Did you know that Bordeaux is the most popular and largest wine region in the world? First off, where in the heck is Bordeaux? Bordeaux is located in southwest France roughly 300 miles southwest of Paris and about 120 miles north of the Spanish border. Bordeaux’s location along and near the Bay of Biscay (area of the Atlantic Ocean along the western coast of France to the Spanish border) ensures a mild maritime climate providing the area with mild winters and warm summers protecting the vines that grow in this area from winter freeze and spring frost. Bordeaux’s location near the Atlantic made it a prime location to distribute wine across the world and essentially make Bordeaux the famous wine region it is today.
Bordeaux is most famous for its cabernet sauvignon and merlot blends and in turn is mainly a red wine region. The majority of Bordeaux wine is a blend of several grape varieties.
The red Bordeaux blend consists of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Bordeaux’s red blend is one of the most copied in the world. The dominant flavors found in red Bordeaux wines include black currant, plum, cedar, violet, and graphite. Red wines from Bordeaux are typically medium to full-bodied and exude mineral and fruit notes on the palate that lead into mouth-drying tannins. The high amounts of tannins allow the wines to age for several decades. As it relates to wine, tannins are a textural element that makes wine taste dry. It is naturally occurring in plants, seeds, bark, wood, leaves, and fruit skins.
While the clear majority of wines produced in Bordeaux are red (about 90%), there are a fair number of white Bordeaux wines (about 10%) that are produced using Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle grape varieties that produce wines with flavors consisting predominately of citrus fruits (grapefruit, lemon, and lime), peach, gooseberry, and chamomile. White Bordeaux wines tend to be very crisp and refreshing. Of the 10% of white wines produced in Bordeaux, 25% of those are sweet wines. At its infancy, Bordeaux was first loved for its sweet wines produced in the sub-region of Sauternes where the predominant grape variety grown and used is Sémillon.
Geography 101 – Bordeaux: The Region Split by Waterways
Bordeaux is split up into two distinct areas by the Gironde Estuary (tidal mouth of a large river where the ocean meets the river) creating two banks, the right bank to its north and the left bank to its south. The Gironde estuary then splits into two rivers, the Dordogne (Dor-don-ye) to the north and the Garonne to the south. The area between the two rivers is known as Entre-Deux-Mers (the land between the seas). A winery’s location in Bordeaux plays an important role in the proportion of Merlot and Cabernet found in each wine produced in the Bordeaux region. The right bank is famous for producing wines dominated by the Merlot grape variety whereas the left bank produces wines dominated by the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety.
The Left Bank is home to three main grape-growing sub-regions: Médoc, Haut-Médoc and Graves. Each of these sub-regions is then home to various wine producers that each contain their own unique wine styles. Margaux, Pauillac, St-Estèphe, and St-Julien are all notable producers of the Haut-Médoc sub-region. The right bank does not have nearly as many sub-regions, but the notable ones are Pomerol and Saint Émilion.
Left Bank vs. Right Bank and the Land between the Seas
Left bank wines (wines produced in areas south of the Gironde Estuary and west of the Garonne River) tend to be higher in tannins and acidity. Wines produced on the left bank tend to be heavier and rich than wines produced on the right bank.
Right bank wines (wines produced in areas north of the Gironde Estuary and north and east of the Dordogne River) tend to be more delicate, less tannic, and less acidic.
The land between the two rivers (Entre-Deux-Mers) produces red and white wines, but tends to be more well-known for its white wines that are created using a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle grapes.
Bordeaux Quick Facts
- Nearly 800 million bottles of quality wine produced each year
- Home to 10,000 wine estates (known as Châteaux [sha-toe] in France)
- World-famous grape varieties Cabernet, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc all originated here
- Home to 57 different appellations (An appellation is simply the name of the region, district, or village in which the vines are grown and the wine is made…for a wine to be granted the right to use an Appellation, it needs to comply with a strict set of production and quality standards)