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Everything you always wanted to know about wine but never dared to ask

When it comes to wine, the Bordeaux region is one of the first that comes to mind. Over the years, Bordeaux wines have distinguished themselves and today make it one of the most famous wine-growing regions in the world. It is also a very complex wine-growing region and it is sometimes difficult to understand all its functioning and characteristics. Here is some essential information to know about Bordeaux.

A little history....

Bordeaux wines are known and recognized throughout the world and are often symbols of quality. But do you know what made them famous? Here is some information that will help you understand the origin of the reputation of
Bordeaux wines.

The first traces of viticulture in Bordeaux date back to the 1st century, at the time of the Roman conquest and the import of biturica (ancestor of Cabernet), a variety that gave rise to the first vines in the Bordeaux region.
Importing expensive wine, the Bordeaux people decided to produce their own wines. The Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon were born. As a flourishing business, the city of Bordeaux is gradually transforming itself into a trading city.

The first important turning point to remember is the 12th century. It was during this period that Henry II Plantagenet became King of England. The latter being married to Eleanor of Aquitaine and thanks to the commercial port facilitating trade between the two countries, the English very quickly adopted the wines of Aquitaine, especially the claret. At that time only two types of wines existed: claret (clear and light) and black wine (high tannin content).
The explosion of exported wines led to the expansion of the Bordeaux vineyards, particularly in the Graves and Médoc regions. The Bordeaux people then sought to increase the quality of their wines, they developed the use of barrels, which was made easier thanks to the transport of wood by the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Producers are investing in new technologies and increasing their production.

It was then in the 17th century that a new type of wine appeared, the one that could be preserved. This is the "Ho-Bryan" (Haut-Brion) which was transported for the first time in wooden barrels and no longer in amphoras, thus allowing a better conservation of the wine. The Bordeaux wines continue to gain in notoriety and producers are constantly developing new techniques and thus increasing the quality of their wines, which is why Napoleon III asked for the drafting of a classification for the 1855 Universal Exhibition.

Then, around 1870, the region did not escape the invasion of phylloxera and was also heavily affected by downy mildew (two vine diseases). Wines are becoming rarer, which explains an increase in prices. We then see the invention of Bordeaux mixture (a compound based on water, copper sulphate and lime) to fight
In the middle of the 20th century, the wine region experienced a new turn due to severe episodes of frost and heat; we then saw a change in the grape varieties in favour of Merlot.

These are the reasons why the Bordeaux vineyards today have this characteristic of a region that produces quality products and is highly technical; particularly with its blended wines, which are characteristic of the region.

7 appellation zones spread over 3 main regions

The Bordeaux basin also derives its particularity from its distinct separation into three main regions, each with its own characteristics. These three regions are easily identifiable thanks to two rivers that separate them: the Garonne (the one to the north) and the Dordogne (the one to the south), both of which meet to flow into the
Gironde estuary.

We can then distinguish the right and left banks of the Gironde and the inter-seas between the Garonne and the Dordogne.


Right Bank

The grape variety (grape variety) which is probably the most characteristic of the right bank is the predominance of Merlot, 70% of which is planted, where it expresses itself best, particularly thanks to the calcareous soils characteristic of this area.

Blaye & Bourg Côtes
et Premières Côtes de Blaye / Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux / Côtes de Bourg

Le Libournais
Fronsac / Canon-Fronsac / Pomerol / Lalande-de-Pomerol / Montagne Saint-Emilion / Lussac Saint-Emilion / Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion / Côtes de Francs / Côtes de Castillon / Saint-Emilion

Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur

Left Bank Left Bank

The left bank is characterized by many soils where sand, gravel and clay ("thick", larger minerals) mix to form "gravel", completely characteristic of the estates and castles on this side of the Gironde. Unlike the right bank, the most planted grape variety is Cabernet Sauvignon (but there are also Merlot and Cabernet Franc).

Saint-Estèphe / Pauillac / Saint-Julien / Listrac-Médoc / Moulis / Margaux / Haut-Médoc / Médoc

Pessac-Léognan / Graves

Sauternes / Barsac / Cerons

Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur


The inter-two seas are therefore located between the Dordogne and the Garonne. This area, less well known than its two neighbours, produces, among other things, dry and fruity white wines.

Entre-Deux-Mers Haut-Benauge / Graves de Vayres / Cadillac / Loupiac / Sainte-Croix-du-Mont

Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur

infographie bordeaux

The main grape varieties (grape varieties)


Often blended with Cabernet Franc, it is renowned for producing round, fruity wines with supple tannins. Very present on the right bank (Pomerol, Saint-Emilion), it is the most planted grape variety in the region. Cherry, prune, strawberry and raspberry are characteristic aromas of the grape variety, balanced by notes of leather and cedar.

Cabernet sauvignon A grape
variety born from a cross between a Cabernet Franc and a Sauvignon Blanc; it is mainly planted on the left bank. It makes it possible to produce wines with a good aptitude for ageing, in particular thanks to its very rich tannic structure (tannins soften during ageing) and its sustained colour. Cherry, blackcurrant and liquorice are characteristic aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet franc
It is one of the oldest grape varieties to be cultivated in Gironde, Cabernet franc produces wines that are very structured, aromatic and less rich in tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon, which allows it to age more quickly. Strawberry, pepper, raspberry or even
violet are aromas of the grape variety.

, the king grape variety of Argentina, is also used (on a smaller scale) in the Bordeaux region. This grape variety is renowned for producing very fruity and coloured wines with a good tannin content, which makes it suitable for ageing. Chocolate, blackcurrant and blackberry are aromas that you will find in a malbec.

The Petit Verdot
Plus present on the left bank of the Bordeaux basin, the Petit Verdot produces very tannic wines with a dark colour, which explains the time needed for their aromas to reveal themselves (violet, blackberry, blueberry, cherry...). Petit Verdot is a grape variety that is widely used, especially in blends with other grape varieties.


It produces dry white wines that are very complex if they have been matured in barrels. It will be found in the Graves or in Pessac-Léognan, with mineral aromas, lemon, white peach... But it is also the king grape variety in Sauternes and Barsac with their production of dessert wines with orange, honey and citrus aromas.

Sauvignon blanc
Also used in the production of sweet white wines from Sauternes. Otherwise, it gives dry white wines, with aromas of grapefruit, melon, white peach or passion fruit.

It produces sweet, round and slightly acidic wines. Generally with a very fruity nose; muscadelle is generally used in blends and pineapple and lemon aromas are characteristic.

The rankings

The Bordeaux vineyard stands out from the others, particularly because of its rankings; today five of them serve as a reference:

The 1855 classification (modified in 1973)

This is the most famous ranking today, especially since it is the oldest. It was requested by Napoleon III on the occasion of the 1855 Universal Exhibition. It does not cover the entire Bordeaux vineyard, since at the time the chambers of commerce of Bordeaux and Libourne were quite distinct. The Bordeaux region having carried out the classification (at the request of Napoleon III), we find the Médoc wines (except
Château Haut-Brion which is part of the Graves) as well as the sweet whites of the Graves (Sauternes and Barsac). It is therefore normal not to find wines from right bank appellations such as Pomerol or Saint-Émilion.
There are five classification levels for reds and three for whites.
- First Growths: Château Lafite, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion & Château Latour,
Château Mouton-Rothschild (first growth since 1973, second growth before) - Second
Growths (ex: Château Gruaud Larose, Château Lascombes, Cos Destournel)
- Third
Growths (ex : Château Palmer, Château Lagrange, Château Ferrière)
- Fourth Growths (ex: Château Marquis de Terme, Château Saint-Pierre, Château Pouget
) -
Fifth Growths (ex: Château Pedesclaux, Château Dauzac, Château Grand-Puy Ducasse)

- Premier Cru Supérieur: Château d'Yquem -
Premiers Crus (ex: Château la Tour Blanche, Château Coutet, Château Rieussec) - Second
Crus (ex: Château Suau, Château Caillou, Château Lamothe)

The main criticism of the classification today is that it was made at a time when it referred largely to the price of the bottle.

The Graves classification Apart
from Château Haut-Brion, the red wines of Graves were not included in the 1855 classification. It was only in 1953 (revised in 1959) that the classification of Graves wines was born, classifying red and white wines. There are 16 classified growths belonging to the Pessac-Léognan AOC (ex: Domaine de Chevalier, Château Haut-Bailly, Château Carbonnieux).
Saint-Émilion classification The Saint-Émilion wines are on the right bank and therefore do not appear in the 1855 classification. In order to have their own referencing, the first classification of Saint-Emilion wines appeared in 1955.
It can be reviewed every 10 years; there are three levels of classification: the first great growths classified A (ex: Château Cheval Blanc, Château Angelus), the first great growths classified B (ex: Château Beauséjour, Château Figeac) and the great growths classified (ex: Château Bellevue, Château de Pressac).
The classification of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc
The classification of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc was created in 1932 to represent the evolution of the quality of Bordeaux wines and therefore the estates and châteaux not included in the 1855 classification. There are three levels of classification: exceptional crus bourgeois, superior crus
bourgeois and crus bourgeois. Revised every ten years, the last existing version is the 2003 version, but was cancelled in 2007 due to disputes. A new version of the ranking is planned for 2020 (which will be revised every 5 years).
The classification of Crus Artisans
Les crus artisans gained recognition in 2002 when an official classification listing them was approved. Revised every five years, the last classification dates from 2018 and includes 36 properties (ex: Château la Tessonière Château Grand Brun, Château des Graviers)

Celine Charier for Les Grappes

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