A Beginner's Guide to Bordeaux
Bordeaux wines have been coveted for generations. Before he became president, Thomas Jefferson developed a taste for Bordeaux while serving as America's Minister to France, and continued to have large quantities shipped to himself and George Washington after he returned stateside. On the current hit show Scandal, the character of Olivia Pope is a political "fixer" with a penchant for very fine wine. When she gets a visit from the President's Chief of Staff, she tells him "Lucky for you, I just opened a Bordeaux that'll bring tears to your eyes."
The world's elite have long celebrated Bordeaux's very high-end (or "haute couture") first growth wines, like Château Latour and Château Margaux. But these luxe wines actually represent less than 3% of the wine produced in this diverse region. The historic city of Bordeaux sits on the southwest coast of France; its "Old City" historic center was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status for its outstanding cultural importance. The Bordeaux winemaking region starts there, expanding 280,000 acres beyond the city to include vineyards that date back to ancient Roman times, making it one of the oldest and largest wine regions in the world. Bordeaux is made up of 60 designated wine producing areas called appellations. There are 7,000 wineries across all the appellations, most of them small and family run, and each with a unique story and history to share. So while Bordeaux might be best known for its top-tier classified growths (with price tags to match), name-dropped by the upper echelons, its impressive diversity allows all wine lovers to enjoy Bordeaux - some of the best reds, rosés and white Bordeaux blends are just $15 to $25.
So with so many Bordeaux wines out there, how do you choose?
There are many vibrant, easy-to-drink options that make for a great introduction. In the red category, start with bottles from the Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur appellations. For whites, look for those labeled Bordeaux, Entre-Deux-Mers or Côtes de Bordeaux. Then, expand your Bordeaux repertoire by asking your local wine merchant to recommend a few favorite, lesser-known appellations. With so many diverse winemaking regions and vintners, there's always a new Bordeaux discovery to be made. And affordable Bordeaux are meant to be enjoyed now, fresh and fruity, so there's no need to look for older vintages.
Blending is at the heart of almost all Bordeaux wines, since it adds a greater harmony and complexity than could be achieved with just a single grape variety. It's helpful to note that while a Bordeaux wine label will tell you in which appellation the wine was made, it doesn't always tell you the different grapes used. Most reds from Bordeaux have a base made from grapes you're probably already familiar with, though -- Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cab Franc – with smaller portions of other grape varietals expertly blended in.
In the category of dry white wines from around the globe, it's Sauvignon Blanc that typically dominates. So if Sauvignon Blanc is one of your go-to wines, chances are you'll love white Bordeaux. If you like sweeter wines, try a bottle from the Sauternes region. The main idea is to have fun and explore. Try sampling wines from different appellations, find your favorites but continue to explore and enjoy discovering the carefully crafted nuances of each and every unique Bordeaux wine.
To discover more, visit the Bordeaux Wines web site.