An Introduction to the Bordeaux Wine Region

Vineyards with a Chateau in the background.
A vineyard in the Margaux region of Bordeaux. Photo by: Javarman

Bordeaux is famous for its blended wines featuring Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as the dominant grapes. Many associate Bordeaux with world-class Cabernet dominated blends, but surprisingly, Merlot makes up 66% of the red grapes grown in the region while Cabernet Sauvignon makes up only 22.5%.

You’ll find Bordeaux in Southwest France along the Atlantic coast. The Gironde River runs right through the region splitting it in half. The West side of the river or “Left Bank” is where you’ll find Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blends. The East side of the river or “Right bank” is where you’ll find Merlot dominant blends.

There are six grapes allowed in a Bordeaux blend. They are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenère. The third biggest partner in the blend is Cabernet Franc while the others may or may not be part of the final blend.

Climate & Soil

Bordeaux has a warm climate with heavy rainfall due to the Atlantic Ocean. The soil on the Left Bank is gravelly which reflects the heat back to the vines overnight, this helps Cabernet grapes to ripen. The Right Bank has clay soil that is a bit cooler and holds moisture which is perfect for Merlot vines.

Classification & Labeling

How do you decipher the labels on Bordeaux wine? Well, very carefully.

In Bordeaux, it’s important to understand the appellations (aka sub-regions within Bordeaux) as well as the classifications for certain producers (aka Château). The appellations will tell you whether the wine is a Cabernet or Merlot dominant blend, while the Chateau classifications are meant to identify quality producers.

However, the Chateau classifications, established in 1855, only include a subset of the producers in the region. While this classification still accurately identifies quality producers, it leaves out many that are producing similar, high-quality wines. Those producers don’t get to use the prestigious Chateau classification on their wine labels. Hardly seems fair and equitable in this day and age.

Appellations in Bordeaux

  • Regional Appellations: Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Superior A