Bordeaux is one of the greatest wine producing regions in the world. Its 60 appellations include two widely known regions referred to as the "Right Bank" and "Left Bank" depending on which side of the Dordogne River it is located. Different dominant grapes used in each of its wines also define the two banks. In Bordeaux, the name of the game is red blends not varietal superstars. So it's the combination of the grapes, soil, and climate (terroir) that defines the wines.
In Bordeaux, wines do not identify the grapes used in their production on the label. Rather, the appellation where the grapes are grown will be listed.
Each of the two banks of Bordeaux focuses on different grapes as their primary component. On the Right Bank, the dominant grape used in their blends is Merlot. On the Left Bank, the dominant grape is Cabernet Sauvignon.
While Bordeaux red blends are based on Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, other grapes include Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère.
The white blends of Bordeaux are predominately based on Sauvignon Blanc blended with smaller percentages of Semillion and sometimes Muscadelle or Sauvignon Gris. For these whites, approximately 49% of the grapes grown are Semillion, followed by Sauvignon Blanc (43%), Muscadelle (6%) and Sauvignon Gris (<2%).
Wines that do not fall under a specific AOC may use the generic Bordeaux AOC on their label.
Located west of the Gironde and Garonne Rivers, the Left Bank is known for its red blends.
The Left Bank blends are based on Cabernet Sauvignon. And, like the Right Bank, these blends may include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec. But typically, the Left Bank blends are comprised of 70% or more Cabernet Sauvignon with small fractions of the other, usually to soften the final product.
While the Left Bank is typically thought to have the "better" wines, they certainly have the more expensive wines. And wines that are well suited to aging.
The Left Bank of Bordeaux is the only bank to produce white wines. And these are based on Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. But the most famous white wine-producing region is Sauternes, a sub-region within Graves.
- Médoc - Known for red blends mostly comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and may include Petit Verdot and Malbec. The name Médoc is used throughout the peninsula region and is its own AOC. Areas that are not under the other AOCs of St.-Estèphe, Pauillac, St.-Julien, Margaux, Moulis or Listrac are considered either Médoc or Haut-Médoc. Médoc is in the north, while the Haut-Médoc is to the south.
- Pauillac - Producing red wines mostly comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Margaux - Located in the southern Médoc, this region producing red wines.
- St-Estéphe - Producing red wines with Cabernet Sauvignon being best along the Gironde estuary while Merlot does best further inland.
- St-Julien - Smallest of the Left Bank AOCs, this region produces all red wines.
There are several appellations on the Right Bank or 'The Libournais' as the French call it. The three primary appellations are Saint Émilion, Pomerol and Fronsac. If you can remember these three you can almost always determine if a Bordeaux is from the Right Bank versus the Left Bank.
There are no white wines produced on the Right Bank.
Right Bank area include Libournais, Bourg and Blaye.
The Libournais appellations include:
Saint-Émilion AOC (san-tay-mee-lee-yawn) - Merlot comprises 50% to 80% of the red blends from this region with Cabernet Franc playing the supporting role.
- Satellites of Saint-Émilion are located to the north of Saint-Émilion proper, across the Barbanne River:
- Montagne-Saint-Émilion AOC
- Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion AOC
- Lussac-Saint-Émilion AOC
- Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion AOC
Pomerol AOC - Merlot typically makes up 80% or more of the red blends from this region with Cabernet Franc making up the rest.
- Lalande-de-Pomerol AOC
Fronsac AOC - Produces red blends
- Canon-Fronsac AOC - The satellite of Fronsac
Côtes de Bordeaux AOC
- In 2009, the following appellations were combined to form the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC:
- Côtes de Blaye
- Côtes de Francs
- Côtes de Castillon
- Côtes de Cadillac
Côtes de Bourg AOC -
Entre-Deux-Mers ("Between Two Rivers") -
Located between the Left and Right Banks and includes the following regions:
- Côtes de Bordeaux - Saint Macaire
- Bordeaux Haut-Benauge & Entre-Deux-Mers Haut Benauge
- Premières Côtes de Bordeaux
Known for reds and whites. The dry whites are mostly blends of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc with small amounts of Muscadelle. Only the regions of Graves and Pessac-Léognan may list their regions on white wine labels.
Barsac - Grows only white grapes for the production of sweet wines.
Pessac-Léognan AOC - Recognized as its own AOC in 1987. Red blends are based on Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot playing a large role. White wines are also just as important in this region.
Sauternes - Grows only white grapes. Known for sweet dessert wines. These are tropical fruit flavored sweet wines made from botrytized grapes. These wines can easily go for $100 to $1000 for a bottle.