Bordeaux wine acquires its unique character and flavor profile thanks to a combination of grapes planted in the vineyards, terroir and Bordeaux terroir, climate and the winemaker’s choices. But it all starts in the vineyard with Bordeaux grapes.
Bordeaux Grape Blends
First of all, it is important to note that a large part of what makes Bordeaux wine excellent is that 99% of all the best wines are produced from blends of different grape varieties. Even if the Bordeaux wine produced today hardly resembles the wines produced in the region when the classification of 1855 took place for a large part of the appellation, the best Bordeaux wines have always been produced from a blending of different grapes.
It is all of its parts that come from the blend of grape varieties that creates the magic of Bordeaux wine. There are some superb 100% Merlot wines from Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, but the vast majority of the time, Merlot, due to its rich and opulent textures, is the perfect match for blending with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. more tannic and firmer.
Keep in mind that the terroir and climate of Bordeaux are very different from those of California, while 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines are sublime from regions such as Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the gravelly terroir of Bordeaux l is also hard and austere.
But when blended with other grapes, the wine becomes more complex on the nose and, more importantly, the textures and mouthfeel of the wine best develop elegance and opulence and the silky, velvety textures. . Although Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are undoubtedly the two most important grape varieties used in Bordeaux blends, you can also find varying amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec in blends. But this has not always been the case as you will see.
By clicking on one of the following links on the left side of the page, you can read in more detail what each specific grape variety of Bordeaux wine provides in the process of making red Bordeaux wine, white Bordeaux wine and sweet Bordeaux wine from Sauternes, as well as what you will find in the flavors, character and styles of the wine.
Bordeaux red grapes
White grapes from Bordeaux
The phylloxera changes Bordeaux
It is believed that before the attack on Phylloxera, which began in Bordeaux in 1869, culminating around 1880, the best vineyards in the Médoc, with their gravelly soils, were already heavily planted in Cabernet Sauvignon.
However, at that time, there were also higher percentages of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère that were widely grown in the region than you have today. Outside the Médoc, these grape varieties probably occupied a larger share of the vineyards of the small terroirs. In the late 1800s, that would change.
After the phylloxera epidemic which devastated a large part of Bordeaux, as well as vineyards all over Europe, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc have become the main Bordeaux grape varieties in the region. Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere were quickly eliminated.
This trend continued after the devastating frost of 1956, with more Cabernet Sauvignon plantations on the left bank and more Merlot plants on the right bank.
In total, 10 grape varieties authorized by AOC law can be used for the production of Bordeaux wines. This is broken down into 6 grapes for the production of red wine and 4 grapes that can be used in the production of white Bordeaux wine. Of course, Bordeaux winegrowers can plant any variety of their choice in their vineyard. But if they do not plant the grapes authorized by the AOC law, they will have to sell their wine as a simple Vin de France.
New Bordeaux grape varieties
Due to the continued effect of climate change on Bordeaux, in 2019, it was announced that producers of certain Bordeaux appellations (AOC Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur) could start using 7 new grape varieties as long as the vineyard does not contain them. more than 5% of the newly authorized grapes, or their blends did not contain more than 10% of all or part of the following grapes.
The experimental grapes include 4 red grape varieties and 3 white grape varieties.
Experimental red and white grapes allowed in Bordeaux
Arinarnoa, a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat is popular in South America and parts of southern France as well as in Lebanon.
Castets is an old little-known French grape variety that is still used in south-western France. However, in the 1800s, it was planted in Bordeaux in some vineyards.
Marselan is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache that is used to some extent in Languedoc and parts of California. Marselan is also becoming more and more popular in China.
Touriga Nacional which is mainly used in Portugal for port and dry red wine.
ELIGIBLE EXPERIMENTAL WHITE WINE GRAPES
Albarino, also known as Alvarinho, is one of the most popular white wine grapes in Spain.
Liliorila is a cross between Chardonnay and Baroque. The cross was created and approved in the 1950s.
Petit Manseng is used in the south-west of France and in Spain in sweet wines and also in dry white wines.
Unauthorized Bordeaux grape varieties
As we mentioned earlier, Bordeaux winegrowers can plant the grapes of their choice. But if the grape is not authorized for the region, the wine could be sold as a generic Vin de France. This is the case of Clos Dubreuil which produces a 100% Chardonnay wine and Château Petit Val which produces a 100% Riesling wine.
Noble grape varieties in Bordeaux
Most Bordeaux wines are blends that include one or more noble grape varieties. A noble grape is a grape that can produce a great wine, without blending. However, as you will see, the vast majority of Bordeaux wines come from blends. As you know by now, with regard to assembly, there are exceptions to each rule, by name.
For example, there are several wines made from 100% Merlot in Saint-Émilion and a few in Pomerol as well, which are among the best wines produced in all of Bordeaux.
Some areas produce dry white Bordeaux wine 100% Sauvignon Blanc and some chateaux also produce sweet white wine 100% Semillon. But it is largely the blend of grape varieties that produces wines that are the heart and soul of the Bordeaux vineyard.
Qualities and characteristics of Bordeaux grapes
Each Bordeaux variety adds a different character to the wine. These characteristics are shaped by the main components provided by the fruit, tannin, acidity and alcohol. It is the balance of these three elements that produce a great wine. Grapes are incredibly complex fruits offering a myriad of flavors, aromas and character that give Bordeaux wine its personality, starting with its ability to age, evolve and improve in bottle. Much of this starts with tannin.
The tannins present in the wine come from the seeds, stems and skins of the Bordeaux grapes, as well as from aging in oak barrels. The tannins give a structure of wine. They act like a preservative. At maturity, they shape and define a wine and its textures, while helping to provide pleasant tactile sensations to the palate.
When they are not ripe, they offer a similar experience to sucking a lemon. They can dry the mouth and / or offer a rustic feeling to the wine. Tannins are more important for red wines than whites. The level of tannins in relation to the fruit, as well as the maturity and style of the tannins contribute to shaping the personality of the wines.
Acidity is a key element of a wine. The acidity allows the wine to feel fresh and uplifting instead of being flaccid. Soft wines do not feel good. They can be too sweet, with sensations similar to those of syrup. Too much acidity is not healthy for a wine either. The wine will have an overly bright and sharp taste and sensation.
Of course, much of this is in the eye of the beholder, as some wines offer higher acid profiles than others. Wines grown in warmer climates are naturally less acidic than fruits planted in colder climates.
Alcohol is the last part of the trio of components. Alcohol is the product of fermentation. This natural process occurs when the sugars present in the fruit are converted into alcohol. The level of sugar found in berries is the main factor determining the alcohol level of a particular wine.
Grapes grown in hot weather will naturally produce wines richer in alcohol. Some grape varieties will also ripen with higher sugar levels. For example, Merlot will always ripen with higher sugar levels than Cabernet Sauvignon.
These qualities, characteristics and of course the grapes are used to create the famous Bordeaux blend. The only requirement for making a Bordeaux blend is that it includes at least two of the main Bordeaux grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The term Bordeaux blend does not only refer to Bordeaux wines.
Many countries produce wine from the same grapes to make their own unique Bordeaux blend. Bordeaux blends are very popular in Napa Valley in California (where it can be called Meritage wine) in Washington State, Oregon, Virginia and other wine regions in the United States.
Australia, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, China, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Peru are just a few of the countries that produce wine using the grapes necessary to produce Bordeaux blends. The wines from Bordeaux style blends are also called left bank blends, dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. Right bank assemblies are made mainly from Merlot or Cabernet Franc.
Rive Gauche and Rive Droite style wines can be called Claret. Bordeaux is another name for Bordeaux, which comes from the old English term for light red wine, which was the way some Bordeaux wines were bought and sold over 150 years ago.
White grapes from Bordeaux
While the most famous wines of the Bordeaux region are red, Bordeaux also produces many dry white Bordeaux wines and sweet white Bordeaux wines in a wide range of styles. To give you an idea of the distribution, almost 90% of all Bordeaux wines are devoted to growing grapes to produce red wine.
Only 10% of the grapes planted in the Bordeaux region are reserved for the production of white wine. To find out more about Bordeaux white wine: Bordeaux white wine guide
White Bordeaux wine, most often called Bordeaux Blanc, is produced from blends containing mainly Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Sauvignon Gris. However, you find Muscadelle in small quantities included in the blends for the sweet white wines of Sauternes and Barsac. However, a very small amount of odd white grapes is also planted in less prestigious areas of the Bordeaux region.
For example; Colombard, Folle Blanche and Ugni Blanc. These grapes are used in the production of inexpensive bordeaux white table wine. For example, you can find wines from these grape varieties planted in the appellations Entre deux Mers and Côtes de Blaye.
While many areas are famous in Pessac Leognan for making dry white Bordeaux wine, several Bordeaux chateaux in the Medoc produce a small amount of dry white Bordeaux wine. The white wine of Bordeaux from the left bank is sold under the appellation Bordeaux.
Because of the fresher terroir, the southernmost soils of the Margaux appellation produce more Bordeaux Blanc, Château-Margaux, Château Prieure Lichine and Château Palmer are the most famous areas making Bordeaux white wine.
In Saint-Julien, Château Talbot and Château Lagrange produce dry white Bordeaux wine. Château Mouton Rothschild produces Aile d’Argent and Château Lynch Bages, as well as Château Cos d’Estournel also produce dry white Bordeaux wine. Sauvignon Blanc is the dominant grape used in the best dry white wines of Bordeaux.
Grapes used for sweet Bordeaux wine
To make the famous, sweet, Bordeaux wine of Sauternes and Barsac, Sémillon is king, because of what happens when the fruit is attacked by botrytis, also known as noble rot. For the production of sweet Bordeaux wine, while some areas use 100% semillon, the most common practice is to mix a certain percentage of Sauvignon Blanc and for some areas, small amounts of Muscadelle.
Of course, the terroir and soils of Bordeaux add to the expression of the grapes. Bordeaux is a large region. But you can see it in a simplified way. Each of the grape varieties grows on both banks and in Pessac Léognan. However, in the left bank and Pessac Leognan Cabernet Sauvignon is king, followed by Merlot.
On the left bank and at Pessac Leognan, the best soils are deep gravels and clay gravels. On the right bank of Pomerol, where Merlot dominates the region, clay is most often the preferred type of soil, although depending on the specific terroir, gravel can also play an important role.
For example, look at Chateau Lafleur in Pomerol, which has gravel and stone soils. In Saint-Émilion, where Merlot remains the most popular grape, followed by Cabernet Franc, the best soils are limestone and clay. For detailed information on soils and terroirs specific to specific properties: Complete guide to everything you want to know about Bordeaux