What is the Secret to Bordeaux Wine?
At its most basic level, Bordeaux wines are blends made from grapes grown in the Bordeaux region of southwest France surrounding the city of Bordeaux and the Gironde estuary, which borders the Atlantic Ocean. It is here that some of the world’s most sought-after wines are crafted. Bordeaux’s unique geography is what allows it to produce such famed wines. While other regions of the world create Bordeaux-style wines, only this area contains the specific conditions for true Bordeaux wine.
Bordeaux’s location at the 45th parallel is ideal for growing Bordeaux wine grapes. The mystical 45th parallel, half-way between the equator and the North Pole, is generally thought of as the ‘perfect’ parallel for growing wine grapes.
Grape Varieties Allowed in Bordeaux Wine
Bordeaux’s combination of climate and soil nurture certain grape varieties. For this reason, French wine laws specify which grape varieties a winemaker can use to call a wine Bordeaux. The red varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere. The last two are not common in Bordeaux today. The main white varieties include Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle, though four other lesser known and less common varieties are allowed.
The Gironde Estuary and the Bordeaux Wine Region
Water impacts the entire Bordeaux region, and the Maritime climate is determined by the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean. Two major rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne, merge below the city of Bordeaux, creating the Gironde Estuary on their way to the ocean.
The Maritime climate, though a moderate to marginal climate of warm days and cool nights, drives much vintage variation. Though large bodies of water moderate temperatures around vineyards, weather patterns can vary greatly year-to-year.
Estates located closest to the rivers tend to produce the most expensive and desired wines. These are generally the classified estates as defined by French wine law.
The Soils of the Bordeaux Wine Region
The Gironde Estuary and the Bordeaux wine region lie over a geological bed of limestone, but each side of the river above Bordeaux city has its own type of soil.
On the route to the sea, the soils on the north side, or what is called the Right Bank of the river, are mostly made of clay and limestone. On the southern side of the river, what is called the Left Bank, the main soil type is gravel. These poor soils impart specific characteristics in Bordeaux wines distinct from other wine regions.
However, Bordeaux being a large region, the soils vary widely throughout, and each producer will plant the grape varietals that most suit the land. Cabernet Sauvignon vines prefer gravel soils, which drain well, so this is widely planted on the Left Bank. The clay and limestone soils on the Right Bank allow Merlot to thrive.
The Terroir of the Bordeaux Wine Region
Terroir means ‘soil’ in French but all aspects of growing wine grapes contribute to the concept of terroir: climate/weather, geology/soil, location, water, specific aspects of each plot of land. This leads to ‘typicity’ of the wine or what this unique combination of factors delivers. A typical Bordeaux wine tastes unlike a typical California Bordeaux blend.
Bordeaux’s combination of 45th parallel location, the large bodies of water, the Maritime climate and the soils together work magic in the final taste of the wine. Tasting a Bordeaux wine is like tasting this region in a wine glass. It is like no other.Bordeaux and Big Hammer Wines
Bordeaux is the largest wine growing area in France and as a direct importer and specialist in the region, Big Hammer Wines is your expert to guide you through it.