Bordeaux is one of if not the most famous wine regions of France, and the largest producer of wine in the country with a total vineyard area of 120,000 hectares. Average vintages produce over 700 million bottles of Bordeaux wine, ranging from large quantities of everyday table wine, to some of the most expensive and prestigious wines in the world. 89% of wine produced in Bordeaux is red, with sweet white wines (most notably Sauternes), dry whites, and also some rosé and sparkling wines (Crémant de Bordeaux) collectively making up the remainder. Bordeaux wine is made by more than 8,500 producers or châteaux. There are 54 appellations of Bordeaux wine.
The wine regions of Bordeaux are situated among three important rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne which meet to form the Gironde. Think of it as an upside down Y with the Garonne on the left with the Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Margaux, and Graves all on the left bank. And the Dordogne on the right where Pomerol, St Emilion, and Fronsac reside on the right bank. In the middle of the Y is the Entire Deux Mers (between two seas), kind of the land of everyday Bordeaux.
Red Bordeaux is generally made from a blend of grapes, with permitted grapes being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. As a very broad generalization, Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux’s second-most planted grape variety) dominates the blend in red wines produced in the Médoc and the rest of the left bank of the Gironde estuary. Typical top-quality Châteaux blends are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc & 15% Merlot. This is typically referred to as the “Bordeaux Blend.” Merlot tends to predominate in Saint-Émilion, Pomerol and the other right bank appellations. These Right Bank blends from top-quality Châteaux are typically 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc & 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.
We set up several tasting appointments to get a little understanding of the area, and the various wine regions. When traveling to a new wine area we have found it beneficial to visit both a large vineyard/wine producer and then the smaller family vineyards to get different perspectives and information. While we prefer the small operations and meeting with the wine maker themselves the large operations always have their highlights. In the case of Bordeaux of your going to do a large operation it should be one of the first growth Chateaux on the left bank, we booked at Mouton-Rothchild. We got a great tour, the history of the Chateau, and were able to taste some wine that honestly we could never afford to buy a bottle. But the coolest thing we learned was about the labels, and how each vintage has a piece of original art work from some of the most famous artists in the world. (Picasso, Dali, Andy Warhol, and Prince Charles to name only a few)
Mouton Rothschild is located on the left bank north of the city of Bordeaux in the famous Medoc region, and the wines are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. All the wines we tasted were of recent vintage and really far to early to drink, we will only have to imagine what a properly cellared bottle would be like.
The next day of wine appointments took us to the right bank and the regions of Pomerol and St Emilion and some smaller wine makers. Like I said before our favorite thing is to meet and taste with the wine maker themselves. We had an exceptional visit with Claire Laval of Gombaude Gulliot in Pomerol. We enjoyed a really nice walk through the vines learning about the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that she has been organically growing for many years and is one of the few doing so in the area. It is very easy to see and identify an organic vineyard and a non organic vineyard, usually simply by the fact their is other vegetation growing happily among the vine rows.
We had the benefit of tasting her 2006 and 2000 vintages, wines that are ready to be enjoyed, but can also keep being aged. The wines were very smooth with great complexity and balance, really enjoyable.
We also visited and tasted at Haut-Segottes in St Emilion and Chateau Belles-Graves in Lalande de Pomerol where we stayed. Really beautiful vineyards and great producers of quality right bank Bordeaux.
The St Emilion, Pomerol, Fronsac right bank area is an extremely visually stimulating wine region. It is rolling hills of vines, small villages with old church steeples, and wine Chateaux virtually everywhere and the town of St Emilion is not to be missed if you are making a trip to the area.