Would You Know Your Bordeaux Wine From Your Claret? (Part 1)

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A Tale of Two Bordeaux– Right and Left Bank.

I can certainly see that you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.” ~ John Cleese.

Every time I am reminded of this episode from the classic comedy series – Faulty Towers – I smile at the subtly of the humour. I am also aware that perhaps that particular joke went over the heads of many viewers and I want to rectify that in this post.

In many of our blog posts over the years we have written about our visits to, our friends in and the wines from, Bordeaux. We have highlighted specific Chateaux, towns, regions, owners, growers, and varietals.

We have always presumed that readers would understand what we were talking about as Bordeaux is probably one of the most elite and widely recognised wine cities in the world. However, some of the feedback we have received from readers is that this may not be the case all the time. So, by way of explaining what is a complex wine City I want to delve a little deeper into the region and explain its nuances.

Some of my language below may be borderline technical but this will only be where there are no alternatives. My insights will hopefully explain why I believe that the region can offer some of the best value wines in the world.

To make this easier on all of us, I intend splitting the topic into three posts– 1) An introduction to Bordeaux Wines, 2) The Right Bank and 3) The Left Bank.

At the end of the day it’s all Bordeaux to me and I believe that the region can offer some of the best value wines in the world #greenacresirl #bordeauxwine Click To Tweet

An Introduction to the Bordeaux Wine Region

map of the bordeaux vineyards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you look at the map above, the Bordeaux region is naturally divided by the Gironde Estuary into a Left Bank area which includes the Médoc and Graves and a Right Bank area which includes the Libournais, Bourg and Blaye.

The Médoc is itself divided into Haut-Médoc (the upstream or southern portion) and Bas-Médoc (the downstream or northern portion, often referred to simply as “Médoc”). There are various sub-regions within the Haut-Médoc, including St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St.-Julien and Margaux and the less well-known areas of AOC Moulis and Listrac.

Graves includes the sub-regions of Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes (among others), and Sauternes in turn includes the sub-region of Barsac.

The Libournais includes the sub-regions of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol (among others).

There is an additional wine region of Entre-Deux-Mers, so called because it lies between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, which combine to form the Gironde Estuary.

This region contains several less well-known sweet wine areas such as Cadillac and St. Croix de Mont.

In fact, there are almost 60 different Appellations AOC in Bordeaux. Here is a list to the appellations of Bordeaux, if you’d like to inspect them further – Appellations AOC in Bordeaux – from the French Cellar website.

As alluded to above, Bordeaux wines are the most well-known and desired wine blends in the world. What you may know is that most Bordeaux wines are mostly red and made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. But did you know that the vineyard’s location within the region of Bordeaux determines the percentages of each varietal?

Thirteen grape varieties are allowed in the Bordeaux wine blends, but in practice all the wines are dominated by three black and two white grapes. The black (used to produce red and rose wines): merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. The white: semillon, and sauvignon blanc.

bordeaux bottle hanging as decoration

Some Facts about the Bordeaux Region.

With 112,000 hectares of extension, Bordeaux is the biggest appellation of France, both in terms of volume and value. It is also the largest fine-wine district on the planet.

In value, more than 2 billion Euros of Bordeaux wine is produced each year!

Bordeaux is the largest wine producing region in France and arguably the most important, influential and popular wine region in the world!

To give you an idea of the size and scope of the entire Bordeaux region, close to 900 million bottles of Bordeaux wine are produced in most years!

One last fact – today, slightly less than 60% of all grapes harvested are used to produce Chateau bottled wines. The remaining 40% of the harvest is sold to négociants, cooperatives and to larger estates to produce branded wines.

With such a volume of wine production and wide variety of wines and elements affecting terroirs, you will understand why I must break the topic into three parts.

To give you an idea of the size and scope of the entire Bordeaux region, close to 900 million bottles of Bordeaux wine are produced in most years! #greenacresirl #bordeauxwine Click To Tweet

Finally, I should mention the classification system.

The classification system for Bordeaux Wines

Like everywhere else in France, Bordeaux wine is subject to a strict classification system that governs price, prestige, and quality. Much has been written about these, but here are the basics:

  • 1855 Wine Official Classification covers red wines of Medoc and Sauternes and ranks them from 1st to 5th growth according to price.
  • 1955 Official Classification of St. Émilion is updated every ten years. Sometimes new producers are added or removed.
  • 1959 Official Classification of Graves sought to bring more order to this region.
  • The Cru Bourgeois Classification came about in 2003 but was discontinued in 2009.
  • Syndicat des AOC is a governing body that classifies 55% of Bordeaux wine as either Bordeaux AOC or Bordeaux Supérieur AOC.

I hope that mentioning these classifications has not confused you. I feel I must include it as the Bordeaux Wines hierarchy is built on same.

John Cleese and Wine Expert

So, what of the question posed in this post’s title?

Well, the first wine style in history was rosé. Which was pale in colour, and the French word for clear was clairet. Towards the end of the 17th Century, winemakers discovered that macerating (soaking) coloured grape skins in must (juice) gave the wine colour.

The British had taken a liking for this darker wine and they started calling all wines from Bordeaux ‘claret’. So in reality there is no difference between red Bordeaux wines and clarets which makes John Cleese’s comment above so clever/funny.

So, there you have it – a quick introduction to the Bordeaux wines region. In the next two posts I will go into a little more detail explaining the Right Bank and the Left Bank.

One last thing – did you know that we launched the Green Acres mobile app recently? Now you can bring us home in your pocket. Book tables, browse wines, learn of special offers, check events, connect with us, earn loyalty rewards and much more.  We would really appreciate if you would click on either of the tabs below to download for free.

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Talk to you soon – Cheers, James.

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