Bordeaux Wine - Buying Guide
Situated in the beautiful South-West of France, the Bordeaux region is one of the largest wine-growing areas in France with a total area of over 125,000 hectares. With the Atlantic Ocean to the west of the region, the land’s coastal temperatures are mitigated by the Gulf Stream pulling warm tropical currents up its western shores. This makes the Bordeaux region the ideal place for vines to thrive. On average, the region produces a staggering 900,000 million bottles of wine a year and the range of wines varies from large quantities of common Vin de Pays, to some of the most prestigious, sought after and expensive wines in the world.
Bordeaux has huge swathes of vine covered land owned by over 9800 producers, making wine tailored to a variety of styles. Commonly, the vines grown to the left of the river Garonne and the Gironde estuary are referred to as the ‘Left Bank’- with its key sub regions being the Medoc and Graves & Pessac-Leognan.
The vineyards to the right of the Dordogne River and the Gironde are referred to as the ‘Right Bank’- its key sub regions being Pomerol and St-Emilion. Over the many centuries, granite deposits from the river have characterised the ‘terroir’ of the land, in particular on the Left Bank, in comparison to the Right Bank’s limestone soils.
The terroir plays a huge part in determining which grape varietals will thrive, thereby giving the Left Bank and Right Bank’s appellations their own distinct wine styles. Across the entire Bordeaux region, the region produces more famous red wine than any other region in the world. The region also produces some superb dry white wines, decadent sweet wines and some fine examples of rosé and Sparkling wines all produced over a staggering 60 appellations.
The History of Bordeaux Wine
The history of the Bordeaux region is long and extensive, however almost every key aspect of its history is intertwined with its wine making. In or around 60BC the Romans dominated the region, planting vineyards and cultivating their prized grape varietal of choice, Biturica. The Romans thrived off the production of wine from this grape, noting that the hardy grape and climate were perfectly matched. After the end of the Roman Empire and right into the Middle Ages, vineyards planted off the Gironde continued to be cultivated.
By 1152, the then future King of England, King Henry II and the Duchess of Aquitaine married, with the superb Bordeaux wines being served at the ceremony! This union of France and England led to the wines of the region almost exclusively being traded with Great Britain, and vineyards were extended to cover a large part of the Right Bank. After the Hundred’s Year War between France and England, which brought an obvious stop to wine trade, the region's trade bloomed with other countries that took up the mantle and encouraged wine making in the region to thrive. The Dutch played a huge role in this, implementing new storage techniques and making wine distribution easier.
By the 17th Century, the collective wine making region of ‘Vignoble de Bordeaux’ was born. The wine region was in its element! In 1855, a new winemaking classification was introduced so that consumers could identify the best of the wines and regions with ease. This classification system has barely changed to this day and despite the impact of the World Wars on the region, by the 1980s, Bordeaux was on the world's map for producing red wines set to dominate the industry, auctions and collectors cellars worldwide.
Bordeaux Grape Varieties
The grape varietals permitted to be used within the region are determined by the appellation within which the winemaker is operating.
Bordeaux red wines are permitted to use six grape varietals; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère. The best producers tend to only polarise on three varietals, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot being King. The importance of giving the winegrowers a number of varietal options is as a result of each varietal flowering at different times. Should one crop fail as a result of the adverse weather that the Bordeaux region can occasionally be prone to, they can rely on another varietal to supplement the style of the wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon, being a key varietal in the region is a bold grape, bringing power, dense black fruit flavours and tannins to the wine. It thrives on the Left Bank.
Merlot being Cabernet Sauvignon’s equal in winemaking, are often blended together and referred to as the ‘Bordeaux Blend’. Merlot thrives on the Right Bank and brings juicy berries and a softening to Cabernet Sauvignon’s raw power.
A delicious example of this balancing act between grape varietals can be tasted in our Château De Bonhoste Bordeaux Red.
A splendidly well rounded, well balanced, dark fruited red wine, with softened medium tannins and acidity, perfect when paired with a Veal dish.
White Bordeaux wines are permitted to use seven grape varietals; Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, Colombard, Merlot Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Ugni Blanc. Once again, grape growers polarise on three varietals, with the others merely being auxiliary. Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc being Queen of the varietals.
When Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc are blended together, they create a stunning aroma and complexity sought after and cherished by many white wine lovers worldwide as they perfectly hold their refreshing acidity. Muscadelle often appears in the blend to bring a spicy, aromatic quality that makes Bordeaux white wines a delight to drink.
An example of a sublime Sémillon and Muscadelle blend white can be enjoyed in our Château Les Bertrands Cuvee Tradition.
Very floral and soft on the palate, with lingering lemony flavours. Best with seafood or on its own, should one wish to explore a classic Bordeaux white wine.
Bordeaux Appellations & Wine Styles
With Bordeaux AOC being the larger regions appellation, sub regions with their own appellations and styles have been created each showing how each appellations’ terroir has characterised its wine style. With over 60 appellations within the wider Bordeaux region, there is sure to be a wine to suit any taste.
At Pierre Hourlier Wines, we have selected some of the best wines from across the region, to reflect the differing styles that can be found in the region, balancing quality with superb value.
Red Bordeaux and Red Bordeaux Superieur
At the wines simplest, the wines are classified as Bordeaux AOC to reflect the larger region, or Bordeaux Superior being those deemed more superior in quality to the larger Bordeaux AOC wines.
Above this, there are more specific appellation sub regions located on both the Left and Right Bank of the Bordeaux region, such as Haut-Medoc, Pomerol and Margaux. Grand Cru wines are deemed the best of the best!
Red Cotes De Bordeaux
Côtes de Bordeaux of the Right Bank appellations is one of the newer appellations in the Bordeaux region and is made up of:
- Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, known for its merlot predominant wines;
- Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux situated on the hills overlooking Graves;
- Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux which produces wines akin to the style of St-Emillion without carrying the big price tag; and
- Francs Côtes de Bordeaux known for quality wines at a reasonable value.
At Pierre Hourlier Wines, we have a selection of Cotes de Bordeaux wines which each display the appellations uniqueness:
Chateau Les Bertrands's Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux Cuvee Prestige Red is a classic 50:50 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blend that offers an elegant palate of dark fruits, bramble and herbaceous notes.
Having been aged in oak barrels, the wine is a soft, palatable wine to be enjoyed now or kept.
Chateau Arthus's Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux is also a splendid example of a wine that is both accessible now or can be held onto to age.
Made with a majority of Merlot - structured, and will get your attention through its earthy but appealing taste.
Red Graves and Red Médoc
The Left Bank appellation of Médoc produces some of the Bordeaux regions most famous red wines with the best of the vineyards growing on the gravelly, heat retaining soils within the Haut-Médoc appellation.
At Pierre Hourlier Wines, the Chateau Villa Carmin Médoc Red is one of our most exclusive production wines, with only 12,000 bottles produced per annum, from a plot of 2 hectares.
A discernible dark fruit aroma wine with a marked edge of oak, makes this wine a perfect pair with white meats or cheese boards.
‘Libournais’ wines, commonly refers to those marvellous, Merlot predominant wines of the Right Bank in Bordeaux. It is not an appellation in itself however the reference includes those superb, lighter wines of the Right Bank wines such as those found in Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. They can be separated in character as they are usually wines that are soft, less tannic, well rounded and best drunk young. These are the wines to enjoy when you want something simple and enjoyable whilst offering more complexity than the wider region’s Bordeaux AOC wines.
Our Saint-Emilion Grand Cru from Chateau Orisse du Casse is a long distance wine made with a majority of Merlot.
Look out for the depth of fruit and the intensity. The reward will be there for those who are prepared to wait, being at its prime around seven to ten years from bottling.
Dry White Bordeaux
Splendid, refreshing and sometimes aromatic white wines of Bordeaux can be found across most of the appellations of Bordeaux, such as our floral and zesty Chateau Les Bertrands Blaye Cotes De Bordeaux Cuvée Tradition.
The largest dry white wine appellations are that of Bordeaux Blanc and Entre-Deux-Mers (‘between two seas’). The wines are almost always a blend of the key white grape varietals of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon and are incredibly drinkable. Some fine examples of dry white wines are prized from within the Left Bank Grave and Pessac Leognan appellations.
Sweet White Bordeaux
The sweet wines of Bordeaux are some of the best in the world, masterly blending Sémillon with smaller quantities of Sauvignon Blanc and sometimes Muscadelle for balance. Interestingly, the wine growers obtain the desired sweetness of the wines by allowing the grapes to succumb to what is known as ‘Botrytis’ or fondly referred to as ‘Noble rot’. The rot is not your standard ‘rot’, it is a particular kind that when managed for a purpose such as creating sweet wine, pierces the skin of the grape, allowing for water in the grape to evaporate, leaving behind a delicious concentration of sugar, acid and flavours. The artistry and mastery of winegrowing required to ensure the right balance is achieved is admirable.
Two key styles of sweet wines are enjoyed in Bordeaux. The first being the decadent, bold, syrupy sweet lusciousness of Sauternes and Barsac sweet wines. The best example of these sweet wines can be aged for decades. Their lighter, less full bodied styles can be seen in those of the Cadillac and Loupiac appellations amongst others, and are often enjoyed young. They are the perfect substitute for the prestigious Sauternes appellation wines.
At Pierre Hourlier Wines, we are pleased to be able to offer some superbly valued examples of sweet Bordeaux wine, such as the Château d'Arche. This wine combines finesse and aromatic intensity with elegance. With fresh and jammy fruit, spice and vanilla notes, it adds a light, gourmet touch to aperitifs and meals.