Bordeaux wines enjoy international fame, have an inspiring history and maintain a storied following. With over 70 million cases of Bordeaux wine produced each year from over 10,000 estates, Bordeaux is the largest French wine region and is host to over 60 appellations. While Bordeaux has a reputation for pricey bottles crafted specifically for a decade or two of cellar time, most of the region's wine is affordable and can be enjoyed in its youth.
For those just venturing into French wines, Bordeaux can be tough to tackle. French wine labels don't star the leading grapes, only places. River banks often communicate more about a Bordeaux wine bottle than the chateau itself and a reputation built on luxury wines dominates public perception, when it's the affordeable wine segment that makes the bulk of Bordeaux's wine market. Bordeaux's climate, geography and terroir in general exert an enormous influence on the region's grape scene. In fact, understanding Bordeaux's geography (dominant rivers) and maritime climate are the first steps to understanding Bordeaux wines.
The beauty of Bordeaux's red wines lies in the blend - typically composed of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with plenty of backup support coming from Cab Franc. Buying Bordeaux wine is an education in itself, from Bordeaux's multi-faceted wine classification system to scouting for reasonable Bordeaux wine recommendations there is plenty to learn, savor and try from this classic, renown growing region. Keep in mind that the region is essentially divided into two competing river banks - aptly named "right bank" and "left bank." The right bank's soil hosts heavy doses of limestone and clay, anchored accordingly by Merlot and Cab Franc. While the left bank consists of heat-absorbing gravel, perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon to thrive when temps are right. These grape growing preferences are not hard and fast rules, just growing generalities, but they can be helpful when buying Bordeaux. If you know you prefer a wine with plenty of structure, lots of aging potential and deep, dark fruit - opt for a left bank wine first. If softer, rounder wines are your preferred style, then a right bank, Merlot-based blend would be your best bet initially.
Getting to Know Bordeaux Wine:
Medoc and St. Emilion Images Courtesy of CIVB and Philippe Roy