Bordeaux is typically defined by its complex appellation system, where wines are characterized by their specific districts of origin. But every wine connoisseur knows that the key to understanding Bordeaux is to focus on the best producers. The first and most famous classification of Bordeaux producers was the 1855 Classification of the Médoc and Graves, which ranked some five dozen estates. It was originally based on Chateau reputation and the prices paid by wine merchants at the time, and is still a surprisingly accurate measure of quality, however, it should be emphasized that a wine or appellation can still be outstanding even if it is not a part of these classifications!
In 1855, Napoleon III, emperor of France, decided to throw a Universal Exposition in Paris, a kind of world’s fair, and wanted all the country’s wines represented. He invited Bordeaux’s Chamber of Commerce to arrange an exhibit. The members of the chamber knew a hornet’s nest when they saw one, so they passed the buck. They agreed, according to their records, to present “all our crus classés, up to the fifth-growths,” but asked the Syndicat of Courtiers, an organization of wine merchants, to draw up “an exact and complete list of all the red wines of the Gironde that specifies in which class they belong.”
The courtiers hardly even paused to think; two weeks later, they turned in the famous list. It included 58 châteaus: four firsts, 12 seconds, 14 thirds, 11 fourths and 17 fifths. They expected controversy. “You know as well as we do, Sirs, that this classification is a delicate task and bound to raise questions; remember that we have not tried to create an official ranking, but only to offer you a sketch drawn from the very best sources.”
Curiously, all of the courtiers’ selections came from the Médoc, with the single exception of Haut-Brion (they also ranked the sweet white wines of Sauternes and Barsac). It’s not that other wine regions weren’t active; the Graves boasted a much longer history, and Cheval-Blanc in St.-Emilion and Canon in Fronsac were highly regarded by the early 19th century. But the 18th century revolution in wine quality took hold first and most firmly in the Médoc.
Since 1855, many changes have occurred in the châteaus’ names, owners, vineyards and wine quality, and because of divisions in the original estates, there are now 61 châteaus on the list. But if an estate can trace its lineage to the classification, it retains its claim to cru classé status. The only formal revision came in 1973, when after half a century of unceasing effort Baron Philippe de Rothschild succeeded in having Mouton elevated to first-growth.
—Excerpted from an article by Thomas Matthews
Château Lafite Rothschild Pauillac
Château Latour Pauillac
Château Margaux Margaux
Château Haut-Brion Pessac, Graves (since 1986, Pessac-Leognan)
Château Mouton-Rothschild (became a first-growth in 1973) Pauillac
Château Rausan-Segla (Rauzan-Segla) Margaux
Château Rauzan-Gassies Margaux
Château Léoville Las Cases St.-Julien
Château Léoville Poyferré St.-Julien
Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien
Château Durfort-Vivens Margaux
Château Gruaud-Larose St.-Julien
Château Lascombes Margaux
Château Brane-Cantenac Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron Pauillac
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pichon-Longueville-Lalande) Pauillac
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou St.-Julien
Château Cos-d’Estournel St.-Estèphe
Château Montrose St.-Estèphe
Château Kirwan Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château d’Issan Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château Lagrange St.-Julien
Château Langoa Barton St.-Julien
Château Giscours Labarde-Margaux (Margaux)
Château Malescot-St.-Exupéry Margaux
Château Cantenac-Brown Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château Boyd-Cantenac Margaux
Château Palmer Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château La Lagune Ludon (Haut-Médoc)
Château Desmirail Margaux
Château Calon-Ségur St.-Estephe
Château Ferrière Margaux
Château Marquis-d’Alesme-Becker Margaux
Château St.-Pierre St.-Julien
Château Talbot St.-Julien
Château Branaire-Ducru St.-Julien
Château Duhart-Milon Rothschild Pauillac
Château Pouget Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château La Tour Carnet St.-Laurent (Haut-Médoc)
Château Lafon-Rochet St.-Estèphe
Château Beychevelle St.-Julien
Château Prieuré-Lichine Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château Marquis de Terme Margaux
Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac
Château Batailley Pauillac
Château Haut-Batailley Pauillac
Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste Pauillac
Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse Pauillac
Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac
Château Lynch-Moussas Pauillac
Château Dauzac Labarde (Margaux)
Château Mouton-Baronne-Philippe (Château d’Armailhac after 1989)Pauillac
Château du Tertre Arsac (Margaux)
Château Haut-Bages-Libéral Pauillac
Château Pédesclaux Pauillac
Château Belgrave St.-Laurent (Haut-Médoc)
Château Camensac (Château de Camensac) St.-Laurent (Haut-Médoc)
Château Cos-Labory St.-Estèphe
Château Clerc-Milon Pauillac
Château Croizet-Bages Pauillac
Château Cantemerle Macau (Haut-Médoc)
Château d’Yquem Sauternes
Château La Tour Blanche Bommes (Sauternes)
Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey Bommes (Sauternes)
Clos Haut-Peyraguey (Château Clos Haut-Peyraguey) Bommes (Sauternes)
Château de Rayne-Vigneau Bommes (Sauternes)
Château Suduiraut Preignac (Sauternes)
Château Coutet Barsac
Château Climens Barsac
Château Guiraud Sauternes
Château Rieussec Fargues (Sauternes)
Château Rabaud-Promis Bommes (Sauternes)
Château Sigalas-Rabaud Bommes (Sauternes)
Château Myrat (Château de Myrat) Barsac
Château Doisy-Daëne Barsac
Château Doisy-Dubroca Barsac
Château Doisy-Védrines Barsac
Château d’Arche Sauternes
Château Filhot Sauternes
Château Broustet Barsac
Château Nairac Barsac
Château Caillou Barsac
Château Suau Barsac
Château de Malle Preignac (Sauternes)
Château Romer (Château Romer du Hayot) Fargues (Sauternes)
Château Lamothe Sauternes
Wine Spectator, Modern ABCs of Bordeaux, Website
Wine Spectator, The 1855 Bordeaux Classification, Website
- New World wines are usually named for the grape varietal used (or at least the predominant grape in the bottle).
- Old World wines are usually named after the region they were made in.
Did you know that Pinot Noir and Red Burgundy are the same type of wine? Confusing, I know!
Most wines are named in two different ways:
- The grape they are made from
- The region they are made in
The wine name depends on where you are buying your wine. For example, in the New World wines (“newbies” to the wine making traditions: United States, Australia, New Zealand), the wines are named after the predominant grape varietal in the bottle. If Pinot Noir grapes were used to make 75% of the wine, and the winemaker blended other grapes for the remaining 25%, then you are drinking a Pinot Noir according to the New World rules.
The Old World wines (think places with a long history of making wine: France, Italy, Spain) are more traditional. A wine made mostly of Sangiovese in Chianti will be called Chianti instead of Sangiovese. Winemakers in the Old World stick to regional names because they feel the region has as much to add to the success of the wine as the grape.
- Bordeaux: “au bord de l’eau” – “along the waters”
- 80% of wine produced is red
Bordeaux is the largest fine-wine region in the world. It is larger than all of Germany’s vineyards put together, and ten times larger than all of New Zealand’s vineyards. Bordeaux supplies about 700 million bottles of wine a year, 80% of which are red wines. Known for wine that can age for many years, Bordeaux’s location is a huge factor in why the wines are so well received.
Located near the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by three rivers and many small streams, water places a crucial part in the Bordeaux wines we know and love. The name Bordeaux comes from “au bord de l’eau” French for “along the waters”. Bordeaux vines benefit from the mild and balanced weather provided by the Gulf Stream-warmed ocean and three large surrounding rivers. The waters are aided by the pine forests to the south and west which block potential frosts, cold snaps, and summer storms.
Both red and white Bordeaux wines are usually a blend of two or more grape varietals in order to get the more complex flavors associated with the Bordeaux region. Not all grapes blend well together, but Bordeaux seems to have had the best blending techniques and recipes all figured out for quite some time!
80% of the wines produced are red. There are 5 red grapes used that are usually blended: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The two main red grapes used are Merlot (fleshy and round) and Cabernet Sauvignon (structured). Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon balance each other nicely, and the tannins of the cabernet sauvignon help act as a preservative, which is why Bordeaux wines can age for a long time.
White Bordeaux can be a blend of Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Ugni Blanc. The main grapes blended are Semillon (dry and heavy) and Sauvignon Blanc (crisp and floral). Semillon is known as the “soul of white Bordeaux” and when aged can becomes creamy with a hint of honey. The Sauvignon Blanc is the opposite of Semillon: wild and zesty. Together they create a beautifully balanced and complicated white wine.
MacNeil, Karen. “Bordeaux.” The Wine Bible. New York: Workman Pub., 2001. 118-23. Print.
Bernard Magrez, the owner of Pape Clement collects these ancient trees and carefully imports them in from all over the world. Quite amazing really.
A challenging growing season to say the least, the 2012 vintage for Bordeaux will be a story of survival of the fittest. A cold and wet spring poured a deluge twice the norm on the budding vines, affecting flowering and setting. July brought moody rains, encouraging disease and causing spotty ripening. Two weeks into July, the sun came out with no relief until August had almost passed by, at which time nature again turned a cold shoulder to the vines, weeping on the struggling fruit during a late, chilly harvest.
A difficult year? Absolutely. Pass on En Primeur? That depends. While market trends have shifted some buyers away from Bordeaux, and is still showing definitive weakness, there are some highlights worth considering. Good terroir can produce good wine, even in bad years, if handled properly and tended intelligently. This year, then, will be one in which expertise will be rewarded, and those resting on laurels, or simply hoping for the best, will fall and fail.
Nature smiled on certain grape varietals in the 2012 vintage, including Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Thus, dry whites basically did well in 2012, and Merlots seem to be performing favorably, especially Pomerol and St.-Emilion wines. Rather difficult challenges were set up for some of the reds, especially those predominantly composed of Cabernet Sauvignon. Sauternes was especially hard-hit in 2012, and larger, renowned Châteaux, including d’Yquem, announced that they would not produce any grand vin from the tenuous vintage. This news did not bode well for the other Châteaux in the region. There are always exceptional cases, so we must ask, did 2012 bring anything really special to the table?
The 2012 Château Margaux found the highest percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon ever in the mix at 87 percent. With moderate term potential, the popular dense structure, dark fruit, and high tannins may end up building a lovely glass.
The 2012 Château Palmer Margaux is put together nicely, with another densely structured sip built of 48 percent Merlot, 46 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 6 percent Petit Verdot. This wine is looking to be a true gem of the vintage and worthy of investment for the right reasons.
Nowhere is the possibility of a good wine from a bad year more likely than from Château Mouton-Rothschild, where the legendary terroir yielded a rich, extravagant wine boasting big fruit and sweet tannins at this stage. The 2012 Mouton appears poised to deliver an extraordinary result that is built for the long haul. Château Lafite-Rothschild produced a more elegant, classic style in 2012 with a precious 38% of the harvest making it into the blend. While production of the 2012 Lafite is much lower, the wine is being offered at an attainable price for the first time in years. Wines from St. Julien, such as the 2012 Château Saint Pierre, and the Château Talbot, have shown rounded, lushly endowed wines with promise.
Why risk the money in such a difficult year? As with any investment, being both smart and lucky are in the mix, but the obvious answer is to apply known factors to access wines produced in limited quantities that may emerge as stellar sips. The added impetus comes from purchasing such wines at the best price, two years before bottling.
As the wines continue to build character in the barrel, and each additional tranch firms up the price, they await the final test. No matter what the experts, negociants, retailers, and journalists say, the real deal comes from the smiles on the faces of investors tasting the results of a good decision.
On August 2, 2012, I visited Chateau Latour-Martillac in Pessac-Leognan for a tour and tasting with Tristan Kressman, one of the principals of the Chateau, the other being his brother Loic. The Kressman family has owned and operated the vineyard since the 1930’s. The Chateau first appears to be a fairly compact physical structure with the singular exception of a large “Tour” or tower at the front. From this vantage point, the interior of the Chateau grounds and production facilities are hidden from the eye. As one rounds the structure and turns into the interior courtyard , a much larger production/warehouse facility or “chais” is revealed. It is a charming spot on a slope with a nice look-out to the Pessac hills sloping toward the river.
Chateau Latour-Martillac is one of my favorite Chateau because their wines represent to me the essence of the Pessac-Leognan terroir at a reasonable price. The reds display the classic Pessac flavors of cedar, charcoal, cigar-box and powerful dark fruit. The whites are often flinty and tightly wound but are bound up in wonderful melon and fig fruit flavors and aromas. In top vintages, the whites have the structure to age up to 20 years.
The wines have not found a huge press or consumer following in the U.S. and this has helped keep the prices down to earth. It is a friendly and welcoming Chateau with a very nice visitor’s area that features the history of the Chateau and sells the wines to visitors. The wine is made under the direction of the two Kressman brothers, a full time oenologist (Valerie Vialard) and Denis Dubordieu. Dubordieu was the white wine consultant for Chateau Latour-Martillac for ten years and is now involved with the red wine as well since the 2006 vintage. Annual production of the grand vins is about 15,000 cases from 42 hectares. 80% of this production goes into the red wine and 20% into the white wine. The red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The white is usually about 65% Sauvignon Blanc and the rest of the wine is made with Semillon.
After the tour, we tasted a vertical of the red and the white. Below are my notes and few Parker numerical scores.
Grand Vin Rouge
2001 Chateau Latour Martillac Secondary flavors of cedar and cigar now becoming more pronounced in this wine. Ready to drink now.
2005 Chateau Latour Martillac Still displaying the brute force of the vintage. Mouth tightening concentration and tannins envelope this wine in a package bound for long-term development.
2006 Chateau Latour Martillac Pleasingly concentrated and well put together for the vintage. The first vintage under Dubordieu.
2008 Chateau Latour Martillac Excellent freshness and concentration. A value vintage since it was released during a difficult economic environment.
2009 Chateau Latour Martillac A beauty. Sweet and perfectly integrated tannins bound up in glorious fruit. A great wine from this estate and meant for long term cellaring. RP 94
2010 Chateau Latour Martillac Bottled in May and showing it. Has the fruit concentration of 2009 , one will have to see if the tannins and oak round out as nicely as the 2009. RP 90-92
Grand Vin Blanc
2005 Chateau Latour Martillac Blanc Just coming out of its shell now.
2008 Chateau Latour Martillac Blanc Powerful acid and fresh fruit but less complete than the others whites.
2009 Chateau Latour Martillac Blanc Packed with great fruits characteristics and framed in wonderfully intense acid. Will age for a long time. RP 94
2010 Chateau Latour Martillac Similar to the 2009 but with perhaps a touch less fruit. Also build to age. RP 90-93.
The old adage that great Bordeaux vintages come in pairs is ringing true for the 2010 vintage as it joins the ranks beside 2009. The 2010 vintage is stacking up to be a beauty for Bordeaux and here at The Wine Cellarage, we are thrilled to present these exceptional wines for En Primeur purchase.
The 2010 Bordeaux Futures have been donned with bullish scores and exorbitant prices yet again with some of the top wines priced higher than ever. The question is, how bullish are you feeling when it comes to 2010 Bordeaux Futures and why buy-in now?
Given the very recent turbulence in the market and the current economic uncertainty, you may be hesitant to diversify your portfolio with 2010 Bordeaux Futures at the moment, but investing in wine from a great vintage should be carefully considered nonetheless. The main incentive for buying futures is to snag the wines up at a lower price before they are bottled, at which point the values have the potential to increase 20% to 30%. The other payoff is, of course, guaranteeing that you get a piece of the pie, since these wines are produced in finite quantities. There is only so much wine to go around and there are plenty of consumers and investors out there who are thirsty, willing and able to lap it all up. Wine is a very tangible commodity, another appealing aspect of the investment.
Here lies the conundrum. The 2010 Bordeaux vintage first and second growths will cost you a pretty penny, causing a lot of seasoned Bordeaux buyers to respond bearishly, yet the quality of this Bordeaux vintage is so promising! Robert Parker has anointed the 2010 Bordeaux vintage with fantastic scores, submitting that “it is an inescapable truth that 2010 has produced another year of compelling Bordeaux that will go down as a prodigious vintage alongside 2009. Take your pick – this news is either tragic or mythical, but I have tasted enough wines from 2005, 2009 and 2010 to realize that these may be the three greatest Bordeaux vintages I have tasted in my career.”
The 2010 Bordeaux growing season was warm and extremely dry, producing small, thick-skinned grapes with elevated sugar levels, a potentially cumbersome combo. However, during August and September, cool nights swept into the Gironde maintaining the high acidity levels needed to balance the opulent, concentrated fruit and sugar. These wines are thus infused with delightful freshness, giving them impeccable balance and ensuring astounding longevity.
There are several different approaches that you can take when investing in Bordeaux Futures. Some experts advise scooping up only the first growths and highly regarded second growths, but this isn’t a realistic tactic for everyone. Robert Parker recommends that those interested in buying 2010 Bordeaux Futures “forget about the first-growths, super-seconds and a handful of other limited production glamour wines as they will be beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest millionaires and billionaires” and advises choosing from the “many, many good values and great wines” that can be bought at much lower prices. Mid-range under-the-radar wines, when given a favorable score, have been known to jump in value, making them a savvy choice.
The returns on your investment in 2010 Bordeaux could be really great, not to mention that you will always have the option to drink and enjoy the wine if nothing else. These are my favorite kind of liquid assets! Once you’ve done your homework and chosen the 2010 Bordeaux Futures that you’re going to buy, be sure to secure the best wine storage possible to keep your investment in pristine condition.
Below you will find a short guide to the 2010 Bordeaux Futures that we have to offer at The Wine Cellarage. To view our entire collection available for En Primeur purchase, Click Here.
Red Wines of the Left Bank
2010 Château Margaux, Margaux ($1,350; Wine Advocate: 96-98 pts)
2010 Château Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac ($1,850; Wine Advocate: 98-100 pts)
2010 Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac ($1,300; Wine Advocate: 97-100 pts)
2010 Château Haut Brion, Pessac-Leognan ($1,250; Wine Advocate: 98-100 pts)
2010 Château Léoville Las Cases, Saint Julien ($320; Wine Advocate: 95-98 pts)
2010 Château Pichon Longueville Baron, Pauillac ($238; Wine Advocate: 97-99+ pts)
2010 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac ($245; Wine Advocate: 92-95+ pts)
2010 Château Ducru Beaucaillou, Saint Julien ($260; Wine Advocate: 96-98+ pts)
2010 Château Cos d’Estournel, Saint Estèphe ($330; Wine Advocate: 95-97 pts)
2010 Château Montrose, Saint Estèphe ($235; Wine Advocate: 96-99+ pts)
2010 Château Lascombes, Margaux ($124)
2010 Château Lagrange, Saint Julien ($70; Wine Advocate: 89-92+ pts)
2010 Château Branaire Ducru, Saint Julien ($82; Wine Advocate: 93-95 pts)
White Wines of the Left Bank
Superior First Growth
2010 Château d’Yquem, Sauternes ($720; Wine Advocate: 96-98 pts)
2010 Château Climens, Barsac ($124; Wine Advocate: 94-96 pts)
2010 Château Rieussec, Sauternes ($82; Wine Advocate: 90-92 pts)
Right Bank Beauties
If right bank is more your style, choices include premier grand cru classés Châteaux such as 2010 Château Cheval Blanc, Saint Émilion ($1,450; Wine Advocate: 96-98+ pts), 2010 Château Angélus, Saint Émilion ($390; Wine Advocate: 94-96+ pts), 2010 Château Belair Monange, Saint Émilion ($330; Wine Advocate: 95-97+ pts) and 2010 Chateau Troplong Mondot, Saint Émilion ($165; Wine Advocate: 96-98+ pts).
Top-notch grand cru classés such as the 2010 Château Canon La Gaffelière, Saint Émilion ($100; Wine Advocate: 92-94 pts), which Parker has given a preliminary score of 92-94 points, represent excellent quality and value from Bordeaux that is available at a relatively approachable price.
The unclassified wines of Pomerol cannot be overlooked and represent some of the region’s finest quality and best values. One of Pomerol’s preeminent producers, Château Trotanoy, is known for wines that epitomize the seductive quality and age-worthiness of great Bordeaux. The nearby Château Latour à Pomerol is another excellent producer with an admirable track record.
2010 Château Trotanoy, Pomerol ($385; Wine Advocate: 93-95+ pts)
2010 Château Latour à Pomerol, Pomerol ($150; Wine Spectator: 95-98 pts)
2010 Château Rouget, Pomerol ($110; Wine Advocate: 91-93 pts)
2010 Château La Fleur de Gay, Pomerol ($105; Wine Spectator: 90-93 pts)
2010 Château Plince, Pomerol ($75; Wine Spectator: 91-94 pts)
Finally, when selecting your 2010 Bordeaux Futures, don’t forget to peruse the smaller, lesser-known estates. Although these estates don’t have the prestige of Château Margaux or Petrus, certain Châteaux not only present exceptional quality for a fraction of the prices of the top-tier Premier Crus, they also hold a sentimental value with many of us wine lovers. The words of Chris Kissack, a.k.a the Wine Doctor, strike a chord when he recalls “fond memories of bottles from small, backwater estates which [he] encountered early in [his] affair with wine. Crisp, flavoursome whites from the Entre-deux-Mers, and rich, well-defined reds from the Côtes de Castillon, even generic Bordeaux from a good vintage such as 1990, these were early favourites…”
Named for the beautiful port city on the Garonne River, the Bordeaux wine region is the pinnacle of prestige, producing the most celebrated and desired wines in the world. The region has a long and rich history of vine growing and winemaking, with written record dating back as far as the first century! From the Atlantic Ocean, the region spreads southeast along the banks of the Gironde Estuary, eventually branching off into the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers with vineyards sprawling from their vital shores.
Situated at 45° latitude, Bordeaux has a temperate, maritime climate, due to the influence of the Gironde Estuary and the region’s close proximity to the Atlantic. On the coast, giant sand dunes and evergreen forests aid in the moderate climate and protect the vineyards from powerful ocean winds. All of these environmental factors combine and result in mild weather year-round. The springs are usually pleasant with plenty of rain, ensuring water supply for the growing season, and summers are generally sunny, hot and humid. The temperature typically remains warm with nice coastal humidity well into the fall. This temperate climate, strongly influenced by the ocean and rivers, has the potential to vary greatly from one year to another, which is why knowledge of each vintage is so important when considering the wines of Bordeaux.
The red and white wines of Bordeaux are almost always made from a blend of different grape varietals. The reason for this is directly related to the variant weather patterns and climatic differences between years. The various grapes each have a different reaction to the weather, so by planting different grapes and blending their wines, winemakers can make good wine even if the weather was bad during the growing season. The main grapes used for Bordeaux’s red wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, and for the white wines of the region, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
For any wine lover, it is a worthy investment to spend some time getting acquainted with Bordeaux, its various areas and wine styles. Not only does it produce some of the most exquisite and age-worthy wines, Bordeaux has also had an enormous influence on winemaking styles and techniques throughout the world, most notably in the “New World” regions of California, Chile, Australia and South Africa.
Areas and Appellations
Bordeaux is divided into three main areas: the Left Bank, the Right Bank, and the area between the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, called Entre-Deux-Mers (meaning ‘between two seas’). There are three levels of Appellation Contrôlée (AC) status in Bordeaux. The Generic AC status is at the base of the pyramid and can be given to wines produced anywhere in Bordeaux. Generic appellations include Bordeaux AC and Bordeaux Supérieur AC. District AC is the next step up and can sometimes be the highest status possible for certain areas, such as Entre-Deux-Mers. A District AC can encompass multiple Commune ACs. For example, the Haut-Médoc is a District ACs, which covers a handful of the most prestigious communes. Commune AC status is at the top of the pyramid and is the highest designation in Bordeaux. The only exception is Saint-Émilion Grand Cru AC, which is superior to the commune status of Saint-Émilion AC.
The Left Bank
The Left Bank of Bordeaux hugs the western shores of the Gironde Estuary and the Garonne River. This area is divided into three main district appellations, from north to south: Médoc, Haut-Médoc and Graves. The Médoc AC and the Haut-Médoc AC lie west of the Gironde, and the Graves AC is south of the city of Bordeaux and lies west of the Garonne.
The Left Bank is renowned for long-lived, red wine blends in which Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape varietal, and Merlot and Cabernet Franc make up a lesser proportion. Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in the gravel and clay soils of the Left Bank, which support water drainage, and the very best wines come from the vineyards with more gravel content. Five commune appellations are famous for producing some of the finest Cabernet blends in the world: Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Margaux within Haut-Médoc, and Pessac-Léognan in Graves.
The Left Bank is also home to the infamous white wine appellations, Sauternes and Barsac, known for their sublime botrytis-affected dessert wines. These luscious, sweet wines are made from a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The Sémillon grape is thin-skinned and therefore highly susceptible to botrytis mold under the right conditions – misty and humid autumn weather. These grapes are carefully hand-harvested and produce luxuriant, sweet wines that are high in refreshing acidity.
The Right Bank
The Right Bank of Bordeaux lies east of the Gironde Estuary and the Dordogne River. Here, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the main grape varieties, with small amounts of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grown as well. This area is home to the important commune appellations of Saint-Émilion, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Pomerol, Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac.
Saint-Émilion, the namesake of the charming, picturesque town is the most significant of these appellations. Within Saint-Émilion, the vineyards cover a range of soils and produce a variety of wine styles. The appellation can be divided into three different areas, each with a special soil type. To the northwest, the gravel and limestone soils are more conducive to Cabernet Franc vines. To the southeast, the elevated plateau has high limestone content and produces the finest Merlot dominated blends. Many of the wines classified as prestigious Saint-Émilion Grand Cru come from the limestone rich vineyards of these two areas. These wines are marked by complex red berry qualities, opulent tannins and cedar notes that develop with age. The third growing area is located at the base of the elevated plateau and is composed of sandy soils. The wines from this area are lighter-bodied with relatively lower price tags.
The Pomerol appellation lies in close proximity to Saint- Émilion and boasts intriguing, rare wines that come at a higher cost. These wines offer rich notes of blackberry and a unique spiciness. The prestigious vineyards of Pomerol include the legendary Pétrus and Le Pin.
Finally, the Right Bank’s greatest value wines come from the appellations of Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac, which are to the west of Pomerol.
Between the Rivers
The Entre-Deux-Mers appellation lies in between the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers and produces Bordeaux’s dry white wines from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The important commune appellation of Saint-Croix-du-Mont is located here, making divine sweet wines that are similar to Sauternes.
Bordeaux’s Classification System
Bordeaux’s well-known 1855 Classification has remained intact to this day, despite many changes to the individual estates (châteaux) and their properties. It all came about in the event of the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris when Napoleon III requested an official classification of Bordeaux’s best wines. The wine brokers got together and devised a system, based on their own judgment as well as market values, which organized 61 châteaux into five classes according to importance, first through fifth growths. Bordeaux’s Chamber of Commerce then presented the 1855 Classification at the exposition and it has been in place ever since.
Under the 1855 Classification, all of the red wines are from the Médoc appellation, with the exception of Château Haut-Brion, from Graves. It is an undertaking to memorize all of the château and their classifications, but the five First Growths (Premiers Crus) are relatively easy to remember:
Château Mouton-Rothschild (classified as Second Growth until 1973)
Château Haut-Brion (Graves AC)
The classified white wines were all from the Sauternes appellation, with Château d’Yquem given Premier Grand Cru Classé status, followed by 11 First Growth châteaux and 14 Second Growth châteaux.
In 1932, the Cru Bourgeois classification was introduced, which includes 200 plus estates and is essentially the status just below Fifth Growth. The three Cru Bourgeois classes: Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois, are meant to be updated every ten years or so. The wines of Graves were classified in 1959, and, unlike the 1855 Classification, each listed wine is simply awarded Cru Classé status.
Saint-Émilion has a unique procedure in which classifications are built into the appellation system. The Saint-Emilion Grand Cru appellation is divided into the following: Premier Grand Cru Classé, Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru. Every 10 years, the châteaux in the region can submit their wine to be considered for initial Grand Cru classification or for reclassification.
As consumers setting out to explore Bordeaux, there is a wealth of knowledge to wrap our heads around. It is important to have a general understanding of the various areas and wine styles of the region because this will help in choosing bottles that are to your taste. For those of us who fall in love with Bordeaux, it may be worthwhile to delve a bit deeper into more specific knowledge of the great vintages, the châteaux and the classification system.
If you’re just getting acquainted, start out with a selection of red wines from both the Left Bank and Right Bank. There are many reasonably priced Bordeaux wines out there that are perfect for exploring and comparing Cabernet Sauvignon-based Left Bank blends and Merlot-based Right Bank blends. Pop a bottle open with your next meal, or set up a side-by-side tasting comparison of wines from the two areas. And don’t forget to try the delicious, refreshing, dry white wines from the Entre-Deux-Mers.
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