Bordeaux Red Wine
The Bordeaux region in France is famous for its wine production, with a long tradition stretching back centuries. It’s no wonder, then, these wines are of such exquisite quality and sought-after the world over. The region’s winemakers have had plenty of time to perfect their craft!
With so many wines available, how do you choose? This article will be your guide to 5 Bordeaux reds you have to try. But first, let’s look at the Bordeaux wine-growing tradition in general.
Bordeaux Red Wines at a Glance
The Gironde region north of the city of Bordeaux is covered in 12,000 hectares of vineyards – the largest wine-producing region in France. The soil in the Bordeaux region plays a large role in grape production. The terroir, proximity to the Gironde river, and oceanic climate create a terrific environment for grape production among Bordeaux’s vineyards.
The most commonly used grapes for red wine are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The region’s growers are also permitted to use Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carménère. As with all French wine regions, wine producers can only label their wine as a “Bordeaux” if the grapes used were grown in that region. Hence, only certain grapes are allowed.
This is where the French regulation AOC comes in. Take Saint-Emilion, for example. When speaking about the region for the purposes of wine classification, it’s called Saint-Emilion AOC. When speaking about the wine or the town, it’s simply Saint-Emilion. The term AOC stands for the French appellation d’origine controlée, meaning its designation is regulated by the geographic area it originates in. AOC is not only used for wines, but also for food and agricultural products in France. The rules around the AOC impose restrictions on food and wine producers, allowing them to label their products from a region only if they meet the region’s standards.
Saint-Estèphe AOC is part of the Médoc subregion. The wine is also named after a small village of about 1700 people. Unlike the other appellations in Médoc, though, vineyards are not located in any other towns or communes. All 1377 hectares are centered around the town of Saint-Estèphe.
Cabernet France, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carménère, and Petit Verdot grapes are all used in Saint-Estèphe. Cabernet Sauvignon is used more than any other, though, especially at châteaux Cos d’Estournel, Lillian Ladouys, and Meyney.
A Saint-Estèphe wine is rich and full-bodied, and ages very well. You can pair it with roasted and braised meats like beef, steak, and veal. Due to a large amount of clay in the soil, the best years to buy Saint-Estèphe are when the climate has been hot and dry. 2003 and 2009 are notable years.
Saint-Emilion is a Bordeaux subregion as well as a small village of about 2000 people. The first vineyards were planted in the 2nd century by the Romans. The town’s preserved Romanesque churches and ruins earned it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The châteaux in Saint-Emilion typically use Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Due to variations in the soil – limestone, gravel, and sandy stone – Saint-Emilion wines are among the most diverse in France. Two of the best are from Château Cheval Blanc and Château Ausone – both are ranked with the best classification of the region, Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’.
Saint-Emilion is easy to pair with food since its range is so wide. You can find one that’s light and sweet, like Château Corbin. Or a heavier, longer-lasting wine, like Château Valandraud. Some of the top years for Saint-Emilion were 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012, and 2010.
|Saint-Émilion Grand Cru (Premier Grand Cru Classé)|
|Galaxies 2 Romanile Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2015|
|Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2015|
Margaux today is known for being elegant and floral, but it didn’t gain this reputation until after the year 2000. Part of Mèdoc, the Margaux appellation is the second largest in the subregion, after Saint-Estèphe. Unlike Saint-Estèphe, the vineyards are spread out among the village of Margaux and neighboring communes. The leading château is also named Margaux, the only appellation area to have a château named after it.
Margaux is usually best paired with lamb and roasted chicken but works well with other roasted meats like beef and pork. The primary grapes in Margaux are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. When searching for vintages, the best years for Margaux are 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2010.
Some Margaux estates also produce dry white wines, but they cannot carry the Margaux AOC label since the grapes are grown outside of the Margaux appellation area. Because the vineyards of Margaux are the southernmost in Mèdoc, the grapes are usually among the first harvested in the region.
|Château Les Barraillots|
Labastide Dauzac Margaux N.V.
Margaux (Grand Cru Classé) 2016
Pomerol is the smallest wine-producing appellation in the whole Bordeaux region, but it’s also expensive and sought-after internationally. The appellation area is only 800 hectares, about 3 by 4 kilometers total. There is no village or commune named Pomerol and the origins of the name are uncertain. It might be a reference to the region’s early history growing many types of seed-bearing fruits.
Until the 17th century, the vines in this subregion grew white grapes. The Pomerol appellation saw a great deal of Dutch traders, who preferred white to red wine. When Dutch influence in the area declined, Pomerol vineyards began to favor red grapes more heavily. Today, Merlot is the most commonly used grape in Pomerol.
Pomerol has its world-famous reputation for its distinctive aromas and textures. Pomerol is ideal with Ahi Tuna, salmon, chicken, mushrooms, and other braised meats like beef and pork. The best vintages to buy among Pomerol wines are 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014. Pomerol is also unique in that its châteaux are not ranked. There is no “Grand Cru Classé” or “Premier Grand Cru” like Saint-Emilion. All the châteaux within the Pomerol appellation can benefit from the simple Pomerol AOC label.
|Château Le Bon Pasteur|
|Château Les Grands Sillons|
Cuvée Amodis Pomerol 2015
Château Latour is the only specific wine-producing estate on this list – and for good reason. It is one of the oldest vineyards in the Pauillac appellation in the Mèdoc subregion. The estate’s history goes back to the 14th century when it was built as a fort during the Hundred Years War. The original tower installed on the property is where its name La Tour is derived from. The iconic tower on the estate today, though, carries no remnants of the original tower.
Château Latour is a top wine-producing estate in Bordeaux. It has only become more so as its production has slowly decreased and quality increased. This has created a large demand for the château’s impeccable wines. Their vineyards cover 78 hectares, usually largely Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. Wines produced by Château Latour are usually best when aged at least 15 years. Younger wines should be decanted from 3-6 hours first. Château Latour goes well with most meat dishes and is excellent with Asian-inspired cuisine.
Grand Vin Pauillac (Premier Grand Cru Classé)
Les Forts de Latour Pauillac
Pauillac de Latour
Bordeaux’s red wines are internationally known. The wine’s high quality, long history, and the vineyards’ painstaking commitment to both tradition and high standards have earned the Bordeaux estates this reputation. While there is a wide variety to choose from, some are more notable than others. The five listed here are a good introduction for beginners; they’re also classics recognized by aficionados. Whatever your tastes are, no matter your level of wine knowledge, these 5 Bordeaux red wines will never disappoint.