To many wine lovers, the region of Bordeaux evokes many strong feelings. It is the historic birthplace of many of the grape varieties planted across the world: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Bordeaux is also the current home to many of the world’s most famous wineries. Aficionados all know of and hope to taste the wines of Châteaux Margaux, Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion, to name just a few. But anyone who enjoys a great bottle of wine would be remiss in not exploring all of what this region has to offer.
Bordeaux, southwest of Paris, is both an ancient and quite large wine producing region. Vines were first planted by the Romans nearly two thousand years ago, when they occupied the area this part of France. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin both had a great appreciation of the wines of Bordeaux when they spent time in France two hundred and thirty years ago, Jefferson bringing back many bottles to the United States to add to his collection. At three hundred thousand acres of Bordeaux planted to grapevines, the surface area under vine in Bordeaux is about three times the surface area of Napa and Sonoma Counties combined. That’s a lot of land under vine, but the French appellation system controls many of the factors which contribute to the maintenance of the standards intended to assure the quality of the grapes grown and the wine produced from them. Buying a bottle of Bordeaux should be a no-brainer when it comes to knowing that the wine will be produced from a region renowned for its history and quality.
With that much wine being produced, the wines of Bordeaux are ripe for exploration. The famous wineries above are, for the most part, from the region within Bordeaux called the Médoc. But, with so many other areas where outstanding wines are produced, it would be a shame to limit yourself just to this particular sub-region. If you look at any map of Bordeaux, you will see a galaxy of villages and sub-regions. If you are a fan of Merlot such regions such as Saint-Émilion, as well as its satellites, Fronsac, the Côtes de Blaye, the Côtes de Bourg, as well as many of the Bordeaux Supérieur wines are produced with large percentages of Merlot. These wines are very attractive, having enough fruit to enjoy for now, as well as possessing the structure to age over the short to medium term.
As the weather starts to get warmer, you will probably start looking at your white wine inventory and begin to buy more whites for the upcoming summer season. The Entre-Deux-Mers, situated between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers is home to many producers of delicious — and for the most part, value-driven — white wines. Almost always blends with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, they are ready to drink when you buy them. They are fresh and bright; great for sipping before dinner, and the perfect wines to go with a wide variety of grilled vegetables, seafood and chicken.
Most of the production in Bordeaux is of red wines, with a much smaller production of white wines. Another small portion of total production is of dry rosé wines. A great choice for the summer months, the dry rosés of Bordeaux are dry, fresh, clean and tasty. They are a great example of wines to enjoy with friends as you’re relaxing, maybe waiting for lunch or dinner. Or, pair them with a wide range of food. They’re light enough to not overwhelm dishes that you might eat with white wines, while they have a structure and just enough weight to balance richer dishes.
Because of the proximity of the rivers in the wine growing region, Bordeaux produces some of the best sweet wines you can buy. Try not to think of these wines as merely “dessert” wines. Many people enjoy them as an apéritif, as they also match a wide variety of savory dishes. Sauternes is the most famous of the sweet wine producing areas in Bordeaux, but you can find bottles from areas such as Barsac, Cadillac and Loupiac that provide much of the same wine style at reasonable prices. Try a little blue cheese with one of these luscious wines and you’ll be amazed at what the combination brings to your grateful taste buds.
Regardless of what you try from Bordeaux, keep on trying. With all of the blends of different grape varieties from different regions within Bordeaux, as well as what each vintage brings to the wine, you’ll never run out of stimulating and ultimately enjoyable wine drinking. And, after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?