Bordeaux is the largest and most famous wine region in the world, with over 7,500 different producers, close to 120,000 hectares of planted vines, and an annual production of around 75 million cases of wine. Everyone’s heard of the stuff, even those who don’t really drink wine, and most people will have had one or two (or several hundred) 750ml green Bordeaux bottles through their cupboards / wine cellar over the years, but what do you really know about it?
The region was first cultivated by the Ancient Romans, and the modern Bordeaux region has its roots in the 1600s. The region is divided into two parts, the Left Bank and the Right Bank, with the Left Bank being famous for its wines dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, while the Right Bank produces wines with a large percentage of Merlot. The two main areas produce many of the world’s best red wines.
In the Left Bank, the major appellations are Pauillac, St. Estephe, St. Julien, Margaux, and Pessac Leognan, which is where the First Growth wines are found. The wines from the Left Bank are blends dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenere also being used. The primary characteristics of these wines come from the combination of grapes and the soils, which are mostly gravel with some clay. The best wines combine elegance with tannic structure, with flavors of currants, spice, earth, and tobacco when young. These wines are famous for their ability to age and evolve for years, even decades.
In the Right Bank, the best wines in the world are made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The two most famous appellations in the Right Bank are St. Emilion and Pomerol. The soils in this region are mostly clay and limestone, with some gravel and sand. The clay gives the wines from this area its plush, opulent character. Right Bank wines at their best offer lush, sensuous textures, soft tannins, and notes of juicy, black cherries, licorice, black and red plums, chocolate, flowers, and truffle when young. These wines can also age just as well as the best wines in the Left Bank.
Environmental factors (‘terroir’)
The terroir allows for the huge differences, along with the similarities in the wines made in Bordeaux. The differences can be seen not only in the Left Bank and Right Bank, but in the numerous other appellations found in the Bordeaux region. Today, there are 60 different recognized appellations in Bordeaux. While Bordeaux is famous for its red wines, it is also capable of producing great white Bordeaux wine, made from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Sauvignon Gris. The famous sweet, white Bordeaux wines are made from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle which have been affected by noble rot, also known as botrytis.
Overall, Bordeaux offers a vast variety of wines, with many different appellations and styles to choose from. Whether you prefer red or white, sweet or dry, Bordeaux has something for everyone. The region’s wines are characterized by their ability to age and evolve over time, with the best wines being capable of aging for a century or longer in select years.