Understanding Bordeaux Part 1. The Wines To Love

Bordeaux is one of my favourite wine regions, through the years I have been able to taste more of these wines than any others (except maybe Burgundy). You can see some of my recent Bordeaux encounters here.

The most Noble of regions.
The Region of Bordeaux and its appellations.


The Golden Child
Cabernet Sauvignon
Background of Bordeaux.

The region is most famous for its savoury, structured and long-lived red wines and intensely sweet botrytised white wines. It is important to remember that with Bordeaux, about 10% of the production takes about 90% of the wealth and 97% of the attention. For the most part, we are going to be talking about the 10%.

Situated near the Atlantic coast of France and is shaped by the Gironde, Dordogne and Garonne rivers. Cool conditions and frequent rainfall, including during harvest time, makes Bordeaux quite a marginal region with vintages frequently ruined by rain or saved from the rain at the last minute by timely sunshine. This makes knowing the vintages quite critical when buying Bordeaux, but knowing the good producers will be safer still. On the plus side, the rainfall does help to facilitate the productions of wines affected by botrytis such as Barsac and Sauternes.

The underestimated one.

The area was introduced to winemaking by the Romans sometime after 48AD. The region developed a strong link with England in the 12th Century when Henry Plantagenet and Aliénor d’Aquitaine married, and Aquitaine became a province of England. This link remains to this day despite a few hiccups to the relationship, such as The Hundred Years war and France reclaiming the land.
The region makes red, sweet white, white and sparkling wines. A lot of this wine is sold as cheap generic ‘supermarket’ wine. Only a small percentage is the high-quality wines that are celebrated and sought after by wine lovers and investors all across the world.

Not a weed in its native place.
Sauvignon Blanc

89% of the production is red wine. Most commonly planted and used is Merlot, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Depending on terroir and historical importance Malbec, Petit Verdot and a handful of other varieties such as Carmenere are used, generally in small quantities. There are very few high-quality wines that are made of a single variety. The sum of the parts adds up to more than the individual components.

The famous Left Bank of Bordeaux
Exalts the grape Cabernet Sauvignon which makes elegant and fragrant wines of high acidity and tannin that allow the wines to age for 30 to 50 years depending on the vintage. The best appellations on the Left Bank include Medoc, St-Estephe, Pauillac, St-Julien, Margaux, Haut Medoc, Margaux and Pessac Leognan.
A different spin to the Hunter Valley style.
The Right Bank

Wines use a lot more Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The Merlot provides plushness, silk and softness while the Cabernet Franc gives acid and fragrance. The two leading appellations on the Right Bank are St-Emilion and Pomerol.

The sweet and dry

The main varieties used to make their whites are made from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Botrytis affected white wines produced in appellations Sauternes and Barsac have spawned many imitators all over the world. There is a lot to love about the unctuous, apricoty, creme brulee, vanilla bean and floral lift that these wines offer. The best wines, such as Chateau d’Yquem age gracefully for many decades.

The dry whites can rival the best white Burgundy, Loire white or Rheingau Riesling. The top-end wines show racy acidity, tropical and floral perfumed notes, a fair lick of oak and nice texture. They can live for a long time. The only drawback is they tend to be comparatively expensive. Look for whites from Graves, Pessac Leognan or well-regarded producers.


The other point of difference about the region is the En-Primeur system of sales. Before they are ready to be shipped the top wines of the areas are offered for sale. The wines are tasted unfinished by experts and punters and given scores representing what they will taste like, and the rest of the world buys (or not) on the back of this.

If you want to be part of the excitement we have the 2011 En-Primeur Offer currently available for sale now (with the wines arriving in 2014). Available for purchase and enjoyment now are Reds from the charming 2008s, classically styled 2006s and the brilliant 2004s.

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