French Wines: Bordeaux Red

Although Bordeaux is the French wine-producing region that belonged to the English from 1152 with Henry II’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, it enjoyed a reputation as a cosmopolitan university town under the Romans. Some of the Roman arches and ruins remain, but one relic for all to appreciate is Chateau Ausone, named after the Roman Poet Ausonius. The region comprises three fairly distinct areas, divided by the rivers that separate them: the Garonne to the west, the Dordogne to the east, and the Gironde which is where these two important rivers meet.

The most important is the area which encompasses the Medoc/Graves/Sauternes appellations on the west or left bank of the river Garonne and Gironde rivers.It contains all of the classified growth wines of the 1855 classification and is governed primarily by the weather patterns of the Atlantic and Bay of Biscayne, where the soil is gravely with some clay on the flat areas between the rivers and the Atlantic. Here, all five Bordeaux red grape varieties are used: Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. On the north and east is what is known as the right-bank, whose most famous wines are Pomerol and St. Émilion, made primarily from Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Here the vineyards are more influenced by the cooler Continental weather patterns where the Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot usually don’t ripen on a regular basis. Here the other grapes can be used, but too often, they don’t ripen most years.

Between the two parts of the region is the Entre-Deux-Mers, or Between Two Seas, because where the rivers join to form the Gironde, the width of the rivers is substantial. In Entre-Deux-Mers, most of the vineyards are the regional white or red Bordeaux appellations, but some dessert and red appellations lie on the river opposite Graves and Sauternes.

Bordeaux wines, especially the best Grands Crus Classées, can be the longest-lived wines in the entire world. Aging in oak for two years or more, then in bottle for 10 or 20 years can yield wines of unbelievable complexity. Those who understand this will often buy futures, where you purchase the wine before it is bottled at a substantially lower price. For more information please visit the Bordeaux office of tourism website.