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 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 15, January 2004   
BordeauxBordeaux  Contents 
Issue 14, December 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 16, February 2004


The Bordeaux region is the area that more than any other else has allowed France to become a great wine producing country. A success obtained thanks to the particular conditions of the region, the attention for quality and a long tradition

 When France comes to mind as a wine producing country, the first region everyone thinks of is probably Bordeaux. The enological magnificence of France has been for centuries developed on the fame of the excellent wines of this region, a story long many centuries and favored by the particular environmental and climate conditions that allowed both the development of high quality wine production and a flourishing trading based on the beverage of Bacchus. In this region are being produced wines among the most expensive and renowned of the world, and right in this area originated the most imitated enological model of the world, not only for the production of red wines, but also for sweet and botrytized wines. No matter the most expensive wines of Bordeaux are very renowned in the world, they represent just a minimal part of the total production. The majority of wines produced in this region, about 700 millions of bottles per year, is not as renowned as the most important ones, they should be however considered good wines having pretty affordable prices. Bordeaux mainly produces red wines, which represent about 80% of total production, and the fame of its wines is bound to the elegance and intensity of flavors, instead of their powerful and full bodied character.

The Region of Bordeaux
The Region of Bordeaux

 Despite the fact in the region are also produced dry white wines and sweet and botrytized white wines, Bordeaux is mainly associated to quality red wines, a success determined by some grapes which are now considered as “international” everywhere in the world. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are the three main grapes used for the production of Bordeaux's red wines, a blend which made this composition renowned all over the world as the Bordeaux Blend and that is frequently found in many wines produced in the world. To these three grapes must be included the now less used Malbec and Petit Verdot, that in the composition of Bordeaux's wines are found in few cases, opposite to what was common in the past, when these two grapes represented two important components, together with the other three. If it is true that Bordeaux is less renowned for its white wines, the same cannot be said for its sweet and botrytized wines: names like Sauternes and Barsac, two areas strictly connected to the production of these styles of wine, evoke in everybody's mind the excellence of sweet wines, or Vin Liquoreux, like the French are used to call these wines. White berried grapes cultivated in this region are Sémillon, the main ingredient for Sauternes and Barsac wines, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle and Ugni Blanc, a very common grape introduced from Italy probably in the fourteenth century and known as “Trebbiano Toscano”.

 The region of Bordeaux is located in the western coast of France, in the Atlantic ocean, and the unique environmental and climate characteristics are mainly regulated by the estuary of Gironde and by the two rivers flowing in the region: Dordogne and Garonne. It was because of these two rivers and of the Gironde that Bordeaux became an important city for trading and commerce: the ports located along the Gironde allowed an easy docking for ships that could be loaded with many goods, and in particular wine. After they were loaded, the ships routed towards one of the most important countries of commercial interest for France: England. The environmental conditions of Bordeaux allow a favorable climate for the cultivation of vine: the tempered climate ensured by the streams originating from the Gironde and the two rivers flowing in the region, as well as the influence of the Atlantic ocean, ensure a stable climate condition also thanks to the presence of forests which isolate the region by a very rigid climate. Even the composition of the soil makes an important factor for viticulture in Bordeaux. The gravelly soils of the region ensure an excellent drainage of water, and it is because of this characteristic that one of the largest wine areas of Bordeaux is called Graves.


Classification of Wines in Bordeaux

 The region of Bordeaux is renowned all over the world for the quantity of terms used both for the production and for the classification of wines. These terms, frequently used by producers in other wine countries of the world, represent a sort of guarantee for the quality of wine - and this partly corresponds to the truth - however there are exceptions which are confirmed only after having tasted a wine. Bordeaux is famous for being the region of château, of cru and of terroir, three terms which have allowed the enology of the region to create a quality system and to make it famous in the world. However when Bordeaux wines are being considered, inevitably are found in labels other terms and descriptions, mainly connected to quality, and they need to be understood. Experience teaches us these indications should not be considered as absolute and indisputable factors of quality. In Bordeaux, just like in every other wine region of the world, quality is a concept and a presupposition that can be realized mainly by the seriousness and the honesty of every single producer and, in particular, according to the way he or she makes use of the environmental and productive conditions of the place where the wine is being made.


 The classification of wines in Bordeaux is pretty vast, and sometimes confusing as well, and, as a matter of fact, there is not a unique system in force in all the region. The terms used for the classification of wines have different meaning according to the area where they are being used, moreover it should be remembered some areas in Bordeaux, just like Pomerol, do not have any classification system. The first and most famous classification system adopted in Bordeaux was established in 1855 and is exclusively about wines produced in the Médoc. The system, which is simply called classification of 1855, is based on the quality of producers and not on the production area, a concept that could contrast the terroir principle, so dear in Bordeaux. The system classifies wines in Cru Classé and in categories from first to fifth. There is Premier Cru, the first and most important category, followed by Duexième Cru, Troisième Cru, Quartième Cru and Cinquième Cru, the last category of the system. This classification is currently used for 60 châteaux of the Médoc and one of the Graves.

 The classification of 1855 also set specific categories for the wines of Sauternes and Barsac which were divided into Premier Cru Supérieur Classé, Premier Cru Classé and Deuxième Cru Classé. In 1953 was created the classification system for the wines of Graves, subsequently revised in 1959, in which there are no divisions but only one denomination, Cru Classé, recognized only to wines considered of superior quality and prestige. The classifications used in Bordeaux are not just these. The area of St-Emilion was classified in 1954 by using another system and it is the only one to be revised every 10 years. The higher category in St-Emilion is defined as Premier Grand Cru Classé, followed by Grand Cru Classé and, finally, Grand Cru. The first category, Premier Grand Cru Classé, is divided in two groups, simply defined as “A” and “B”, of which the “A” group represents the division of higher quality. The other renowned wine areas of Bordeaux, including Canon-Fronsac, Entre-Duex-Mers, Fronsac and Pomerol, have never been regulated by any classification system.

 Generally speaking, producers included in the categories of the many classification systems, obey to very high and strict productive and quality principles, as a consequence, the wines have pretty high prices. These classifications include only a minimal part of the wines produced in Bordeaux, while excluding hundreds of châteaux which are however worth of attention. For this reason in 1932 was created a special category for the châteaux of Médoc excluded in the classification of 1855 and that was called Cru Bourgeois. This classification comprised, in its original form, many divisions, however the system has been recently revised by the European Commission and currently is used the Cru Bourgeois category only. The quality of wines belonging to Cru Bourgeois is pretty vast. This category was initially established with the purpose of classifying wines for daily or frequent consumption, therefore having a lesser quality than Cru Classé. It must be however observed it is not infrequent to find in this category wines having a higher quality than wines belonging to Cinquième Cru and sometimes to Quartième Cru as well. As always quality in wine, as well as for any other product, is directly connected to the producer and to the way he or she makes wine. It should be observed, finally, that Cru Bourgeois usually have cheaper prices than Cru Classé.


The Médoc

 The Médoc is the most famous area in Bordeaux and it is located to the north of the region along the estuary of the Gironde. The fame of this area is mainly because of the notoriety of some of its appellations, represented with the names of some communes and thanks to their notoriety have made the whole area great. The Médoc is divided in two parts: the area to the north has the same name of the region (Médoc), whereas the area to the south is called Haut-Médoc, and it is just in this area that the most interesting and famous communes are found. The renowned communes of St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Julien and Margaux are all located in Haut-Médoc and are, as a matter of fact, the most looked for and prestigious denominations of the region: it is not by chance the majority of the most renowned châteaux of Bordeaux are located in this area. The production of Médoc is almost exclusively about red wines and the grape mainly cultivated is Cabernet Sauvignon, responsible for the body of its wines, followed by Merlot, which contributes to finesse and roundness. Another important grape of this area is Cabernet Franc, which contributes to add aromatic complexity to the wine, and in lesser part, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

 The first important commune located to the north of Haut-Médoc is St-Estèphe. Wines produced in this place are characterized by full body, evident tannins and require long period of aging before reaching full maturity. In order to make rounder and less aggressive wines, producers in St-Estèphe have increased the percentage of Merlot in the composition, however the main grape used here is Cabernet Sauvignon and in lower quantity, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It must be remembered that in St-Estèphe are produced the most interesting Cru Bourgeois of the region. South from here there is the commune of Pauillac, one of the most renowned and looked for areas of Médoc, and here are found three of the five châteaux classified as Premier Cru. Wines belonging to this denomination are mainly produced with Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes the higher percentage, followed by Merlot and, in lesser part, the remaining typical red berried grapes of Bordeaux. Pauillac's wines generally have a full body, an enchanting finesse and elegance, and give their best after a proper aging in bottle of about ten years.

 Moving to the south there is the commune of St-Julien, renowned for the quality of its excellent wines. St-Julien is a pretty small commune, however here is found the higher concentration of châteaux belonging to the many Cru Classé as well as many excellent Cru Bourgeois. Wines produced in this commune are renowned for their full body, class and elegance and are mainly produced with Cabernet Sauvignon, which represents the higher percentage, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. South from St-Julien there are the two communes of Listrac and Moulis, located to the west of the Gironde and therefore they do not benefit in a relevant way of its influence. The less favorable conditions, as opposed to the other famous communes, in particular a lesser drainage of water and the different composition of the soil, make the wines of these two communes less valuable, however it is not rare to find good wines, in particular in Moulis. To the south and near the coast of Gironde, there is Margaux, one of the most famous and important communes of Haut-Médoc. Thanks to the particular conditions of the soil, Margaux's wines are famous for their elegance and finesse, as well as for their excellent aromas. Moreover Margaux's wines are also powerful and full bodied, along with the other characteristics, make these wines among the most interesting and elegant ones of the region. Grapes mainly used in Margaux's wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, as well as a small percentage of Petit Verdot.



 South from Médoc are found the Graves, an area of primary interest and of reference for Bordeaux wines. As opposed to the other areas of the region, in the Graves the production can be considered divided between white wines and red wines. This area is famous for the favorable composition of the soil, characteristic from which originates its name, Graves, and in this area, near the city of Bordeaux, there is the renowned wine area of Pessac-Léognan, where are produced the best red and white wines of Graves. Thanks to the quality of its wines, since 1987 the area of Pessac-Léognan has acquired the recognition of AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée). The main red berried grape of Graves is Cabernet Sauvignon, however in this area Merlot and Cabernet Franc are pretty common as well. As opposed to the other areas of Bordeaux, in the Graves the production of white wine is considerable and often wine lovers identify the whole area with white wines. Grapes used for the production of white wines in this area are Sémillon, responsible for richness, structure and the capacity of aging, and Sauvignon Blanc, which contributes to crispness and aromatic elegance of wines.


Sauternes and Barsac

 South from Graves, following the course of the Garonne river, there are the two most renowned communes of Bordeaux for the production of sweet and botrytized wines: Sauternes and Barsac. The production of wines in these two areas is almost exclusively about sweet wines produced with grapes affected by noble rot, Botrytis Cinerea, renowned and famous everywhere in the world. Of the two communes, Sauternes is the largest, about four times than the smaller Barsac, as well as the most famous one, however in both communes are produced excellent wines. Sweet wines produced in these areas are characterized by an excellent elegance, as well as an incredible balance and aromatic and gustatory complexity. Both communes have excellent conditions for the development of Botrytis Cinerea, or Pourriture Noble, like the French are used to call it, thanks to the influence of the Garonne and Ciron rivers. Wines of Sauternes and Barsac are also surprising for their incredible longevity: not only they wonderfully age for more than 30 years, but what surprises is that during the process of aging they acquire complexity and an amazing richness in aromas and flavors. Grapes used for the production of these superb botrytized wines are Sémillon, which represents the higher percentage, with small adding of Sauvignon Blanc and, sometimes, Muscadelle. In these two communes are also produced, with the same grapes, white dry wines, characterized by good body, as well as a small quantity of red wines, usually not available outside of the production places, belonging to the denomination Graves AOC.



 In the eastern part of the region, far from the estuary of the Gironde, is located an area of primary enological interest and it is considered among the most important ones of Bordeaux: Saint-Emilion. This area belongs to the Libournais, the region neighboring the city of Libourne, along the course of the Dordogne river, and here are exclusively produced red wines. As opposed to the Médoc, the soil of St-Emilion is mainly hilly, a condition which influence the style of the wines produced in this area. The main grapes are Merlot and Cabernet Franc, followed, in rather lower percentages, by Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The wines of St-Emilion are pretty different from the ones produced in the Médoc, a characteristic which depends both on the different composition of the soil and on the higher usage of Merlot grape. The higher presence of Merlot makes St-Emilion wines more round and soft than the ones of the Médoc, moreover their class and elegance made them renowned and looked for by many wine lovers.



 In the region of Libournais, west from St-Emilion, there is the small area of Pomerol. Despite the fact Pomerol is a rather small area, it is considered among the most famous and important wine areas of Bordeaux. Just like in the neighboring St-Emilion, the production in Pomerol is exclusively about red wines and the main grapes are Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Rarely, and in small quantities, in the wines of this area is used Cabernet Sauvignon. As opposed to the other important wine areas of Bordeaux, Pomerol does not have any classification system for its wines. Pomerol wines, thanks to the environmental conditions and to the use of Merlot grape, are very elegant and round, have an excellent body with enchanting aromas and taste, characteristics that allowed these wines to become renowned and famous in every part of the world.


Other Areas

 The region of Bordeaux is divided in tens of denominations of which some are worth to be mentioned besides the ones already discussed. The denominations mentioned in this paragraph lack of the same environmental conditions and the best terroir typical in the main areas, therefore the wines produced are generally more “simple”, even though with some exceptions. East from the city of Bordeaux there is the large area of Entre-Duex-Mers where are mainly produced dry white wines with Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes. In the south there are the areas of Cérons, Loupiac and Ste-Croix-du-Mont where are produced good sweet wines with Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes. North from the city of Bordeaux there are the areas of Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Blaye, two hilly wine areas among the oldest of the region, where are produced red wines, not comparable with the ones of the Médoc, mainly with Merlot grapes. Finally, west from Pomerol there are the two areas of Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac in which are exclusively made red wines with Merlot and Cabernet Franc as well as small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon.


 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 15, January 2004   
BordeauxBordeaux  Contents 
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