Bordeaux wine region
Bordeaux is home to some of the greatest wines. Their excellence has inspired wineries all over the world. Why is that?
History and wine classification
Wine production in Bordeaux began early in the 1st century with the arrival of the Roman. Most of today's châteaux emerged in the 17th century with the arrival of the Dutch, who started buying wine for distillation.
In 1855 the first classification of the Médoc grand crus, under Napoleon III, took place (see panel on the right). It is only in the 1950s that the classification of Graves and St. Emilion were created. Pomerol, home of Châteaux Petrus, was never classified.
Bordeaux's vineyards enjoy a mild temperature, maritime climate. Proximity to the ocean is an important factor to have gentle and wet winters.
The Bordeaux's vineyards occupy the entire departement of the Gironde. The region is often divided into the two sub-regions often named as the Left Bank, being on the left of the river Garonne, and the oppostive side being the Right Bank.
The river waters exert a significant influence on both the climate and the soil structures of each sub-region in the appellation, by virtue of their sedimentary deposits.
Starting at the most northerly point of the Right Bank, Bourg and Blaye lie up river near to the southern tip of the great estuary itself, while you have to travel much further south to the banks of the River Dordogne before you stumble across Fronsac and Canon Fronsac, then Pomerol and Lalande de Pomerol, and finally St Emilion and its satellites.
It is the fleshy Merlot grape which dominates this side of the river, which is sometimes supported by Cabernet Franc in the blend (although at the famous St Emilion property Château Cheval Blanc, Cabernet Franc predominates). The soils are more mixed than on the Left Bank, with clay on top of limestone underpinning the rich, fruity wines of Pomerol. Styles vary more in St Emilion, depending on the predominance of sand in the lower lying slopes, or limestone on the hillsides and plateau.
Another difference this side of the river is the size of the wine estates. The grand châteaux of the Left Bank are mostly large estates, whereas the Right Bank properties tend to be much smaller. This is demonstrated by their production: typically Château Lafite-Rothschild will produce 45,000 cases per year, whereas Pomerol’s Château Petrus makes around 2,000-3,500 cases.
The 1855 Médoc Classification did not include any Right Bank properties, which is why you do not find any First Growths here. However, St Emilion has its own classification system and whereas the Médoc Classification was set in stone in 1855, St Emilion revises and updates its classifications every 10 years or so, the last classification occured in 2012 promoting Châteaux Pavie and Angélus to the highest classification. Rather than being judged on price, as with the 1855 Classification, châteaux have to apply for inclusion and are judged by a tasting of their wines from the previous 10 vintages. The Classification groups the best wines into two categories, Premier Grand Cru Classé (which is sub-divided into the rather unglamorous tiers ‘A’ and ‘B’), and the less illustrious Grand Cru Classé.
A comment of Robert Parker on current Bordeaux wine prices
World bidding wars will begin for top wines
"Competition for the world's greatest wines will increase exponentially: The most limited production wines will become even more expensive and more difficult to obtain. The burgeoning interest in fine wine in Asia, South America, Central and Eastern Europe and Russia will make things even worse. There will be bidding wars at auctions for the few cases of highly praised, limited production wines. No matter how high prices appear today for wines from the most hallowed vineyards, they represent only a fraction of what these wines will fetch in a decade. Americans may scream bloody murder when looking at the future prices for the 2003 first growth Bordeaux (an average of $4,000 a case), but if my instincts are correct, 10 years from now a great vintage of these first growths will cost over $10,000 a case...at the minimum. It is simple: The quantity of these great wines is finite, and the demand for them will become at least 10 times greater."
What wine critic Jancis Robinson said on Bordeaux in 2011
(flash video, only available on desktop version)