’eau,” which means “along the water.” The region is divided by three important rivers: the Garonne, Dordogne, and Gironde. As you may have guessed, any wine produced in the Bordeaux region is considered a Bordeaux. This includes both red and white wines, and includes a vast appellation system to categorize the region. As a result, the appellation system in Bordeaux can be very complex, and dates back to the original classification of the Haut-Medoc AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) in 1855.
How are Bordeaux Wines Classified?
The trick is to imagine Bordeaux like a set of Russian nesting dolls: highly specific and prestigious appellations are nested within increasingly larger sub-regions. The more specific the location on the label, the better (and more expensive) the wine. While broader location names (like the catch-all “Bordeaux” or the slightly smaller “Médoc”) indicate humbler bottlings.
Wine Regions in Bordeaux
The Gironde river provides the most basic, unofficial classification of wines from Bordeaux’s left and right bank. The left bank (to the south and west of the river) is home to the AOCs:
The red wines here tend to have a higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. The right bank, to the north and east, generally have a higher percentage of Merlot, and includes the AOCs:
- Cotes de Blaye
What Grapes are in Bordeaux Wine?
Red Grapes of Bordeaux
Of the five traditional red grapes of Bordeaux, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are by far the most popular. Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot play a smaller, but still important, supporting role. Red wine in total makes up approximately 90% of all wine produced in Bordeaux.
White Grapes of Bordeaux
White grape varieties are evenly split between Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with very small amounts of Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc, and Colombard. The most famous whites of Bordeaux are the Botrytis-affected sweet wines of Sauternes.
The grapes in Bordeaux are some of the most sought after in the world. Whether you’re looking for a white or a red, there is something from Bordeaux that will excite your palate. And not necessarily break the bank.