Let’s be frank. Wine can be confusing, intimidating, and pretentious.
There are lots of reasons for this, but the biggest obstacle that comes up time and time again when I am teaching is the question:
“Is that the grape or the place?”
Most old world countries and regions are pretty difficult to wrap your head around… None more so than Bordeaux. So here’s my very simple lowdown of what is potentially one of the world’s most complex wine regions.
The Brits have had a long love affair with Claret (the British term for the red wines of Bordeaux), so what exactly is it?
LOCATION: South West France. Bordeaux is the name of the region.
GRAPE: Bordeaux is a mixture five permitted grape varieties. Not all five of them have to be used, but the main two are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The other three are: Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
WHY BLEND? Why not just stick with one grape variety? The answer is: climate.
It’s very changeable so they can have good weather and bad weather, and this will affect the quality of the grapes. For example, imagine that one year your Cabernet Sauvignon grapes encounter problems… If you blend your wines then you can bung in an extra splash of Merlot (or any of the other grapes) to make up for it.
Where you are in Bordeaux will dictate what grape variety you favour.
The region is split in half by a river, if you own a vineyard located on the left bank of the river you find that Cabernet Sauvignon grows better here, therefore that is usually the majority of your blend.
Examples of places on the LEFT BANK which you might see on a label:
If you own a vineyard located on the right bank of the river you find that Merlot is favoured here as it grows better.
Examples of places on the RIGHT BANK which you might see on a label:
Most of the better examples of red Bordeaux will be aged in oak, and the best examples can last for decades in the bottle.
Here are some flavour characteristics you can expect of the wines: Oak, cigar box/smoke, pencil shavings, blackcurrant/cassis, plum, leather and green bell pepper.
OTHER WINES: Bordeaux isn’t just red! They make white wines and also sweet dessert wines – the most famous of which is Sauternes.
There we go. Bordeaux, made simple.