France - Bordeaux
The red wines of Bordeaux, all made of a blend from three and sometimes five permitted red grape varieties, are arguably the world's most famous reds. Sauternes, the archetypal sweet white wine is made from a blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, as are other dry white wines.
Terroir is at the heart of Bordeaux's reputation and success on the world-wide stage. In terms of red wine, there are two distinct zones called the Left Bank and the Right Bank. The better wines tend to be found from the AC districts or communes in either of the "banks".
The Left Bank vineyards lie west of the Garonne River and the Gironde Estuary, into which the Garonne empties. The Right Bank vineyards lie east and north of the Dordogne River and east of the Gironde Estuary. The Gironde, formed by the confluence of the Dordogne and the Garonne in the heart of Bordeaux, flows through the region to the Atlantic, providing passage for ships filled with wine destined for northern Europe, America and beyond.
The climate, though rather marginal in terms of wine, is relatively frost-free, with warm summers and mild autumns. A forest separates Bordeaux from the Atlantic, and affords protection from ocean storms. Soils are the key to ripening grapes here. Well-drained, gravelly soils in the MÃƒÂ©doc and Graves, clay in Pomerol and limestone in St-Emilion are planted to the varietals centuries of experience have proved most suitable; respectively Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Classifications Basic Appellations: Bordeaux Rouge and Blanc
Bordeaux Sup'rieur: Red with a bit more alcohol than basic Bordeaux.
AOC (AC) Wines: MÃƒÂ©doc, Haut-MÃƒÂ©doc, Graves, St-Emilion, Entre-Deux Mers, etc.
St-Emilion Classification Graves Classification
Pomerol: Alone of the major regions with no classification.
Permitted grape varieties (found throughout Bordeaux, but most prolific in the following areas):
Cabernet Sauvignon: Especially MÃƒÂ©doc peninsula and Graves
Cabernet Franc: St. Emilion (to blend with Merlot)
Merlot: Pomerol and St. Emilion
Petit Verdot: Blended in small quantities for color and aroma.
Malbec: Less highly regarded but sometimes used in blends.
Sauvignon Blanc: Graves, Entre-Deux-Mers
Muscadelle: Blender in small quantities to Sauternes and others.
Important red wine areas of Bordeaux:
Right Bank (east)
Left Bank (west)
Haut-MÃƒÂ©doc (appellation south of the MÃƒÂ©doc peninsula)
St-Emilion: Overall appellation for simplest wines.
St-Emilion Grand Cru: Group of about 200 chateaux making mostly pleasant wine ready for consumption.
Grand Cru ClassÃƒÂ©: Official classification (1955; 1985; 1996) designating a group of about 60 chateaux producing very good wine on the whole.
Premier Grand Cru ClassÃƒÂ©: Official classification (1955, 1985) designating the creme de la creme. This is a group of 13, with Cheval Blanc and Ausone in Group A and Anglus, BeausÃƒÂ©jour-Fagout, BeausÃƒÂ©jour-Duffau, Chateaux: Belair, Conon, Clos Fourtet, Figeac, La Graffeliire, Magdelien, Pavie and Trotteveille in Group B.
Pomerol: From a rather featureless block of vineyards northeast of the town of Libourne and the district of St-Emilion, comes some of the world's most exciting Merlot-based wines. The properties may be small, some less than an acre, but the wines are remarkable. Some of the more westerly estates are on sandy soil, but at the heart of Pomerol, it is thick clay, with an underpinning of iron and minerals, that produce the classic wines of Petrus, Trontanoy, Le Pin, Certan-de-May and Latour-Pomerol. An adjacent district is Lalande-de-Pomerol, producing wines with a touch of Pomerol's rich and concentrated yet accessible style.
MÃƒÂ©doc: The district known as MÃƒÂ©doc, the most famous red wine district of Bordeaux, stretches northwest along the Left Bank of the Gironde River from the city of Bordeaux for more than 50 miles. The Haut-MÃƒÂ©doc is located on higher ground, and is where the greatest wines are found. The so-called Bas-MÃƒÂ©doc, (permitted to bear the appellation MÃƒÂ©doc), is situated near the mouth of the Gironde, and is home to more simple wines.
The topography of MÃƒÂ©doc is very flat, with warm, well-drained gravelly soils. The Haut-MÃƒÂ©doc boasts some of the most famous wine communes including St-Estephe, St-Julien, Pauillac, Margaux (where classed growths are concentrated), and the slightly less-known Moulis and Listrac. Cabernet Sauvignon is king in MÃƒÂ©doc, with additional plantings of the other Bordeaux red varieties Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.
In 1855, the leading chateaux of the MÃƒÂ©doc were classified by Bordeaux wine brokers into five levels. Included was one property of Graves, Haut-Brion, considered too important to omit. The only time this classification changed was in 1973, when chateau Mouton-Rothschild was promoted from Second to First Growth classification.
Premier Crus (First Growths): Lafite-Rothschild, Margaux, Latour, Haut-Brion and Mouton-Rotchschild (added in 1973).
Other classed growths:
Deuxiemes Crus (Second Growths) 14
Troisiemes Crus (Third Growths) 14
Quatrieme Crus (Fourth Growths) 10
Cinquieme Crus (Fifth Growths) 18
Cru Borgeois (A level just below Fifth Growth first classified in 1932.)
Graves & Pessac-LÃƒÂ©ognan: The Graves extends south for 35 miles along the left bank of the Garonne River, right to the edge of the sweet wine regions of Cerons, Barsac and Sauternes. Soils tend to range from deep and gravelly to sand and clay close to the river's edge. Graves is the only Bordeaux region that can claim to make three styles of wine: Red (from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot), white, and sweet white (from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion). Pessac-LÃƒÂ©ognan is the northerly sub-appellation most famous for the first growth Haut-Brion, the only wine of the classification of 1855 not from the MÃƒÂ©doc. Fine white wines are found in Pessac-LÃƒÂ©ognan as well, as they are throughout the district of Graves, but red plantings outnumber white two to one.
Sauternes is nestled against the Graves and Pessac-Lognan at the southeastern corner of Bordeaux, on the left bank of the Garonne River. The two appellations of the district are Sauternes and Barsac; five villages comprise Sauternes: Sauternes, Barsac (lighter-style wines that can also be labeled "Sauternes"), Preignac, Fargues and Bommes. Sauternes is home to the most sublime sweet wines in the world, including Chateau d'Yquem and Rieussec.
The wines of Sauternes are made from botrysized Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion grapes. The "noble rot" Botrytis cinerea attacks the grapes causing them to crack and shrivel. The fungus pierces the skins in order to feed on the sugar and tartaric acid within. The grape dehydrates, concentrating the sugar that is left. The invading rot also changes the chemical composition of the remaining juices, producing glycerol, and the rich, unctuous mouth feel that is the hallmark of a botrysized wine.
The Sauternes classification was made in 1855, at the same time as the MÃƒÂ©doc. The wine Chateau d'Yquem has the distinction of being the only First Great Growth (Premier Cru Superieur); all other French chateaux are ranked below as First of Second Growths. Other Sauternes classifications are First Growths (Premiers Crus) and Second Growths (Deuxieme Crus).