Bordeaux wines are among the most venerated, with a long history and sizable production. Bordeaux has been a major force on the wine scene since the 18th century and continues to be highly regarded by wine drinkers and collectors alike.
The Bordeaux region can be found on the Western coast of France, along the Atlantic Ocean and including the Gironde estuary and Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, which all help to moderate the climate, which is maritime. The weather generally permits grapes to do well, but frost can occasionally be a problem as can issues with flowering in the spring. Rainfall can also pose a threat if it comes too close to harvest. Moreover, the moisture from the ocean and rivers, coupled with the rain, can cause rot and fungus among the grapes. In some instances, as in the case of sweet white wines, this can be a good thing. However, for the most part, rot is to be avoided.
As a moderate climate, the grapes achieve full ripeness, but not in the manner that they do in warmer climates such as California. Hence, the resulting wines are more restrained and less fruit forward. They tend to be of medium acidity, medium body, garnet in color and with aromas and flavors of red or black fruits, cedar/oak, pencil lead and minty notes. When young, these wines have less to offer than they do when they have been aged for 20 years or more.
The region is divided along several lines, most notably the Left Bank (left of the Dordogne) and Right Bank (to the right of the Dordogne). The Left Bank is home to the top chateaux, which were classified in 1855 from Premier Cru (First Growth) through Cinquieme Cru (Fifth Growth). These properties are still at the pinnacle of the Bordeaux wine market. All but one of the First Growth wines are located in the Northern half of the Left Bank, known as Haut-Medoc.
Bordeaux wines are primarily blends, made from several different grapes. There are 14 grape varieties permitted, but in truth, only five red grapes and three white grapes are used. For red, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates Left bank wines, with classified chateaux using ~70% in their blends, along with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. These latter two grapes take greater precedence on the Right Bank, particularly in the communes of St. Emilion and Pomerol.
White wines from the region are both sweet and dry, blended from Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle with Sauvignon Blanc finding increasing favor and Muscadelle losing the same. Most of the whites come from Graves (southern part of the Left Bank) and Entre-Deux-Mers, the portion of land between the Dordorgne and Garonne Rivers.
Soils on the Left Bank are generally gravelly, particularly in Graves, which provides extremely good drainage for the vineyards. The Right Bank has a diversity of soils, notably in St. Emilion. Here, soils may consist of sandy gravel or clay over limestone. The better vineyards are found on the hillsides with soil of either type. Alluvial soils found close to the river banks are much less suitable and do not produce wines capable of using the Bordeaux appellation.