The Bordeaux wine region, the Bordelais, is the most wine-growing region of France, located farthest to the west. It is characterised not only by the city of Bordeaux, but also by three rivers: the Dordogne and the Garonne, which, coming from the south, flow together above Bordeaux to form the Gironde, which then flows into the Atlantic Ocean near the northern tip of the Bordelais.
About 120,000 hectares of land, on which grapes for a good 5.7 million litres of wine grow every year and are cultivated by some 3000 wineries, the Château: the Bordelais is the world's largest contiguous area where quality wine is grown. Behind these impressive but sober figures lies an immense wealth of grape varieties, nuances of taste and bouquets - and last but not least, a beautiful, ancient and ever-changing landscape, characterised by river valleys, rolling hills and a population that is rightly proud to live in one of the most famous wine regions in the world.
One wine growing region - many big names
Bordeaux is the generic term for a highly differentiated wickerwork of several appellations, i.e. growing regions with their respective characteristics, and classifications of the individual wines. In total, the Bordeaux region has more than 50 appellations, each of which bears the AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) quality seal for controlled origin. Basically, it can be said that the smaller the appellation on which the wines are grown, the greater their class and prestige
Above all, there are the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur growing regions in the Gironde department - far more than half of the best Bordeaux wines come from here. Parts of the whole area are called sub-regional appellations. As the best known and most important of them, we would like to take a closer look at the following areas:
- the western appellations Médoc (probably by far the best known region) and Graves/Sauternes, both of which are also called "left bank"
- the Libournais (= "right bank") east of Gironde and Dordogne
- the Entre-Deux-Mers, which lies "between two seas", more precisely between the rivers Garonne and Dordogne.
To the left of Gironde and Garonne, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety is the most popular, often blended with Merlot and Petit Verdot grapes to create great cuvées. On the "right bank", the Merlot grape reigns supreme, which in turn is often successfully blended with the Cabernet Franc grape variety. The Entre-Deux-Mers stands out from the otherwise red wine dominated Bordelais, because it is from here that the well-known dry white wines, mostly from the Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle grape varieties, originate.
The elite of Bordeaux wines: classifications
Wine connoisseurs use not only the appellations but also the classifications of Bordeaux wines as a guide. But beware: this wine hierarchy, like the structure of the appellations, is highly complex and needs to be penetrated first! For the sake of simplicity, we will limit ourselves here to the essential points of reference.
The legendary red wine classification from 1855 consists of five Grand Cru Classé levels, in which the vines of a total of 61 wineries were included. The wines are thus described as "great classified plants", in short simply "Crus". The lowest level is the fifth, i.e. Cinquièmes Grands Crus Classé, the highest is Premiers Grands Crus Classé. Sometimes there are abbreviated classifications on the labels, for example an absolute top wine is then simply called "1er". Only five châteaux with the names that sound sweet to the ears of every wine lover belong to the "1er" royal class: Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Mouton-Rothschild (all four located in the Médoc) and Château Haut-Brion, the only house from the Graves.
The legendary red wine classification
It is remarkable that the red wine classification of 1855, introduced by Napoleon III, is still valid today. This time-honored system is limited to the western regions of the Bordelais, especially the Médoc, for the simple reason that this is the home of the most prized vines of the time. The only exception is Château Haut-Brion, south of Bordeaux in the Graves region.
The five-tier classification was established by the most prestigious wine merchants at the 1855 World Fair in Paris, based primarily on the prestige of the participating châteaux, but also on the prices for which the wines were sold at the time. Within the classification, all the great names of the Bordeaux world are gathered together. And they all look back on a long tradition, because all the wineries that "missed" their seal of approval at that time still carry it today. Only one single Château once managed to rise from a little further down the hill to the royal class, namely the famous Château Mouton Rothschild, which received its knighthood in 1973 and rose from Deuxiéme Grand Cru Classé to Premier Grand Cru Classé. Baron Philippe von Rothschild had worked hard on this for more than 50 years!
In addition to the elitist red wine classification, further classification systems have been developed for neighbouring Bordelais appellations in neighbouring regions. For example, in 1855, a sweet wine classification was created for the world-famous Sauternes and Barsac wines, comprising only three categories and 27 wineries. The undisputed superstar of these classes is the only one allowed to carry the predicate "Premier Cru Classé Supérieur", namely the legendary Château d'Yquem. Among connoisseurs, the sweet wines from Yquem are considered a kind of paradisiacal elixir and are of course only sold at top prices.
There is also a similar ranking for varieties from the "right bank". The Saint-Émilion red wine growing region, located in the Libournais, has only been classified since 1955. It is not so much based on tradition and elitist thinking, but rather on the quality of the wines. This is why this classification is not "set in stone", but is revised every ten years. Currently, the hierarchy is headed by four wineries that are allowed to label their wines with "Premier Grand Cru Classé A": Châteaux Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Angélus and Pavie.
Also in Libournais is the smallest red wine appellation of the Bordelais, the Pomerol. The area is too small for a comprehensive classification (it measures just 800 hectares!), but it is home to some of the most recognized high class wines of the entire Bordeaux, almost all of them pure Merlots. Truly world famous is the Château Petrus, which is located here.
For basic orientation, the classifications are of course very suitable. We do not recommend, however, to be too "slavish" in your choice of wine - as is well known, wines in the "5" class or other "lower levels" are also excellent and can feel like exceeding some 3s or even 2s!
The wines from the most important appellations and their character
Let's start with the Médoc sub-region, where many of the greatest Bordeaux wines mature. No wonder, with this soil! Since the Ice Age, the limestone bedrock of the Médoc has been covered with layers of sand and gravel from the rivers, some of which are several meters thick. The vines can root themselves deeply in these layers, and at the same time the water is optimally drained off. Excellent conditions for wonderful Grands Crus from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot!
In the southern part of the Médoc, the Haut-Médoc, the predominant Cabernet Sauvignon reds are preferably composed with Merlot, Petit Verdot and sometimes Malbec grapes to create elegant, complex cuvées. Their berry aroma is often made even more interesting by a hint of menthol.
The Margaux, with almost 1,500 hectares the largest part of the Médoc and home of the famous Château Margaux, produces spicy, floral, berry-like wines.
The name "Pauillac" makes the eyes of many Bordeaux lovers shine, since three of the five Premier Grand Cru Classé wineries are located here, namely Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild. The wines are typically full-bodied and full-bodied, with berry-woody aromas.
Between Margaux and Pauillac lies the Saint-Julien appellation. Here, the motto is "class not mass" - the quantities produced are nowhere near those of the other important Médoc regions. But at least here you can find most of the châteaux that are in the "Grand Cru Classé" category in the 1855 red wine classification.
In the far north of the Médoc, the interesting Saint-Estèphe appellation scores with its typical strong, acidic red wines.
Graves / Sauternes
The Graves sub-region, southern part of the "left bank", is characterized by the Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes-Barsac appellations. Pessac-Léognan was only founded in 1987 as a red and white wine growing region, and it is here that the best Graves producers have come together. From the probably most famous house of this region, the Château Haut-Brion, red and white wines of strong character come at the same time.
The pure sweet wine region Sauternes & Barsac is world-famous, because the already mentioned "super vineyard" Château d'Yquem, but also the hardly less excellent Château Rieussec are at home here. Sweet wines like these, which have such complex aromas and are never too sweet thanks to a balanced acidity, are truly only created by true grandmasters.
Der Libournais verdankt seinen Ruhm vor allen den Teilgebieten Saint-Émilion und dem Pomerol, der kleinsten Appellation des gesamten Bordelais, die zugleich einige der höchstklassigen Bordeaux-Weine hervorbringt. Die Weine des Saint-Émilion sind meist opulente Cuvées aus Merlot und Cabernet Franc. Aus dem Pomerol kommen vielfach sehr reiche, fruchtige Merlots. Hier sieht man gut, dass große Qualität sich auch ganz ohne „offizielle“ Klassifikationen durchsetzen kann – immerhin sind unter den weltweit teuersten Weinen einige aus dem Pomerol, z.B. der Pétrus-, der Le Pin- oder der Lafleur-Bordeaux.
The region between the Garonne and Dordogne has produced exceptional white Bordeaux wines that have gilded us many a balmy summer evening. Mostly dry cuvées from the grape varieties Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle are produced here, and those who know these grapes can literally taste the fine, fresh citrus notes on the tongue.
Already during the reading it becomes clear: A "palate journey" through the Bordeaux wine region is worthwhile in any case. Bordeaux connoisseurs, but also newcomers to the region, can always expect new, exciting and amazing taste experiences when they taste this excellent wine variety. We look forward to sharing these experiences with our customers!