Where is it?
What are the main grapes grown?
Bordeaux is most famous for its red wine production, and the principal red grapes grown are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. They are usually blended. White wine, including some sweet whites such as Sauternes, are made with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon – which are also usually blended.
What is distinctive about it?
The region, which is carved up by rivers, also benefits from its location on the Atlantic, which is not prone to climatic extremes. However, summers can be a bit unpredictable, meaning it may be difficult to ripen grapes.
Therefore the quality of wine can vary quite dramatically from one year to the next – so vintage in Bordeaux is critical. Essentially, the 120,000-hectare area is officially divided into 57 different AOCs. For more information, see sub-regions, below.
How do you spot a good bottle?
There are a number of classification systems in place, some official, some un-official, and some highly contested.The most highly regarded is the 1855 Classification, requested by Emperor Napoleon III, to rank the best Bordeaux wines showcased at the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris.
What are its classic dishes?
Entrecôte Bordelaise – beef rib cooked in a red wine sauce and, obviously paired with a good red Bordeaux. A classic second pairing is local foie gras with Sauternes. The region is famous for mushrooms and asparagus.
Imagine yourself there...
Bordeaux is the second most visited city in France (after Paris, of course). Read up on its world-class (best of class?) wine museum, La Cité du Vin, then enjoy a bottle of Cru Bourgeois, with roasted mushrooms and/or lamb chops.
The most important distinction historically has been between the Left and the Right Bank of the River Garonne and the Gironde estuary. These rivers significantly influence the climate and soil structures of the vineyards on the two banks.
GRAPES - The main red grape here is Cabernet Sauvignon, with its supporting cast of Merlot and Cabernet Franc (and Petit Verdot).
SOILS - Gravelly
CLASSIFICATIONS – The key areas here are Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Haut-Médoc and the Médoc, the latter comprising the key communes of St-Julien, Margaux, St-Estèphe and Pauillac. Further south are the top sweet-wine producing area of Sauternes-Barsac.
In terms of quality, the next tier up from the AOC system is Crus Bourgeois, representing about 250 estates, while the highest tier is represented by the 1855 Medoc Classification (61 estates). This itself comprises five tiers of classed growths/crus classé. The top tier here – the First Growths – comprises just five estates, including the world-famous Château Latour and Château Lafite.
GRAPES – Merlot dominates here, though Cabernet Franc can be important, and Cabernet Sauvignon is also grown.
SOILS – More mixed, including quite light and sandy.
CLASSIFICATIONS – On the Right Bank, the vineyards around the town of St-Émilion have their own Grands Crus Classés classification which is reassessed every decade; while the quality of Pomerol is based more simply on reputation.