Regional guides

The ultimate guide to Bordeaux wine

Bordeaux is the largest vineyard of fine wines in the world. It is a vast region with a great range of wines among the lesser-known appellations as well as among the crus classés. The diversity in character and style is due to the varied soils and climate and to the care and ability of the people who make the wine.

The Ultimate Guide To Bordeaux Wine

Bordeaux fact sheet

Moderate maritime

Climate: Moderate maritime

Landscape

Landscape: Typically very gentle slopes, 10-40m elevation

Soil

Soils: Gravel, sand clay, limestone

Grapes

Merlot
Merlot
Cabernet sauvignon
Cabernet sauvignon
Cabernet franc
Cabernet franc
Petit verdot
Petit verdot
Semillon
Semillon
Sauvignon blanc
Sauvignon blanc

Styles: Medium to full body, medium to high tannin, black fruit, some oak usage
Food matches: Steak, lamb, duck, charcuterie, hard cheeses

Styles: Aromatic, dry wines, sweet luscious dessert wines, limited oak use
Food matches: Fish and salads or cheese and fruit-based desserts

Broadly, Bordeaux can be divided into five categories. Red wines from the left bank of the Garonne and the Gironde estuary embracing the Médoc and Graves; red wines from the right bank of the Gironde and the Dordogne, including St Emilion and Pomerol and their satellites; the hill vineyards (côtes) of Bourg, Fronsac and the Côtes de Bordeaux; red and white wines from the Entre-Deux-Mers region between the Garonne and Dordogne; and the great white wines from Graves and Sauternes.

All Bordeaux wines

Château Angludet, Margaux – the home property of the Sichel family who are also the people behind our Society's Claret
Château Angludet, Margaux – the home property of the Sichel family who are also the people behind our Society's Claret

Each appellation tends to have a certain characteristic, which we describe below, but this is only part of the story. Shrewd Bordeaux buyers have learned that it is more important to follow the property and grower than the appellation and this is true year in year out. With hard work and good equipment, good producers make excellent wine in what used to be thought of as difficult vintages 20 years ago, and sadly, careless and idle producers make poor wine from potentially good vineyards in years that the vintage charts rate highly. The lighter years have the advantage of maturing earlier, costing less and often giving quite as much pleasure. For the same reason, second wines of top châteaux can be an attractive buy often at a third of the price of the first wine.

Fifth growth Château Cantermerle in the Haut-Médoc is frequently one of the best buys in Bordeaux

Left Bank (Red Wines)

Haut-Médoc

Style: Wines from the Haut-Médoc, the southern, slightly higher part of the Médoc appellation nearest to Bordeaux, usually have more elegance, intensity of flavour and finesse than those from the Médoc.
Follow: Beaumont, Cissac, Charmail, Cantemerle, Belgrave.
Keep: 3-12 years.

Médoc

Style: Mainly wines from St Seurin, north of St-Estèphe to the top of the estuary. The wines should have good body and fruit but can be austere in their early youth particularly if cabernet sauvignon-based, which is why merlot is increasingly planted.
Follow: Tour Haut-Caussan, Potensac, Tour St. Bonnet.
Keep: 3-12 years.

Listrac

Style: The inland part of the Haut-Médoc. Wines used to be rather tough though long-living, but with greater accent on fruit there are excellent, good value wines to be found.
Follow: Fourcas-Dupré, Fonréaud, Fourcas-Borie.
Keep: 3-12 years.

Margaux

Style: Extreme finesse, intense flavour but should never be heavy. Perfumed, medium-bodied and refined. Need time in bottle. Many great names but you are safe with...
Follow: Rauzan-Ségla, Brane Cantenac and Angludet.
Keep: 7-20 years.

Moulis

Style: A high level of chalk gives Moulis' wines their fine character.
Follow: Chasse-Spleen, Poujeaux, and Dutruch Grand Poujeaux. Newcomer Mauvesin will be one to watch.
Keep: 3-12 years.

Pauillac

Style: With three first growths this is the classic example of Médoc at its best: deep, intense, full, distinctive and fine. Powerful and punchy. Great names have a price but you can follow...
Follow: Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Duhart-Milon, Batailley and Haut-Batailley very safely.
Keep: 7-20 years.

St-Julien

Style: Harmonious wines combining power and finesse with rich mid-palate.
Follow: Léoville and Langoa Barton, and these days for value Branaire-Ducru and the less-known Hortevie.
Keep: 7-20 years.

St-Estèphe

Style: Deeper soil with more clay gives solid fruity wines and also excellent value. Earthy and muscular in style.
Follow: Le Boscq, Beau-Site, Lafon-Rochet.
Keep: 5-12 years.

Pessac-Léognan and Graves

Style: The former is the finest part of the Graves district closest to Bordeaux. Wines with fresh fruit and fine bouquet with fine, smooth finish and medium weight.
Follow: Haut Bailly, Clos Floridène, Domaine de Chevalier, Bouscaut.
Keep: 4-15 years.

Putting the 'cheval' into Chevalier, one of the few Bordeaux estates to remain a domaine rather than château

Right Bank (Red Wines)

Saint-Emilion

Style: With merlot largely dominant, St-Emilion should be rich, full-coloured, spicy and apparently sweet. A bewildering number of small properties with varying degrees of expertise. Top names have finesse and length that some lack.
Follow: For value follow Carteau Côtes Daugay, de Fonbel, and Grand Corbin-Despagne.
Keep: 3-12 years.

Pomerol

Style: Wines with rich almost fleshy velvety flavour. It's worth buying the best which are never cheap.
Follow: Vieux-Château-Certan, La Fleur Pétrus, and for value Bourgneuf, Clos du Clocher and La Pointe.
Keep: 5-15 years.

St-Emilion Satellites

Style: Montagne, Lussac, Puisseguin and St Georges produce full wines that are both more rustic and quicker maturing than St-Emilion.
Follow: Du Courlat, Vieux Château St. André
Keep: 2-10 years.

Lalande de Pomerol

Style: Not unlike Pomerol but with less finesse. Much less expensive.
Follow: Moncets and Musset. Newcomer Vieux Ormes will be one to watch.
Keep: 4-12 years.

Majestic Château de Pitray who also make our Society's Côtes de Castillon

The Côtes (Red and White Wines)

Castillon and Francs
Style: The efforts of talented young growers mean that these can be better value than the St-Emilion satellites.
Follow: Puygueraud, Pitray, Ampélia, Aiguilhe.
Keep: 3-10 years.

Canon Fronsac and Fronsac

Style: Solid robust wines which can develop a velvety palate.
Follow: La Dauphine and du Pavillon
Keep: 4-12 years.

Côtes de Bourg

Style: Robust Clarets with increasing finesse. Can be great value.
Follow: Roc de Cambes, de la Grave, and in a more modern style Fougas Maldoror
Keep: 3-10 years.

Blaye

Style: Charming forward fruity wines.
Follow: Haut-Bertinerie, Haut Sociondo, Monconseil Gazin.
Keep: 2-7 years.

Harvesting nobly rotted grapes by hand at Barsac's Château Climens

All red Bordeaux wines

Dry and Dessert Whites

Graves and Pessac-Léognan

Style: Barrel-fermented and matured and now far more refined than in the past.
Follow: Clos Floridène, Bouscaut, Domaine de Chevalier, Rahoul.
Keep: 5-20+ years.

Sauternes and Barsac

Style: Sweet and concentrated barrel-fermented wines that are unique in the world of wine. Numerous stars whose quality varies by vintage.
Follow: Doisy-Daëne, Climens for finesse and consistent quality.
Keep: 3-40 years.

Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, Cadillac, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, Loupiac etc.
Style: In the style of Sauternes and Barsac,more variable in quality, less refined and less long-lived but can be great value in the best vintages.
Follow: good advice!
Keep: 2-6 years

The Despagne family's Château Bel Air Perponcher in the Entre-Deux-Mers; a beacon for quality in the region

View all Sauternes

Entre-deux-Mers (Red and White Wines)

Premières Côtes de Bordeaux
Style: Vineyards on the right bank of the Garonne can make wine with lovely fruit and real finesse. Includes Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux
Follow: Mont Pérat, Reynon, Thieuley.
Keep: 3-10 years.

Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur

Style: The catch-all appellation which hides some wonderful wines and a multitude of sins. Follow the people and the property.
Follow: Pey La Tour, Bel Air Perponcher, Camarsac and Le Conseiller.
Keep: 2-7 years.

 

Tim Sykes

Society Buyer

Tim Sykes

Tim Sykes joined The Society in March 2012. Tim is responsible for the purchasing of Bordeaux, Beaujolais and Sherry.

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