An introduction to Bordeaux?
Vines in Bordeaux date back to Roman times but planting boomed in the middle-ages after Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henri Plantagenet in 1152, bringing the region under English rule, giving the English a taste for Bordeaux.
Things slowed down in the 15th century, when the French kicked the English out after battling of Castillon but picked up again in 17th & 18th century thanks to trade with northern Europe and the Caribbean.
This brought great wealth to Bordeaux, creating the beautiful waterside city you see today. Bordeaux is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city that has retained the international feel of a port.
There are almost 110,000 hectares (more than 270,000 acres) of vines in the region. It is the largest French region of AOC (Appellation d’Origine contrôlée), five times the size of Burgundy, twice the size of Côtes du Rhone.
It represents 1.5 % of the world vineyard producing 5.2 millions hectolitres of Bordeaux wine every year (on average) from over 6,000 wine estates or Châteaux.
Bordeaux enjoys lovely weather
In the South West of France, on the Atlantic Coast drained by the Dordogne and Gironde rivers, the influence of the Gulf Stream creates a temperate climate. The coastal pine forest protects the vines from storms, but weather patterns change, giving a slightly different vintage every year. It’s worth researching the best Bordeaux vintages.
Soil and diversity
Size brings diversity, in topography and soil types, which explains why there are over 60 different appellations in Bordeaux. There are three main soils types: clay, limestone and gravel. Given the local temperate and damp climate each soil type will be more or less well suited to different grape varieties.
Red wines dominate Bordeaux (88% of the planting). They are usually a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, with some Malbec and Carmenere.
The soils define the blend with, as a rule of thumb, right bank wines such as Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, being dominated by Merlot and Medoc wines, such as Margaux, Saint-Estèphe and Saint-Julien by Cabernet Sauvignon.
Not only red
Although white Bordeaux wines represent just 12% of production they are worth looking out for. The main white grape varieties are Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle. The wines can be sweet, such as Sauternes or dry such as white Graves wines.
And don’t forget Bordeaux Rosé and Clairet, a halfway house between a red and a rosé, mainly consumed in Bordeaux it’s worth seeking out for summer drinking as is the sparkling Crémant de Bordeaux.
Bordeaux wines have a reputation for being expensive, yes the top wines can reach stratospheric prices but there are many examples of ‘Everyday Bordeaux’. Over 50% of Bordeaux is sold under the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations. Often Merlot driven, these wines are approachable both in style and in price point.