The Bordeaux wine region lies along the rivers Dordogne and Garonne and covers an area of over 120,000 hectares. It is one of the world’s finest wine producing regions, and is where wines such as the rare (and expensive) Petrus are made. Over 85% of the wine produced here is red wine. Bordeaux is also home to the wonderful white dessert wine Sauternes.
This region has been producing wine for centuries as it's soils are perfectly suited to the growing of grapes. Bordeaux wine today has worldwide renown and the region produces nearly a billion bottles appellation-controlled (AOC) wine each year. There are over 50 different appellations within the wider Bordeaux region, produced by over 8,000 growers or châteaux.
Most red Bordeaux wine is made by blending Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, In some wines, Petit Verdot is also added. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape gives the wine it’s strong tannin base and black fruits flavours, and also helps the wine to age well. The Merlot grape softens the Cabernet - it’s slightly larger size means there is less tannin. It also imparts a sweeter, red fruits flavour to the wine. The addition of Cabernet Franc gives the final product some complexity and accents of tobacco and violet. The resulting blend of red wine is dry and medium-bodied. Petit Verdot has an intense colour, is rich in tannins and has a strong aroma. It is used only in small amounts.
The small amount of white produced are made from Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle grapes. Semillon makes up the majority of the sweet wine, producing a rich, golden wine. It is blended with Sauvignon Blanc which provides a higher sugar content. Muscadelle is used sparingly, and brings floral notes to the party.
The location of many of the vineyards on the river plains means the terroirs are generally gravelly soil which is ideal for planting vines. Cabernet Sauvignon in particular thrives in such soils and forms the backbone of many of the wines from Bordeaux. The vines are protected from the Atlantic by the prolific pine forests on the coast, and the Gulf Stream helps keep the frosts away during the winter months. Unpredictable weather patterns in this part of the world means that growing conditions can be different every year, resulting in unique vintages of varying quality. Outstanding years include the vintages of 1982, 1990, 2000, 2005, 2009 & 2010. In certain years, wines from Medoc can be significantly better than those from other regions (and visa-versa). This is because it is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends to ripen later than Merlot. Thus the weather can have a significant effect on the quality of each variety of grape.
The classification of wines derives from the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 which ranked the wines in order and has only been updated twice since the original classification. The most prestigious vineyards produce several wines of varying quality. The ‘Grand Vin’ or 'Grand Cru' will use only the best vines grown on the best terroir, and a result a limited number of bottles are produced. They can sell for many thousands of pounds per bottle. The secondary wine can be called a number of things, but is generally the ‘Premier Cru’ version, and can be equally good but just lacking the prestige of it’s Gran Vin counterpart.
Most Bordeaux wine is fermented in stainless steel vats after harvest, after which the wine is transferred to new oak barrels. The wine can spend 20-24 months here before being bottled.