In order to make an educated decision, one needs to acquire a minimum of knowledge on the topic in question. When it comes to buying Bordeaux wine, it becomes a lot more fun when you know where the wine is coming from, the various vineyards, or even the expected nuances of flavors depending on the vineyard and grapes used.
Let’s start with a little geography lesson and move on from there … Welcome to Which Bordeaux Wine should I buy!
Where is Bordeaux?
Bordeaux is a city located in the southwest of France, along the coast, in the north of the Aquitaine Region. Two rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne, start in the mountains south of Bordeaux and make their way north and westward until they unite to form the Gironde estuary. The Gironde estuary cuts through the center of the region creating two banks: the left bank (gravel soils, warmer) and the right bank (clay soil, coolers)
While it is possible to find white Bordeaux wine, The name Bordeaux is primarily associated with the red wine blend. Red Bordeaux is a red wine that is always made from blending Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot together, though the proportion of each depends on the location of the winery that made the wine. The location of the winery on either bank determines the proportion of Merlot to Cabernet used. If the winery is located on the Left Bank, the blend created will have more Cabernet Sauvignon than Merlot, and vice-versa.
You can find detailed maps of the Bordeaux’s vineyards here.
Right Bank vs. Left Bank:
Let’s take a closer look at the dominant grapes used in either bank: Cabernet Sauvignon has a brooding character, with robust tannin adding structure and blackcurrant fruit shining through. Merlot, on the other hand, has flavors that are unoaked, simple and fruity, drinkable young and very approachable.
Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Cabernet Franc Petit Verdot Malbec Carmenere
Merlot Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon
We can easily taste the characteristics of these two dominant grapes into the wine itself:
Left Bank blends tend to be higher in tannins, alcohol and acidity. They are powerful and rich wines which usually age better than wines from the Right Bank.
Right bank blends tend to be softer, less tannic and lower in alcohol and acidity. They are much more juicy and usually ready to be drunk much earlier than Left Bank Bordeaux wines
The major Bordeaux wines:
The Left Bank is divided into several districts:
The Médoc (or bas-Medoc), which is the furthest downstream, produces wines of good body and blackcurrant fruit.
The Haut-Médoc, upstream, produces wines of greater elegance, intensity of fruit flavour and finesse, which are generally medium bodied with good, tannic structure and blackcurrant fruits, taking on tobacco and cedar notes with age. It is known for St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Julien, and Margaux wines
Grave, down the left bank, produces wine that are more minerally in character, with rustic fruit aromas that mature earlier than their Haut-Médoc counterparts. It is known for Pessac-Léognan wines.
The Right Bank produces wines that are softer, fleshier and with a velvety texture. It is known for St-Émilion and Pomerol wines.