Bordeaux continues to be the most influential wine-producing area in the world. The region remains the driving force behind the world’s fine wine market – its significance shown by the fact that 50% of the Liv-Ex Fine Wine 1,000 come from Bordeaux.
Although famous for its classed growth châteaux, Bordeaux is a great source of classically styled red wines. A strong run of good vintages, increased investment in vineyards plus improved winemaking techniques have resulted in higher quality levels than just a few years ago. With more than 10,000ha under vine and annual production at around 800 million bottles, Bordeaux is a huge business.
The famed classed growths of the Médoc and Sauternes, together with top names in Pessac-Léognan, Graves and on the Right Bank, account for around 10% of total production. But, in previous decades, the quality of wine produced by many estates in the remaining 90% was variable, and sometimes unpalatable.
Encouragingly, things have changed significantly. Although producing cheap Bordeaux is never easy (and made worse by climatic events such as the devastating frosts in 2017), the competition from other regions in France and around the world has propelled quality and investment forward. At the same time, previously less renowned appellations are delivering quality levels approaching much more famous APs, at a fraction of the price.
Today, many Bordeaux wines priced under £20 represent great value for money, while retaining the cool, maritime ripening style for which the region is famous. High-quality wines are now produced across the region from a range of sources, including individual terroir-focused estates, second (and third) wines from top estates, and supermarket blends. In most cases, these wines will also age.
Areas to seek out
The Médoc (the most northerly branch of the Bordeaux region’s appellations) is divided into Médoc (originally known as Bas-Médoc) and Haut-Médoc. The former is a cool area where clay soils (and Merlot) dominate, though gravel outcrops can be found where Cabernet Sauvignon performs better. Proximity to the Gironde estuary is key and some excellent estates are found here – Châteaux Rollan de By and Potensac, for example. Haut-Médoc (which includes the underrated Moulis and Listrac APs) is an extensive area running from north of St-Estèphe to the south of Margaux. Situated inland of the famous APs of Pauillac, St-Julien and Margaux, quality can be very high, although prices for top Haut-Médocs can be steep.
South of Bordeaux city, Graves is an underrated AP better known for white than red wine. Gravel and a higher proportion of limestone promote red wines which are fresher, lighter and less structured than the Médoc, with more mineral and earthy notes.
Recent labelling changes have focused interest on the Côtes de Bordeaux – Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon and Francs, as well as Côtes de Bourg. These up-and-coming areas boast châteaux making wine representative of their terroir, usually at keen prices. The appellations are widely spread, with Blaye (just north of Bourg) on the opposite side of the Gironde from Pauillac; Castillon and Francs sited adjacent and to the east of St-Emilion; and Cadillac lying to their southwest, adjacent to the sweet wine areas around Sauternes. In all of these, expect to see significant differences depending on the dominant soil types and grapes, with Merlot usually dominating.
Across the Right Bank, quality levels are rising rapidly. Today, one can find decent St-Emilion and Pomerol for under £20, but there’s perhaps more interest in the St-Emilion ‘satellite’ appellations – Puisseguin, Lussac and Montagne St-Emilion – while Lalande-de-Pomer ol shows many similarities to Pomerol.
Finally, don’t dismiss Fronsac – one of Bordeaux’s most prestigious regions two centuries ago. This is another area where Merlot and Cabernet Franc dominate, with some long-lasting, great-value wines now being produced.