France’s largest wine region lies on both banks of the river Gironde and its tributaries the rivers Garonne and Dordogne. The centre of focus is the city of Bordeaux which gives the region its name. This large region has more than 50 appellations produced by close to 15,000 growers.
Generally we can group the appellations into 3 categories:
All Bordeaux wines are blended with more than one grape variety. On the left bank of the Gironde the red wines are made from a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon and a minority of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The wines are made to age and tend to be ruby, full-bodied and tannic. The whites are mainly made from the Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The golden sweet wines on this left bank age very well and command very high prices. On the right bank and the land in-between the main grape is the Merlot with Cabernet Franc used as a blender. The wines here are softer, fruitier not as tannic and mature earlier.
Here lie the communes of Medoc to the north of the city of Bordeaux and Graves to the south where the best Bordeaux wines are made.
Among the communes of this area 4 stand out and are given their own appellations: Margaux, Pauillac, St-Julien and St-Estéphe. In the classification of 61 chateaux as classed growth - crus classés in 1855 all but one are from these 4 communes. These include the fabled premiers crus classés wines of Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Later on 2 communes are added – that of Moulis and Listrac. Outside the great chateaux the wines produced here are of generally high quality, in fact all producers of cru bourgeois Bordeaux wines are from this area. Other generic wines produced are under the appellations of their communes such as Appellation Pauillac Controlée.
Famed for its dry white wines and the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. Yet there is the world-renown red wines of Chateau Haut-Brion, the only cru classé (premier) of 1855 outside of Medoc. Confusingly in 1959 there was a classification for Graves giving 16 chateaux the status of crus classés.
These communes are within the area of Graves. They produce the golden sweet wines from grapes left on the vines to rot by a fungus known as Botrytis. The wine made from these fungus-attacked sweeten grapes has a flagrance of exceptional elegance that can age for 20 or more years. 26 chateaux were given the classification of crus classés in 1855 but only one was honoured with premier cru supérieur – the almost magical Chateau d’Yquem.
The area immediately north of the rivers Gironde and Dordogne surrounding the city of Libourne forms the second important Bordeaux wine producing area. There are many appellations represented but none more well-known than those of Pomerol and St-Emilion. Here the Merlot grape reigns supreme.
This is the large area derived its name-sake from the town of St-Emilion. The Merlot based wines here usually blended with a dash of Cabernet Franc are soft, mellow and early-maturing. The best wine are classified as premier grand cru classé (2 only - Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc) and grand cru classé. Below these are the appellations of St-Emilion Grand Cru and St-Emilion. There are also 5 satellite villages allowed to use the appellation.
It is a small patch to the north-west of St-Emilion where the best Merlot-based Bordeaux wines are produced. The wine is more full-bodied and less fruity than that of St-Emilion as best expressed by Chateau Petrus whose wine can fetch the same if not high prices than the 5 premier classed growth chateaux of Medoc.
This is the area to the north along the river Gironde. Both red and white wines are made, the red from Merlot and the white from Sauvignon Blanc. These wines are reliable and un-expensive and are meant to be drunk young.
This is the large area in Bordeaux at the confluence of the rivers Garonne and Dordogne. There are 6 sub-divisions of producing areas of which half is represented by Premieres-Côtes-de Bordeaux. This is mainly a white wine region with basic appellation of Bordeaux Blanc or Bordeaux Superieur. The wines are mostly dry (with a corner around Loupiac producing sweet wines) not expensive and to be drunk young.
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