If you plan on visiting the Bordeaux region, you’ll enjoy it all the more if you know a few facts about the wonderful wines produced there. The region produces everything from table wine, or “vin ordinaire,” to some of the most exclusive and expensive wines in the entire world. The vast majority of wine that comes from Bordeaux is claret, though there are some rosé wines, sparkling wines, and sweet white wines made there as well.
The region is divided into four sub-regions which are (alphabetically) Graves, Médoc, Pomerol, and Saint-Émilion. The “right bank” designation for wines means the right bank of the Dordogne, near the city of Libourne, while “entre deux mers” refers to the area between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, in central Bordeaux. “Left bank” refers to the left bank of the Garonne, near the city of Bordeaux. The left bank is subdivided into the upstream area, Graves, and the downstream area, Médoc.
The more than five dozen types of wine produced in Bordeaux are categorized into six divisions, with four red divisions based on the sub-region in which it is produced, and two white wines categorized based on sweetness.
Throughout Bordeaux, you’ll find red Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur. These are the vins ordinaries that you’ll find in restaurants and serve for typical dinners. They tend to be fruity with less of an oak influence than the pricier Bordeaux wines, and they are meant to be consumed while they are relatively young. Just under half the vineyards by area go toward production of these wines.
The other three basic red varieties are Red Libourne, Red Cotes de Bordeaux, and Red Graves and Médoc. The “Right Bank” Red Libourne wines produced near Libourne, are mostly Merlots, with some Cabernet Sauvignon produced as well. Red Cotes de Bordeaux wines are grown on the outskirts of the region and are mostly Merlots. The Red Graves and Médoc are produced to the north and south of the city of Bordeaux and are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon.
The white wines produced in Bordeaux are classified as either dry or sweet. Dry white wines are created from a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc and the best ones are the ones from Graves. Sweet white wines, made from Sémillon, Muscadelle, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes are also made throughout the region, with the Sauternes appellation being the best-known of these.
Evidence of vineyards in Bordeaux dates back to 71 CE, as recorded by Pliny the Elder, but these came some two centuries after the first extensive vineyards were established in France around 122 BCE in the Languedoc region. The wines of the Bordeaux region gained great popularity in the 12th century when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet (Henry II). At this time, the province of Aquitaine became English territory and much of the Bordeaux wine began being exported, becoming extremely popular in England.