Bordeaux Wine

Bordeaux, in the southwest of France, needs little introduction as one of the world's most famous, prestigious and prolific wine regions. The majority of Bordeaux wines (nearly 90 percent of production volume) are the dry, medium- and full-bodied red Bordeaux Blends that established its reputation.

The finest (and most expensive) of these are the wines from the great chateaux of the Haut-Médoc and the Right Bank appellations Saint-émilion and Pomerol. The former is focused (at the top level) on Cabernet Sauvignon, the latter pair on on Merlot.

A Bordeaux chateau and vineyards

The legendary reds are complemented by high-quality white wines based on Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. These range from dry whites to challenge the best from the Burgundy region (Pessac-Léognan is particularly renowned) to the sweet, botrytized nectars of Sauternes.

While Bordeaux is well regarded for wines produced within specific districts or communes, many of its wines fall under other, broader appellations. These include AOC Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur and the sparkling-specific Crémant de Bordeaux. The Bordeaux Rouge appellation accounts for more than one-third of all production.

The official Bordeaux viticultural region stretches for 130 kilometers (80 miles) inland from the Atlantic coast. 111,000 hectares (274,000 acres) of vineyards were recorded in 2018, a figure which had remained largely consistent over the previous decade.

The number of growers has consolidated, however; in 2018 there were about 6,000, against 9,000 a decade earlier. The ten-year average output 2007 to 2017 was 507 million liters, including small crops in 2013 and 2017.

This output ranges from inexpensive everyday wines through to some of the world's most expensive and prestigious labels. Bottles of dry red wine produced under the region's generic Bordeaux appellation can be bought for just a few dollars.

Those from the top chateaux are regularly traded for several thousand dollars. Auction figures and retail prices do not always conform with Bordeaux's distinct and historically significant classification system, which has remained largely unchanged since the middle of the 19th Century.

Bordeaux grape varieties, including new additions in 2021

The "big three" make up 98 percent of all red grape plantings, according to 2020 figures on the official Vins de Bordeaux website:

  • Merlot, which accounts for 66 percent of all red grape plantings
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (22.5 percent)
  • Cabernet Franc (9.5 percent)
  • Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère (2 percent)

These last three are grapes which have been largely abandoned (the latter almonst entirely) since the 19th Century, as they failed to ripen reliably, though Malbec has a continued role in Saint-émilion in single-digit percentages as a color enhancer.

Climate change and success achieved elsewhere suggests a significant comeback for one or more of them may be possible. Albeit from a low starting point, Petit Verdot's plantings have trebled in area in the last few years.

Bordeaux's white wines are generally blends of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and, less often, Muscadelle. Sauvignon Blanc has seen some uplift in recent years given the success of varietal wines from New Zealand and other regions. As of 2020 the figures for permitted white grapes were:

In 2019 seven new varieties were approved by the Union of Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur winemakers. In 2021 six of them were given a green light by the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine) for vineyard trials.

The intention is to give more viticultural options to address climate change and combat less hospitable conditions. The approved six are:

The odd one out of the seven proposed, which was not confirmed by the INAO, was Petit Manseng, a late-ripening grape popular in South West France and often used in dessert wines. It was felt this grape was too emblematic of the Pyrenées-Atlantique region, in the way Pinot Noir would be for Burgundy.

Petit Manseng is not entirely alone, however. According to the CIVB over 50 grapes have been considered for inclusion in Bordeaux wines since 2010.

The new grapes will be listed officially as "new varieties of interest for adapting to climate change". This puts them third in the hierarchy behind "major" and "additional" grapes in official documents. This status will be reviewed in 2031.

This means that the usage of the new varieties is presently limited. They may only account for five percent of the planted vineyard area, and a maximum of ten percent of a wine blend. Therefore they will not be named on wine labels.

Bordeaux climate

Bordeaux's climate is moderated by its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the presence of the various rivers (the Dordogne, the Garonne and the Gironde Estuary into which they flow). The region takes its name (which translates roughly as "next to the waters") from the port city of Bordeaux, which serves as its logistical and administrative center.

The vast expanse of pine forest to the south and west (La Forêt des Landes) protects Bordeaux from strong, salt-bearing winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean. There is, however, a risk of still winter air getting trapped and bringing frost to the Bordelais vineyards.

With a latitude (45°N) exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole, summer daytime temperatures hover around 25°C (77°F), and rarely rise above 30°C (86°F), while winter temperatures only occasionally dip below freezing. The Médoc peninsula feels the maritime influence particularly strongly; local winemakers talk of the gentle breezes and light clouds that take the edge off even the hottest summer days.

The region's long, relatively warm summers are ideal for growing late-ripening grape varieties. That is not to say that cool, wet weather in spring and autumn is not a concern here.

A fundamental reason that most Bordeaux reds are made from a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is that these two varieties bud, flower and ripen at different times and rates, which spreads the risk posed by poor weather conditions at flowering or harvest.

In years when the autumn is wet, the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest suffers from rot and dilution, but the earlier-ripening Merlot provides a back-up. When the spring is wet, the Merlot flowers poorly, leaving the Cabernet Sauvignon to take up the responsibility of providing a good harvest.

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Most Popular Bordeaux Wine

Based on search frequency, updated monthly
Wine Name
Grape
Popularity
Score
Avg Price
Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac, France Bordeaux Blend Red 1st 95 $723
Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac, France Bordeaux Blend Red 2nd 95 $1,006
Petrus, Pomerol, France Merlot 4th 96 $3,620
Chateau Margaux, Margaux, France Bordeaux Blend Red 5th 95 $780
Chateau Latour, Pauillac, France Cabernet Sauvignon - Merlot 6th 95 $854
Chateau Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan, France Bordeaux Blend Red 8th 95 $656
Chateau Pontet-Canet, Pauillac, France Bordeaux Blend Red 9th 94 $146
Chateau d'Yquem, Sauternes, France Sauvignon Blanc - Semillon 12th 96 $481
Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac, France Bordeaux Blend Red 13th 93 $173
Chateau Palmer, Margaux, France Bordeaux Blend Red 14th 94 $360
Chateau Cheval Blanc, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, France Bordeaux Blend Red 16th 95 $746
Chateau Leoville-Las Cases 'Grand Vin de Leoville', Saint-Julien, France Bordeaux Blend Red 19th 95 $269
Chateau Cos d'Estournel, Saint-Estephe, France Bordeaux Blend Red 20th 94 $227
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac, France Bordeaux Blend Red 21st 94 $215
Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe, France Bordeaux Blend Red 22nd 94 $192
Chateau Leoville Poyferre, Saint-Julien, France Bordeaux Blend Red 24th 93 $130
Chateau Leoville Barton, Saint-Julien, France Bordeaux Blend Red 26th 93 $114
Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien, France Cabernet Sauvignon - Merlot 27th 95 $226
Chateau Pichon-Longueville au Baron de Pichon-Longueville, Pauillac, France Bordeaux Blend Red 30th 94 $190
Chateau Angelus, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, France Bordeaux Blend Red 32nd 94 $436
Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan, France Bordeaux Blend Red 33rd 94 $452
Chateau Talbot, Saint-Julien, France Bordeaux Blend Red 35th 91 $92
Chateau Figeac, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, France Bordeaux Blend Red 37th 94 $247
Chateau Pavie, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, France Bordeaux Blend Red 41st 94 $387
Chateau Calon-Segur, Saint-Estephe, France Bordeaux Blend Red 46th 93 $144
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To see how Wine-Searcher uses average pricing and professional wine critic scores on this page, please see Average Wine Prices and Wine Scores. To find out about popularity, please see Wine Ranks.
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