Introduction

By Lisa Rowlands

The port city of Bordeaux, with its wealth of historical and cultural sights, has long been a magnet for tourists from all over the world. Offering some of Europe’s finest examples of eighteenth century architecture, as well as a vibrant arts scene, a reputation for serving up gastronomic delights and a location that places it at the centre of planet Earth’s most famous wine-making region, Bordeaux is a city of style, elegance and opulence - traits that it shares with the region’s wines. Whilst no wine is produced within the city limits, the wider region has seen continuous viticultural activity since the Romans first introduced wine for local consumption half way through the first century. Today, the region’s 120,000 hectares under vine account for 15% of France’s entire viticultural land.

A patchwork of lush rolling countryside, pine forests, quaint hilltop villages and row after row of beautifully maintained vineyards planted with mathematical precision, the Bordeaux wine landscape is one of stark contrasts and dramatic beauty. Enjoying a temperate climate with long, warm summers, mild winters, excellent soil diversity and natural drainage, the terroir of the region lends itself to the cultivation of the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that are synonymous with its most celebrated wines. Intense daytime sunshine in the growing season coupled with cooler night-time temperatures, and a mostly south / southeastern aspect, ensures optimal ripeness and provides the the grapes (and subsequently, the wines) with the unique character and complexity for which they are held in such high regard. Soil structure varies across the region with the left bank vines planted on predominantly gravel-based plots and the estates on the right being dominated by limestone and clay soils; hence the Châteaux of the Médoc (left bank) produce wines dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (a later ripening variety which thrives in sandy gravel), and those of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol (on the right bank) produce principally Merlot-led blends.

Whilst the esteemed red Bordeaux blend is the region’s most recognised export, it is supported by a number of high quality white wines which also have stellar international reputations, in particular the dry whites of Pessac-Léognan and the celebrated sweet, botrytized wines of Sauternes. Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle are the chief permissible varieties in the white Bordeaux blend, although it is common for the wines to be made entirely from the first two grapes, and rare - although not unheard of - for mono-varietals to be produced. In addition to the three principal grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon (nearly two thirds of plantings), Merlot (almost one quarter) and Cabernet Franc (roughly one tenth), the red grape vineyards of Bordeaux also contain smaller amounts of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère, which although permissible, are rarely used in an estate’s Grand Vin.

Appellations of Bordeaux

Barsac AOC

Important appellation for Bordeaux’s botrytis sweet wines.

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Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux AOC

The appellation Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux AOC is reserved for Côtes de Bordeaux wines produced in the Blaye area. This zone of historical importance has grown wine since antiquity and is nowadays known mostly for its soft, well-structured Merlot driven blends.

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Bordeaux AOC

The generic, regional level appellation Bordeaux AOC, can be used for both red and white wines produced in the Bordeaux region of France. Since there are a number of prestigious enclaved appellations within this region, the wines sold under the basic label are usually entry level wines.

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Cadillac AOC

Established in 1973, Cadillac is a French wine appellation within the region of Premières Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. It takes its name from the small, fortified town, thirty kilometres south of Bordeaux, and is known for the production of sweet, botrytized wines.

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