Wine production in Bordeaux is believed to have begun around 43 AD, a time when the Romans established vineyards to cultivate and produce wine for the soldiers. However, the first real evidence of vineyards in Bordeaux was recorded in 71 AD.
From these early beginnings, Bordeaux is now the largest and one of the most influential wine regions in France with roughly 8,500 wine producers and 54 appellations. As to the grapes of the region: Merlot is most grown, accounting for 62% of the vineyards, closely followed by Cabernet sauvignon in second, which accounts for 25% and third place is Cabernet Franc, which accounts for around 12%. Small amounts of Malbec, Carmenere and Petit Verdot account for the remaining.
Separated by the Rivers Garonne, Dordogne and where they flow together the Gironde Estuary (The largest estuary in Western Europe) the left and right banks of Bordeaux are as diverse in wine making as they are famous.
Pass the Dutchie 'pon the left-hand side’
To the left of the Girone estuary and North of Bordeaux lies the Medoc with famous appellations like St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Julien and Margaux. Further South and to the left of the river Garonne, you will find Graves, Sauternes and Barsac, famous for their sweet wines.
A most fascinating historical fact is that modern Bordeaux wine owes much of its success to the 17th and 18th century Dutch. Once a salty marshland, the gravely (and perfect for growing vines) soil of the Medoc (that boasts the likes of Pauillac, St-Julien and Margaux) was only made possible by Dutch land reclamation.
It is also interesting to note the Dutch influence on the types of wine produced in Bordeaux, their preference leaning to substantial, bold and tannin heavy wines with aging potential as opposed to the light and young Clarets of the time.
On the grapevine
History to one side, when you think of the left bank you think Cabernet Sauvignon. Although most wine from the left bank tend to be blends, it is the Cabernet Sauvignon that dominate. With their thick skins, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes tend to ripen late and this aides in the production of tannic, bold wines that age remarkably well. Cabernet Sauvignon’s (junior) partner in crime is of course the earlier ripening Merlot, almost always present in the blends but hardly the main feature. Other notable red varieties grown are Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.
Special mention must be made of the Bordeaux white grape varieties namely Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Although Sauvignon dry white wine has become more prominent, it is the Semillon that stands out, used in the production of some of the world’s most exquisite, sweet wines by producers in Sauternes and Barsac.
A bit to the right…
As we journey towards the right-hand side of the Dordogne it might be of interest to know that despite this being Bordeaux, the right bank claims Libourne as its wine making capital instead of Bordeaux.
With over 64000 acre of vineyards grown on incredibly diverse terroir ranging from the famous blue clay of Petrus to the limestone found around St.Emilion, it is little wonder that the right bank produces such a diverse range of wines.
Dominated by the growth of Merlot, the right bank also includes Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot vineyards.
Here the big players in Bordeaux Wines are of course Pomerol and St.Emilion, boasting famous names like Petrus, Château Cheval Blanc, Le Pin and Chateau Lafleur to name but a few. Properties here tend to be smaller than on the left bank making the availability scarce with prices that reflect this fact.
This is of course not to say all wines from the right bank need financing: on the contrary, these are the exceptions, not the rule. The right bank of Bordeaux offer truly exceptional wines at incredibly accessible prices.
With all this in mind you surely must be ready for a glass of Bordeaux goodness by now, and kind folks that we are, we have listed some truly excellent options for you to consider, enjoy!
Château Plaisance Montagne Saint-Émilion 2014
The 2014 Montagne Saint-Emilion offers intenseley perfumed ripe red fruits, most notably blackberry and raspberry, accompanied by notes of oak and vanilla. Powerful and silky, with tight tannin, the wine is matured in oak for 12 months to give superb depth and concentration to this fruit driven classic.
Château Peyreblanque Graves Red 2018
Rich, Garnet red in colour, this seductive Bordeaux boasts an abundance of dark fruit flavours with Cherries and Plum giving way to hints of forest herbs, spice and smoke. A deliciously, full bodied wine with soft, well rounded tannins and long finish.
Les Hauts de Smith Rouge Magnum 2016
This inviting 2016 Les Hauts de Smith is a unique blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. This Merlot-based wine offers tonnes of complexity sheer appeal. The flavour profile boasts ripe red cherry, raspberry, mint, rose petals and dried flowers that add grace throughout.
Château Gabelot Bordeaux 2016
A blend of 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2016 is a great vintage – rich, harmonious wine that is already delicious but will continue to age well over the next few years. This wine is medium-bodied. On the nose, it offers wonderful red fruits and a slight inkiness to it.
Château Fayau 2018
The Château Fayau is a fantastic wine showcasing toast and spice with ripe red-berry fruit. Find rich with layers of oak, excellent fine tannins, and a long, balanced finish. This wine is the perfect blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet-Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet-Franc.
Château Batailley Pauillac 2010
2010 Batailley is an excellent and serious Pauillac with layers of complexity. Dark forest fruits on the nose with hints of spice. The palate is silky and medium-full bodied with rich fruits, spice and fine, ripe tannins and offers a fresh minerality. Good acidity gives balance to the wine which is drinking well now, but still has potential to age.
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