The Bordeaux wine region is the most renowned and storied wine region in the world. Its long history, which dates back to the Romans, the quality of the wines produced and its large area of production have created and built its insurmountable reputation. From red to white, rosé, sweet and sparkling wine, almost every style is produced in Bordeaux.
History of Bordeaux
The name “Bordeaux” derives from the French “au bord de l’eau” which means “along the water” and makes reference to the Gironde estuary and its tributaries, the Garonne and the Dordogne Rivers that play a pivotal role in the history and success of this fantastic region.
The first vineyards were planted at the height of the Roman Empire, almost 2000 years ago. However, it was in the Middle Ages that Bordeaux started to export to England on the back of the marriage of Henry Plantagenet to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Their union changed the ownership of the region from French to English for many years. As a result, a boom in trade between England and the Aquitaine region began and wine was largely promoted to the English. This slowly built one of the prime markets for Bordeaux wines.
Location of Bordeaux
The wine region of Bordeaux is located in the south west of France. Its name is derived from the main city around which its vineyards are centered. Three rivers cross the region: The Gironde, the Garonne and the Dordogne. The total area of production represents 120,000 hectares of vineyard with 60 appellations and around 7,400 chateaux producing wines. Within this, there are four main sub-regions delimited naturally by the rivers and the city: the Left Bank, the Graves and Pessac-Léognan, the Right Bank and the Entre-Deux-Mers (between two seas).
The wines of Bordeaux follow five main classifications which were established at different periods. The most renowned is the “1855 Grand Cru classification of the Médoc and Sauternes” highlighting the quality of Chateaux such as Lafite-Rotschild, Haut-Brion and Margaux.
The Great Growth (“Crus”) classification
The Great Growth (“Crus”) classification, established in 1855 at the request of Emperor Napoleon III, encompasses red wines from 60 Médoc châteaux and 1 château from the Pessac-Léognan appellation, ranked within five categories:
5 Premiers Crus (First Growth)
15 Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growth)
14 Troisièmes Crus (Third Growth)
10 Quatrièmes Crus (Fourth Growth)
18 Cinquièmes Crus (Fifth Growth)
This classification is also comprised of sweet white wines from 27 châteaux in the Sauternes and Barsac appellations, ranked within three categories:
1 Premier Cru Supérieur
11 Premiers Crus
15 Deuxièmes Crus
Since 1855, this classification has only been revised once, in 1973, with the promotion of Château Mouton Rothschild from the rank of Deuxièmes Grands Crus Classés to that of Premiers Grands Crus Classés (Médoc).
The Graves classification
The Graves classification was established in 1953 (and slightly revised in 1959). This classification is comprised of 16 châteaux from the Pessac Léognan appellation, recognized for their red wines, white wines, or both:
7 Crus classés red3 Crus classés white6 Crus classés red and white
Estates and wines belonging to this classification are not ranked; all are therefore entitled to the name “Cru Classé” (classified growth). This classification is not subject to review. In fact, Château Haut-Brion is the only wine in Bordeaux to belong to two classifications, the Crus Classés de Graves and the Grands Crus Classés in 1855.
The next classification, Saint-Emilion, on the Right Bank, was created later on in 1954 as a common goal for the chateaux to achieve greater quality and to promote the area. This classification is reviewed every ten years.
The two other classifications are Crus Bourgeois and Crus Artisans in the Médoc sub-region highlighting the quality of chateaux that are not in any other classification but remain great ambassadors of the Bordeaux quality.
Finally, the chateaux of Pomerol, are not officially classified but a natural preference demonstrated by consumers and wine influencers have nevertheless given rise to an increase in their reputation. Indeed, Pétrus would be the equivalent of a first growth.
Varietals of Bordeaux
Grape varieties are selected in Bordeaux according to three main types of red and three of white:
Reds are mostly made up of:
And the three predominant white grape varieties:
With such a long history, an ideal location, wine which is considered to be amongst the best in the world and its strong global influence, Bordeaux is a wonderful region producing wines of superb quality.