This Episode's Region



Bordeaux is a low-lying region in southwest France which is naturally divided by the Gironde River. Major areas in Bordeaux are the Left Bank, the Right Bank, Graves, and Entre-Deux-Mers. Without question Bordeaux is the most famous wine region in the world, producing some 850 million bottles each year. Many of France's most exquisite wines are produced in Bordeaux. The region is comprised of about 290,000 acres of vineyards, with more than 7,000 chateaux, including the five best-known and generally most expensive red wine producers: Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion, and Château Mouton Rothschild. Almost 90% of Bordeaux wine is red. As a rule, the Left Bank produces Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wines, while the Right Bank produces Merlot-based red wines. South of these areas, Graves produces both reds and whites from Sauvignon blanc and Sémillon grapes.

Médoc is the biggest wine-producing district in Bordeaux. It is a long, narrow peninsula (approximately 50 miles by 3 miles) situated north of the city of Bordeaux, between the west bank of the Gironde estuary and the Atlantic Ocean. The Médoc AOC was established in 1936 and is part of the Left Bank region of Bordeaux. Médoc's subregions are: Haut-Médoc, Margaux, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis-en-Médoc, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, and St-Estèphe. Chateaux blends of these areas typically utilize 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Merlot, a formula often called the "Bordeaux Blend." Additional grape varieties permitted in Médoc wines include Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carménère .

Wines of particularly high quality are produced in Haut-Médoc in the south, where the terroir is perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon -- slow-to-ripen grapes which need warm soil. Gravelly outcrops are characteristic of the entire region and chunks of gravel in the soil retain heat and allow for good natural drainage. Heavier limestone soil, rich in clay and therefore more capable of retaining moisture is also found throughout the peninsula. This type of terroir is excellent for cultivation of Merlot grapes.

For more on Bordeauxs from the Left Bank, click here.

Photo courtesy of the Bordeaux Wine Council.

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Tasting Notes From This Episode

•Wine-making in Bordeaux is believed to have begun about 44 A.D. Pliny the Elder wrote about vineyards in Bordeaux in 71 A.D. Visit to learn more about the legendary wines from this region.

•During the Roman occupation of Gaul. Bordeaux vineyards planted by the Romans supplied wine for the empire’s soldiers. Early trade routes were easily established to the British Isles, via the Gironde estuary.

•The name “Bordeaux” comes from the French phrase au bord de l’eau, which means “along the water,” referring mainly to the Gironde estuary, but also to its tributaries, as well as the Garonne and Dordogne rivers in the area. Throughout history, many great families of Bordeaux were shipping magnates as well as wine-producers.

•Between 1875 and 1892, almost all Bordeaux vineyards were decimated by phylloxera mite infestation. The wine industry was able to continue only after Bordeaux grapevines were grafted onto pest-resistant American rootstock. Although all vines existing today in Bordeaux are products of this procedure, grafting did not affect the character of the native grapes at all.

•In Britain, the wine of Bordeaux is still called “claret,” though the word in French means “pale” and refers to a virtually extinct Bordeaux wine exported to England in the 18th century. The original clarets were light-colored rosés. The name “claret,” in use for more than 300 years now, is protected within the European Union and describes all red Bordeaux wine.

•According to The Guinness Book of World Records, the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold was a Bordeaux–a 1787 Château Lafite sold in 1985 by Christie’s in London for £105,000, or $160,000 US. The bottle has the initials “Th.J” etched into it, said to have been originally acquired by oenophile Thomas Jefferson while he was ambassador to France.