Alba Vineyard Consulting - Wine Casks Alba Vineyard Consulting - Wine Casks Alba Vineyard Consulting - Wine Casks
Alba Vineyard Consulting - Wine Resources France

Bordeaux

Hundreds of books have been written on Bordeaux; its history (temporarily ruled by the English), its wines (the biggest wine region in the world), its terroirs (mainly alluvial soil made of stones and debris), its climate (hot but exposed to maritime weather which can create havoc at the time of harvest), and finally, its people (dynasties of négociants or aristocratic owners of the most famous chateaux.) So we will only briefly summarize that information here. Bordeaux consists of relatively plain topography: flat and mostly devoid of trees. Two long rivers, the Garonnne and Dordogne, split the region half and then join together into the Gironde River that flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the plain character, this region consists of the exact elements that produce wines of finesse, subtly and ageing. The moderate climate from the Atlantic and rivers creates a warming effect, protecting Bordeaux from frost. The gravel soil drains water away from the vine roots, allowing the damp resistant Cabernet Sauvignon grape to fully mature. On a negative note, Bordeaux is subject to inconsistent vintages, some hot and dry, and some very wet and cool. To combat this inconsistency, Bordeaux blends together a variety of grapes that grow and mature at different stages. Therefore, a Bordeaux red may consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. A Bordeaux white is often the blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. These blends create well-balanced wines with good acidity, minerality and fruit.

With the basics out of the way, we can fulfill our main purpose: to try to make it easier for the American consumer to understand the main wine regions of Bordeaux, because unfortunately there are many, and, with 55 different appellations, it is difficult to know which ones you are likely to enjoy the most. We also would like to show you how much Bordeaux has changed over the last 20 years and point you towards even more changes to come from the largest wine region in the world.

One basic fact of the Bordeaux region compared to, say Burgundy, is that it is the land of blending. No Bordeaux red or white is made with one single grape; it is always a complex blend of at least two, more frequently three varietals for the reds as well as the whites (traditionally, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot for reds and Sauvignon, Sémillon and Muscadelle for the whites). This fact alone put the Bordeaux region on a sort of pedestal 20 to 25 years ago when most of the new world producers were exclusively mono- varietal producers but since then, most have learned the art of blending. Another striking observation about the Bordeaux region is that vineyards exist everywhere on a 15-mile radius around the city of Bordeaux. If we were not in France, the whole area would simply be called "Bordeaux Wine," but the French, with their Cartesian mind, have recognized through the centuries distinctive qualitative nuances between each zone where grapes grow and came up with small territorial delineations (which they call "terroirs"), which they formalized in the first half of the 20th century by creating the various "Appellation Controlées." Although it may have looked neat on a map, this did not make the sale of wine easier, because as time went by, and after 55 different appellations were created, it became difficult for the consumer, and ever more so for the foreign consumer to figure out what is what.

3 sub-regions dominate and produce about 90% of all the top quality Bordeaux. They are:

  1. The "left bank" (Médoc – West of the Gironde)
  2. The Graves area
  3. The "right bank" (East of the Gironde)

The vast area between the two rivers that ultimately merge north of Bordeaux is called "Entre Deux Mers" and produces inexpensive whites that tend to constantly improve in quality.

LEFT BANK

Margaux

The Margaux appellation covers not only the commune of Margaux, but also those of Arsac, Cantenac, Labarde and Soussans. The vineyards cover gravelly ridges with a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The wines are noted for their finesse and fragrance. Wines coming from the heavier soils in the lower-lying areas produce wines that are fuller and richer in body.

Moulis

Moulis and its neighbor Listrac lie farther back from the river on heavier soils. No classified chateaux here, but several very good Cru Bourgeois: the wines are powerful and rich, the best having finesse and fruit.

Saint Julien

Saint Julien has the highest proportion of Crus Classés (yet no 1st Growths). It is also the smallest top level appellation. Vineyards are situated on a gravel plateau by the river with a higher proportion of clay than Margaux. The wines have great character, with more vivid fruit and fleshiness than Margaux.

^back to top

Pauillac

Pauillac lays claim to three of the Médoc's five first growths. Here, on the gravelly soils overlooking the Gironde estuary, Cabernet Sauvignon achieves greatness. Powerful and austere, great wines capable of aging for decades are made here. Given their high prices, we have not included a Pauillac in our sampling.

Saint Estephe

Saint Estephe lies on the boundary between the Haut Médoc and the Médoc to the north. The heavier soils are planted with more Merlot than the other appellations to the south. St-Estephe wines are deeply colored and have a distinctive style.

Haut-Medoc

The appellation of Haut-Médoc is a catch-all appellation. It covers everything that falls outside of the famous communes previously mentioned, from the appellation of Margaux going north about halfway up the peninsula to the appellation of St-Estephe. Style varies over this large area. Heavier, fuller wines are made farther north and lighter, softer wines made towards the south.

Médoc

The best, gravelly deposits are located further south. The soil and wines are generally inferior here. More Merlot is grown on the old clay deposits. Wines have less finesse and bouquet, but have good body and structure.

GRAVES

Located just south of the city of Bordeaux, Graves faces enormous pressure from urban sprawl. Once known mainly for its white wines, red wine vineyards have increased dramatically over the past 20 years and now production is almost equally divided. The soil, as the name would indicate, is gravelly. The red wines are less defined, softer, and earthier than those of the Médoc. The whites are clean, full and dry with lots of flavor.

RIGHT BANK

Saint Emilion

Wine was made in St-Emilion long before it was made on the left bank, in the Médoc. This is a region of smaller vineyards run by farmers, not of grand estates with their impressive chateaux. Soil types vary in this large appellation. Clay and limestone on the plateaux, gravel and windblown sands elsewhere. Merlot dominates here, giving these wines a characteristic warm fruitiness. With the new garage wines, St-Emilion is now one of the most exciting AOCs.

Pomerol

The smallest appellation of the Right Bank. Soils vary, but are marked by a layer of heavy clay containing nuggets of iron. As in St-Emilion, Merlot dominates here. Wines are dense and voluptuous with rich fruit.

Lussac Saint Emilion

The northernmost of the "satellite appellations," which are not part of the St-Emilion AOC, but are permitted to add it to their name. Located on a limestone plateau. Good value for money here, the best easily surpass some St-Emilion grown on the plain. Wines have good fruit, but are slightly more rustic than St-Emilion.

Lalande de Pomerol

Located across the little river Barbane from Pomerol. Soils are low lying sand and gravel terraces. Wines are concentrated and fruity, comparable to lesser Pomerols and represent great bargains.

Fronsac

Fronsac wines were once more reputed than those of St-Emilion. Fronsac overlooks the Dordogne River just west of Libourne. Vineyards are on a limestone plateau covered in red soil. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the dominant grape varieties with a lot of Malbec still grown here. Wines are supple and dense, not as lush as Pomerol.

Cotes de Castillon

Cotes de Castillon lies just to the east of St. Émilion. It is named after the village Castillon-la-Bataille where the remnants of the English army were defeated in 1453, thus ending the Hundred Year’s War and integrating their Bordeaux domaines into the Crown of France. In the past decade, the area has become known for producing fantastic wines like Stephan von Neipperg’s Chateau d’Aighuile.

Sauternes

Detailed descriptions of Sauternes Coming soon.

View wines from Sauternes