The Beginner’s guide to Bordeaux

The Beginner’s guide to Bordeaux

Gary Rose of The Wine Ninjas gives the inside line on the Bordeaux wine region

Bordeaux has a reputation for producing some of the world’s most sought-after wines. The only region that can rival it in the world wine-esteem rankings is Burgundy.

But while most of us enjoy drinking Bordeaux wines, its complex classification system and bewildering array of appellations can be intimidating. Rather than help the consumer, Bordeaux’s opaque veil of elitism tends to hinder further exploration. And this, I feel, is a shame.

Well don’t worry, here’s the no-frills, back-to-basics, beginners’ guide — to both the wine and the city.

Bordeaux Wine

France’s largest wine-producing region lies in the south-west of the country, on the Atlantic coast. It’s split by the Gironde estuary, where the Garonne and Dordogne rivers collide.

You won’t find a huge selection of white wines on a Bordeaux wine list, because the vast majority of the production here is red (previously known as “claret” in the UK).

Generally made from a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (or Cabernet Franc) grapes, the dominant variety in the mix is usually determined by which bank of the river the vineyard lies on.
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The Left Bank favours Cab Sauvignon, which thrives in its gravel soils. This makes its wines bold, tannic and structured, with smokey, leathery flavours. Left Bank sub-regions you may have seen on labels include Médoc, Graves and Pauillac.

Right Bank wines, meanwhile, are Merlot dominated, meaning more fruity aromas of red cherry and blackcurrant. Famous Right Bank sub-regions include Pomerol and Saint-Emilion.

White Bordeaux wines tend to be a mix of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, with flavours of grassy white fruit and sea-salty citrus. Some highly-desirable, super-sweet and oaky dessert wines also come from the Bordeaux region of Sauternes.

Visiting Bordeaux

In recent years it’s garnered a rep as one of Europe’s hippest towns. The city centre is sprinkled with quirky flea markets, cool restaurants and cafés, and, of course, wine bars. But beware… it’s bigger than you might imagine and easy to get lost in. Make sure you use the Garonne river as an anchor point for your excursions.

Despite the many attractions within the urban sprawl, it’s also worth taking a trip outside town for a vineyard tour and tasting at one of the chateaux. I’d recommend a wine-blending workshop, where you get to create a unique Bordeaux blend of your own.

But no wine fan’s visit would be complete without a trip to the high-tech Cité du Vin, on the bank of the river in the north of town. It’s Bordeaux’s latest and biggest attraction, and the world’s premier wine museum. If you’re coming from the town centre, it’s advisable to hop on a tram, as it’s a bit of a trek.

Steel yourself for potentially long queues and a 20 Euro entry fee, but Cité du Vin’s interactive exhibits are oh so 21st century, and you get to round off your visit with a complimentary glass of wine (there’s a huge selection to choose from) at the panoramic eighth floor bar. By the time you return, you’ll be brimming with Bordeaux bravado.

Gary Rose writes for wineninjas.org

For more cool things to do in Bordeaux city centre, click here

For a review of wine blending in Bordeaux click here