The main red and white wine producing regions of Bordeaux can be divided into two ‘banks’, each representing one side of the Gironde estuary which flows through the middle of the region towards the Atlantic Ocean. The left bank of the Gironde estuary, known as the Medoc, is dominated by the famous ‘appellations’ or wine growing sub-regions called Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac and St Estephe. Outside these appellations we also find wines labelled as Haut Medoc or simply Medoc. The predominant grape variety for red wines here is Cabernet Sauvignon, often tempered with Merlot, Petit Verdot and occasionally Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Further south, below the city of Bordeaux, we find the Pessac and Graves appellations which are also planted predominantly to Cabernet Sauvignon and
Merlot. The terroir on the left bank is more affected by its proximity to the Atlantic than the right bank, with the gravel soils of the Gironde estuary providing exceptional drainage and creating the signature minerality which can be found in the wines. The best white Bordeaux wines tend to be made on the left bank and the whites of Haut Brion and its sister estate La Mission Haut Brion are among the most expensive and sought-after in the world.
The left bank Chateaux of Bordeaux are ranked by a classification created in 1855, in which the best producers were labelled ‘Cru Classe’ and put into one of five tiered groups. The named appellations of Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac and St Estephe are home to some of the most famous and photographed Chateaux in the world; Pauillac is arguably the leading appellation here, being home to three of the five First Growth (top ranked) Chateaux: Latour, Lafite-Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild. The other two First Growths are Chateau Margaux, based in its eponymous appellation, and Chateau Haut Brion, which can be found in the Graves.
The right bank of Bordeaux is led by the two appellations of St Emilion and Pomerol, in addition to a number of other ‘satellite’ regions such as Lalande de Pomerol and Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux. The wines here are produced mainly from Merlot, with some including small to larger volumes of Cabernet Franc and others including a little Cabernet Sauvignon (where they have gravel soils which favour this grape variety). The soil is a combination of clay and limestone which tends to favour the juicy, richly fruited Merlot grape – and the Cabernet Franc, which provides structure and freshness.
St Emilion has its own classification ranking wines up to Grand Cru Classe ‘A’, of which there are four: Chateaux Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Pavie and Angelus. Pomerol has no formal classification but is home to some of the most famous, sought-after, and expensive wines in the world including the legendary Petrus and Le Pin.
Sweet Bordeaux wine from Sauternes and Barsac are some of the world’s most celebrated aperitifs and ‘pudding’ wines. The best wines are those made in harvests which are afflicted by noble rot, a benevolent pest which causes the grapes to shrivel, concentrating the flavours and massively increasing the sugar to juice ratio without lowering the natural acidity. As a result they display incredible apricot, honey, peach and nut flavours. Château d'Yquem is the most notable producer but there are many other high quality estates including Rieussec, La Tour Blanche and Climens.