Bordeaux - one of the most famous wine regions in the world and home to Merlot and Cabernet based wines that range from everyday drinking to collectible aged top Cru's worth tens of thousands of dollars a bottle.
Like many French regions its classifications, wine names and price levels can be extremely confusing, both to the novice and seasoned wine drinker alike, so here at Red Bridge with our stated aim of 'demystifying European wine' we decided to help by providing a little Bordeaux 101...
Seperated by the Dordogne River and the Gironde River and Estuary, Bordeaux's premier wine regions are divided into two main sub-regions, The Left and Right Banks.
The true Left Bank of the Gironde (called the true left because it is on your left hand side when travelling down the river) contains the famous appellations of Margaux, Pauillac and Medoc (and others) and produces Cabernet dominant wines, while the Right Bank of the Dordogne is home to superstar Saint Emilion, Pomerol and others with wines that are Merlot based.
The topography of each is also very different - the Left Bank is extremely flat while the Right Bank is more up and down and is a mixture of hills and plateau interspersed with rolling land.
The soils of each are also quite different - more sandy and silty on the Left Bank whereas the Right Bank has much more limestone and clay.
The famous limestone of Saint Emilion was mined from under the Saint Emilion plateau and used to build most of the iconic stone buildings in Paris as well as Bordeaux, leaving an network of caves and tunnels over two hundred kilometres long under the village and surrounding area.
Wine produced within each of the areas on the above map which meet certain rules of production (relating to grape type, vineyard location, grape crop yields etc) may be labelled as wine of that appellation (AOC) ie. grapes grown in Pomerol on the Right Bank which fit the criteria may be labelled as AOC Pomerol. In addition to the Appellation name, in the Right Bank region of Saint Emilion the winery may also be 'classified '. In essence, this is an additional accolade which is awarded once every ten years by a committee and is based on wine quality, vineyard location and a number of other factors. Wine that is designated 'classified' can be (in order of ranking high to low) Grand Cru Classe 'A', Classe 'B', Classe or Grand Cru - generally the higher the level the higher the price point. There are also a smaller number of wineries who qualify at each step of the classification. At present there are only 4 Classe A, 15 B, 63 Classe and around 120 Grand Cru wine producers in Saint Emilion.
On the Left Bank, a similar system goes all the way back to 1855 when the wineries were ranked under a system of 'Growths' - First, Second, Third etc all the way to Fifth with a total of 63 wine producers. An additional 200 or so are classified as Cru Bourgeois, which is similar to the Saint Emilion Grand Cru.
Fossils in limestone rock recovered from the site of Chateau La Croizille, Saint Emilion, Right Bank Bordeaux
The Left Bank features many famous Chateau and country houses, along with the market leading Margaux appellationIn addition to the many specific districts in the region, there are a couple of broader appellations under which more than one third of the area's production is bottled - AOC Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur. Red wines made under these categories provide great drinking at a more affordable everyday price point than the famous AOC's, while in many cases still at very high levels of quality and with good cellaring potential.
Red Bridge's owner AJ Thompson with his (slightly more compact😊) French wine supplier and good friend Anthony Crameri who is a independent negotiant based in Bordeaux.The building in the background is Margaux winery (and Chateau Margaux neighbour) Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere
Bordeaux Wine Facts:
66% Merlot, 22.5% Cabernet and 9.5% Cabernet Franc red grapes, with the balance made up of a combination of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere
Lies at Latitude 45 Degrees N, the opposite of Central Otago which is 45 South
111,000 Hectares producing on average around 500 million litres of wine