WINE 101: Bordeaux, France


Where Is It:

West coast of France, equidistant between Nantes and Biarritz.  Along the Gironne River.

What Do They Drink There:

Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc, Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends, and a host of other varieties…. But these are the main ones.

To sum up Bordeaux (or Burgundy, or Champagne for that matter) in a small way is a hard thing to do, but here goes:

Right Bank – literally on the right bank of the river, the wines made here are Merlot dominant.  The best wine is one of the most expensive wine in the world, Pomerol.  The wines also can contain cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.  It is not merlot like we know from elsewhere in the world.  It is full bodied, complex, elegant, tannic, earthy and silky, all at once.  The best are mind-blowing.

Left Bank – literally on the left bank of the river.  This is where the superstars of Bordeaux hail.  The five 1st Growths of Chateau Margaux, Ch. Latour, Ch. Mouton-Rothschild, Ch. Lafite and Ch. Haut-Brion.  These are some of the most expensive wines anywhere in the world.  They are cabernet sauvignon blends, and are bold, rich, complex, layered, tannic, and will age like crazy.  They are very long lived, and in their old age become elegant, ethereal, graceful wines.    

Sauternes – Sweet white wine, made from Semillon and sauvignon Blanc grapes that are affected by the fungus Botrytis.  Yep… effectively the fungus takes over a berry and restricts the skins, psplitting it a little, allowing moisture to seep out, and the flavours to concentrate within the berry.  It reduces the volume of juice within the berry, aiding in its very high price – quantity is scarce.  There is an undisputed king in Sauternes, and it is Chateau d’Yquem.  Perhaps in one of the most united displays of agreement in any region the world over, every other Sauternais producer concurs: d’Yquem is the best.  It is one of the most expensive wines in the world (both on release and into old age).  It is kind of like an orgasm in two ways: it’s really good, and you definitely KNOW when you’ve tried it.  It is unmistakeable.  Extraordinarily long lived, there are still (albeit very few) bottles from the early 1800’s in existence.  Finally, the Sauternes region (and Barsac within it), produce exceptional wines in some very good price ranges – prices that the regular person (you and I) can afford. 

In much smaller quantities there is also a dry white wine produced made from semillon sauvignon blanc.  These are expensive.  But very exciting.  For a more sensible price option, we suggest you head to Graves, just the sub-region over, for dry white wine… their production is higher so their prices are lower.  Once you’ve got a taste for it…. Branch out.

Why We Love It:

As above.  Bordeaux rocks in basically every department except for price.  It’s bloody expensive.

Oz Equivalent?

Well – Australia makes world class cabernet blends.  So you could head to Margaret River, Yarra Valley, Coonawarra and even Barossa Valley.  These are four very different regional styles….

MR: Elegant, silky, long-lived, red berry fruit, eucalypt, earth.  From very good value, to sublime.

C: Black and blue fruits, tannic in youth, variable vintages – one year great, next 3 rubbish.  Choc mint character.

YV: Not dissimilar to Margs, slightly more tannic, lovely lovely, elegant wines.

BV: Richer, more full bodied, heavier on the palate, very long-lived, complex.  Black and blue fruits.

When it comes to botrytis sweet wines… we make a lot.  None as good as Sauternes.  DeBortoli Noble One is worth heading to.  At $30-$35 for a half bottle, it represents great value.