Okay, let’s talk about the most famous wine region of them all: Bordeaux.
Where is it?
Bordeaux is a city and a surrounding wine region in the Southwest of France that extends out to the Atlantic Ocean. There are lots of sub-regions for wine within the region of Bordeaux, so it can get a little confusing. Here is a nice map to help you get an idea of where it is:
What grapes do they grow in Bordeaux?
Mostly red grapes, although there is some white there as well. The five “noble” grapes of Bordeaux are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc, and most wines from Bordeaux are blends comprised of these grapes, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominating the blends.
On the Left Bank (in the Medoc and Graves subregions), Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape of choice, and wines from the Right Bank (in the Blaye, and Libournais sub-regions) tend more towards Merlot.
For whites, you have blends of mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion; Bordeaux is also home to the famous region for sweet white wines, Sauternes.
What are these fancy “First Growth” titles?
Way back when, France wanted a way to classify the Bordeaux wineries by quality, so they had a team of people put together a list of the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth tiers of wineries. A “First Growth” or “Premier Cru” wine is the best of the best (and, you know, priciest) in Bordeaux. These lists have barely changed since they were instated in the 1800’s, and the “Premier Crus” are still regarded as the best wineries in France, although there are tons of less famous wineries that make fantastic wines.
What about all these sub-regions?
Each sub-region has its own distinct wines based on the predominant grapes in those areas, climate, elevation, and soil composition. A wine from the Medoc will taste different than a wine from the Blaye region.
Within each sub-region are AOCs (appellations), which are smaller regions. It’s not that different from how we talk about wines in the US; we might say “this is a Syrah from the Walla Walla AVA in Washington” instead of “this is a wine from Bordeaux from the St-Emilion AOC in the Libournais.” It’s just specifying where the wine came from, which gives a good indication of what kind of wine to expect.
For more information on the AOCs and sub-regions of Bordeaux, I’ll send you to the Wikipedia page.
Why is Bordeaux so famous for wines?
Bordeaux is the best known wine region because these are the wines that were exported the most. Situated perfectly in the Aquitaine region, right by the coast, Bordeaux was the place to go for the English to get their French wines, especially when England owned Aquitaine (remember Eleanor of Aquitaine? She’s probably the reason everyone’s crazy about Bordeaux wine). According to The Billionaire’s Vinegar, When the English went to America, Bordeaux wines went with them, and the rest is history.
Also, it doesn’t hurt that Bordeaux is huge and has so many sub-regions, each putting out their own distinct wines, so there’s a lot to choose from!
What the heck is a Meritage?
Okay, so probably no one is asking this, but I’m going to tell you anyways. “Meritage” is the term that some Californians came up with to call a Bordeaux-style blend (meaning a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc). We can’t call them “Bordeaux” because the grapes didn’t come from Bordeaux and the wine wasn’t produced there, so we call them a Meritage. It’s a made up word; they smooshed “merit” and “heritage” together, and it rhymes with heritage.
The Meritage Association makes you pay to use the name, so most people are dropping it now in favor of the much simpler “bordeaux-style blend”, for which I am eternally grateful because Meritage is a silly word.
And that is a starter guide to the Bordeaux wine region. Questions? Things I didn’t explain well enough? Comments?