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Bordeaux Deconstructed by Jane Boyce MW

Posted on 16th September 2019 by JN Wine

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Bordeaux Deconstructed by Jane Boyce MW

Bordeaux: the name is synonymous with red wine and yet so many wine lovers would tell you they find it just too complicated, unpredictable and expensive and that they tend to look elsewhere when it comes to making their wine choices. So, let’s see if we can simplify things.

Bordeaux is the name of a city and a wine region. It could also be considered a wine “brand” with certain rules governing the grape varieties, the origin and the way the wines are made. The city is situated on the west coast of France and has a long history as a port and an important trading post with wine its most important export.

Grape Varieties

Bordeaux’s most planted red grape is Merlot. It dominates the vineyards of St Emilion and Pomerol on, what is referred to as the Right bank. The Medoc is the tongue-shaped region to the west known as the Left bank. Here Cabernet Sauvignon is king with Cabernet Franc complementing these two grape varieties on both sides of the Gironde estuary. So, blending is a key feature of every Bordeaux red. Don’t be afraid to ask a Bordeaux winemaker about the blend or “assemblage” of his wine – it is a very pertinent question and one which will probably produce a different answer with every vintage / year.


The Left & Right Bank

The red wines of the Medoc from places like Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux tend to be blackcurranty, medium weight and structured. They are nearly always aged in oak which gives them a cedary softness and they tend to benefit from a few years ageing. The reds of the Right Bank, from origins such as St Emilion and Pomerol, are generally fuller, softer and often higher in alcohol. They too benefit from ageing but generally don’t need as long as their Left Bank cousins.

Bordeaux Map taken from Wine Folly


When will it be ready to drink?

A decent rule of thumb is that the more money you spend on your Bordeaux, the longer you need to wait before enjoying it at its best. However, each year the weather pattern varies; hence, the difference in vintages. 2015 and 2016 were excellent; 2013 was not so good! Every Chateau is individual so it is always worth checking online to see the recommended drinking window for your wine. The drinking window is the period within which the wine will taste its best in terms of balance of fruit, acid, tannin and oak.

Harvest at Chateau d’Issan


Bordeaux Whites 

Although more famous for reds, Bordeaux produces dry and sweet white wines too. Interestingly the grape varieties for both dry and sweet whites are the same: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The best dry whites come from the Pessac Leognan and Entre deux mers areas to the south whereas the best sweet wines are from the neighbouring area of Sauternes / Barsac which borders them to the south and along the Garonne river.


Sauternes with Dessert

The inexpensive dry whites are usually unoaked ready to drink when young whereas most of the Chateau bottled dry whites will spend some time in oak giving them a more rounded mouthfeel than Sauvignons from the Loire Valley. Sauternes is always sweet and is a unique rich, lush style of wine. Expensive, risk-laden and time consuming to make, it depends pre-harvest on the appearance of noble rot (botrytis) on the late hanging grapes. The Bordelais enjoy Sauternes with Foie gras and rich terrines; here it tends to be more renowned as an accompaniment to desserts: try it with apple tart of crème brulée.


Three great Bordeaux for lovers of Merlot

  • Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol
  • Chateau Peyroutas, St Emilion
  • Roc de Cambes, Cotes de Bourg

Jacques & Georges Thienpont, Bordeaux April 2019


Three great Bordeaux for lovers of Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Chateau Capbern, St Estephe
  • Chateau Lafon Rochet, St Estephe
  • Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac

Chateau Lynch Bages


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