Bordeaux is the largest and most famous fine wine region in the world. Bordeaux, is situated in south west France, close to the Atlantic ocean, in an area dominated by the rivers Dordogne and Garonne, both feeding into the mighty Gironde Estuary making this one of the most important French ports throughout recent history. Wines either side of the rivers are known as the left and right bank. The region encompasses some 250,000 acres and is home to over 13,000 wine producers.

Bordeaux is Château country and it contains the highest proportion of large estates than anywhere else in France. Here some of the most expensive and sought after wines in the world are made.

In Britain we call the reds of Bordeaux, Claret after the French word for lighter blended wines, Clairet.

A proportion of top class Bordeaux wines are capable of ageing for years, if not decades.

Since the 19th century, wines have been classified in various notable parts of the region but it is the famous classification of the Medoc area that fuels the world demand for benchmark wines and the concomitant prices that are achieved on the global markets. This classification of 1855 ranked the top 59 chateaux as Cru classé (classed growths) across five levels or tiers, beginning with Fifth growths (Cinquièmes Crus) up to First growths (Premier Crus). These classifications indicated the quality and the price the wine could achieve.

The First growths have now become synonymous with the pinnacle of wine quality; Château Lafite, Château Latour, Château Haut Brion and Château Margaux, joined a century later by Château Mouton Rothschild.

Six to seven hundred million bottles are produced each year. Beyond the dominance of red wines, some 25% of production includes sweet and dry wines, rosé, pink clairet and their home grown sparkling wine cremant.

The term Appellation Controleé is a name and a system begun in Bordeaux and exported all over France. Understandably the term is the best key to understanding the eventual contents of the bottle. Appellation Controleé (AC) means that the place, town or village name (as many wines are named by such districts not grape varieties in France) is controlled, allowing only wines meeting complex pre-ordained standards may use such information on the label. In my experience the larger the appellation, the more modest the wine that emanates therein.

Therefore, remain cautious of the most basic definition such as Appellation Bordeaux Controleé, even though many will emulate the classic Château-illustrated label, as not all are propitiously made wines.



Is was a distinct English connection that first established Bordeaux’s preeminence in the wine drinking world. It was here that Henry Plantagenet, later to become King of England, married the elegant Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, a result of which ceded vast tracks of land in Western France to the English crown including what was to become the Bordeaux region as well as the whole of Gascony. This occupation lasted up until the end of the hundred years war in 1453, when the land reverted to a French Kingdom. However, the established export market to England remained more or less intact.

It was much later, in the mid 17th century that Dutch merchants became supreme traders around the port and their farming know-how was used to undertake modern draining of the marshlands of the Medoc, not dissimilar to Norfolk, establishing the principal fertile regions we know today.

Grape Varieties

The predominant red wines are made up of a blend of grape varieties. These blends differ from region to region and their proportions play a distinct part in the wine’s longevity.

The most famous red grape in the region is Cabernet Sauvignon, a thick skinned, richly coloured variety. It is the tannin-rich skins of Cabernet that offer the propensity to age the wines of the region. The most widespread variety is Merlot which is blended to a greater or lesser degree in many wines, and offers a simpler more velvety character to the wines eventual style. To a lesser extent, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec are used to enhance certain aspects in a number of red wines.

The two main white grapes are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and are used to varied effect in wines which are either sweet or dry. A little aromatic assistance can be gained from the region’s third white grape, Muscadelle.

Principal regions.


A principally flat area of land on the left bank of the Gironde Estuary, north of Bordeaux, leading towards the Atlantic coast. This is clearly Bordeaux’s hallowed wine region. The Bas-Medoc nearer the coastline is an area producing average quality wines whereas the Haut-Medoc further southwards, is host to some of the most famous Château Estates including many crus classés – St-Julien, Margaux, Pauillac, St Julien, St-Estephe and Listrac. It is in these areas that the wine tourist peers through elegant railings at principally 19th century Chateaux, mostly empty apart from weekend parties and the constant hosting of investors and their esteemed and wealthy clientele. Medoc is also the cultural homeland of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. As we have said Cabernet Sauvignon offers the wine an extraordinary capacity to age by dint of considerable tannins found in its skin, stalk and pips. Drink the wine too young and these tannins will overpower the palate leaving a cheek puckering sensation similar to cold, dark tea. Leave the wine to age and the transformation is something akin to a miracle, with tannins softening whilst offering a structure to the wine and the fruit, gently mellowing into a harmonious whole. Definitely a wine for food rather than bar consumption. (Try the Chateau Tour St Bonnet 2001 from your tasting case.)

Cru Bourgeois – Médoc

Just below the real-estate wines of the classed growths sits another category worthy of investigation. These are wines known as Cru Bourgeois with around five dozen notable estates within the region where individualistic, forward thinking winemakers, who are up to speed on the world’s wine markets and have understood the technological  innovation oft resisted by their forbears.

St Émilion

A wine from the right bank of the river Gironde where the Merlot grape reigns supreme. Here wines mature earlier than their counterparts and offer a warmer, more fruity style regarded by some as a modern European taste although they often lack structure and length by comparison, although they often harbour hints of attractive spice. The finest examples are classified as Premier Grand cru Classé, a  festival of old French beaurocrat-speak, but a watchword nevertheless. Beneath this the classification of Grand Cru are five satellite villages having their names on the label. (see Montagne St Émilion in your tasting case).


A tiny region with diminutive estates with prices disproportionately high. It is here that one of the world’s most expensive red wines emanate; Château Petrus.

On the right bank of the Dordogne is the heartland of the Merlot grape, producing wines of sublime opulence capable of many years bottle aging. Look for a marginally cheaper cousin to Petrus – Lalande de Pomerol. (Your tasting case provides a four year old)


There are many other red appellations labelled simply as Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superior, although from supposedly lesser sites they are presently being re-invented by younger wine makers, producing wine at far lower cost with the ability to drunk much earlier than some of their neighbours. Bargains abound although some offerings can be a little vapid. (We offer a Côtes de Castillon 2001, as an example of the former, in your tasting case.)

Sauternes and its satellites.

These wines emanate from the southernmost area of the region and offer some of the world’s best loved dessert wines. Made from botrytis (noble rot) affected grapes and picked later in the harvest in order to concentrate the sugar in the grape flesh. Grapes are both Semillon and Sauvignon. 25 classified Châteaux with one Premier Grand Cru – Château d’Yquem, with a new vintage commanding hundreds of pounds per bottle. More affordable wines to watch for are from Loupiac and St-Croix-du-Mont. (tasting case provides a classic Sauternes)


Translated into English this region means Between Two Seas. The seas referred to are the two mighty rivers, Dordogne and Garonne, between which nestles the vast triangle of alluvial land bearing the appellation famously known throughout Europe and with a notable history here in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is from Entre-Deux-Mers that the classic ‘fish-friendly’ style of crackling dry fusion of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon emanate. Derided in the post war, giant steps are being made to integrate into a more modern global market with the newly fashionable acceptance of the Sauvignon grape.

Tasting Notes

Cabernet Sauvignon

When tasting the rich, thick skinned Cabernet Sauvignon look for the overriding tastes of hedgerow fruit such as blackcurrants and blackberries. Tertiary tastes such as mint or ripe green pepper are often in evidence as is chocolate on some wines. Oak ageing can often provide hints of cedar, pencil or cigar box.


Similar in many ways to Cabernet Sauvignon but is softer with less evident tannins. Has become a most popular style on its own in California and Chile. Look for ripe, plummy fruit rather than winter berries with distinct nuances of rich fruit cake coupled with a background delicacy of rose petals.