One of the first wines I liked was Medoc. I did not know why, but it was my preferred Bordeaux wine. Of course the irony of me landing in Medoc is not lost on me. Also I thought that Medoc was somewhere inland, to the east of Saint Emilion, but I did not even know about Saint Emilion.
Part of the problem is that France has the annoying habit of labeling regions and then renaming them, or regrouping them. Ask any Alsatian if they like being part of the folks on the other side of the hill. I am not making a judgment call, but saying sometimes to the outside world it can be confusing.
Why Is Bordeaux So Important?
So let’s with the elephant in the room question. Why is Bordeaux an important wine region? Simply put because of the English. It is ironic that the English and French who have love-hate relationship would be responsible for one of the greatest wine regions there are. The English did not create the wine region, as the Romans (2000 years ago) were the ones who planted the first grapes.
This English connection is extremely important, and one that locals told me about. The English have left influences that still exist to this day. For example the popularity of Rugby was due to the English influence. Or at least that is what the locals said to me. The English influence started in the 12th Century. Specifically the province of Aquitaine (pronounced ah-key-ten) was an English territory and Richard (Richard I) used Bordeaux as a base for his French operations.
During King Richard’s time and that of his successors the English exported the Bordeaux wine. As England was a sea faring nation their reach was far, which meant that Bordeaux wine would reach as far. Of course there are plenty of little details that continued to re-enforce the importance of Bordeaux wine, but I consider those as details. For it was the English that started the popularity of the Bordeaux wine and had they not done so Bordeaux would be another wine region on this planet. The English influence did not stop there, but included architecture, and ways of living.
Do I need to pay 5 gazillion for a good bottle of wine?
You will hear it over and over and over and over that Bordeaux wine must 15 years old, cost 500 hundred dollars and must be stored in prefect conditions.
First, let’s look at the classification system.
Most of Bordeaux’s classifications – notably those for the Médoc, Sauternes and Graves – have never been updated, despite various attempts to do so. That for St Emilion, however, is regularly reviewed; the latest classification took place in 2012. Status has always been important in Bordeaux and it is thus not entirely surprising that all attempted reclassifications are fraught with problems.
Think very hard about this. They are saying that outside of Saint Emilion, the classification of wine has not been changed in 200 hundred years. I take offense with the author on the following point:
…like the Médoc, Graves and Sauternes – because they were pretty accurate in the first place, being largely based (albeit indirectly) on terroir.
I traveled to quite a few local growers, and I mean I went to their Châteaus and had longer conversations with them. These folks produce decent wine, even though it might not part of the premier cru’s.
What the local growers told me was very interesting. They said that Medoc is a land of two classes. There are the upper class, the cru’s and the rest. Granted the cru’s for the most part are good, though they are overpriced. But what is extremely frustrating for the the smaller growers is that their effort and desire to strive for quality is largely ignored.
What this means is that in Bordeaux it is possible to get cheaper wine that is of good quality. The challenge though is the taste testing you will need to undertake to find a wine that you adore. Thus far of all Bordeaux wines I have drunk I have not been disappointed. In fact my wife and I upon returning to Switzerland and drinking wines from our cache have commented, “wow Bordeaux wines are good”
As I spend more time in Bordeaux on this blog there will be reviews of wines that are 15 Euros and below. My motto is that at 15 Euros and below anybody can be happy with a nice glass of Bordeaux wine.
What about those regions?
Let’s start with the basics, Sud Ouest, which for all intensive purposes is mostly Aquitaine. However, according to the new region definitions this is now called: Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charente.
Even though the regions have been reorganized Aquitaine will remain in the minds of people and books for centuries to come. So in the old days Aquitaine is one of the 27 regions of France. There is a strong Basque influence alongside the English influence. Within the region there are 5 departments (think of it as a state, or province); Dordogne, Lot et Garonne, Pyrenees-Atlantiques, Landes and Gironde.
The two major wine regions are Bergerac which is in the department of Dordogne, and of course Bordeaux, which is wholly in Gironde. Even though the Cognac region is near Bordeaux and Bergerac, it is not part of the Sud-Ouest.
The department of Gironde touches the Atlantic Ocean, and has to its north the Gironde estuary that is formed by the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. The capital of Gironde is Bordeaux, which happens to be the center of the Bordeaux wine region.
The Bordeaux wine region is wholly within the Gironde department, which is wholly within the Aquitaine region, which is wholly within the Sud Ouest of France.
What are the Wine Regions?
In the Bordeaux there is the overall wine region called Bordeaux. Thus if you encounter a bottle that labels itself as Bordeaux wine, or Grand Region of Bordeaux then it is not part of the other sub regions, or does not wish to classify itself with the other wine regions.
WARNING: There are these new imposter wines that call themselves Bordeaux blends, but are in fact copies of Bordeaux. I call these wines imposters because they try to copy the Bordeaux wines by replicating the blending of a Bordeaux wine, even though they are not in Bordeaux.
As you see from the diagram it gets really confusing and while there are plenty of details here are the big picture things you need to know.
Right Bank of Bordeaux: These are all of the wine growing regions that are to the North of the Dordogne river. On this side of the river the primary grown grape is Merlot. A very notable wine region is Saint Emilion.
Left Bank of Bordeaux: These are all of the wine growing regions that are to the West of the Garonne river. On this side of the river the primary grown grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. A very notable wine region is Medoc.
Entre Deux Mers: This region is between the two rivers and while there is red wine, white wine is its claim to fame.
Key points: Left bank -> Cabernet Sauvignon, Right bank -> Merlot, Entre-Deux-Mers -> White Wine.
And there you have it, this is the introduction to the Bordeaux wine region. From this point on there are specific wine regions and their appropriate blends.