With some of the most popular wines in the world, Bordeaux is a wine region to be reckoned with. However, here is the confusing bit: in general, wines are sometimes named after the grape, not the region. But in Bordeaux, good Bordeaux wines will be named after their producer, not their grape.
For example, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are actually grapes, after which quite a few different wines are named. This is why those wines can be produced in France, the United States, Australia, etc. and all called by the same name.
At its core, these grapes are native to Bordeaux and were exported from here, and so we follow the French tradition. Approximately 90% of Bordeaux wines are made using a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grape blend, so that is what the wine will taste like, even if it doesn’t say it on the bottle.
☞ READ MORE: Easy Guide to the French Wines
Table of Contents
Classification of Wines
First up, is the initials that are listed on a Bordeaux bottle of wine.
- AOC – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée
- AOP – Appellation d’Origine Protégée
- Vin de Pays – Wine of France
- Vin de table – Table wine
Beyond the appellations, Bordeaux wines follow a strict hierarchical quality classification based on location, grapes, soil, climate, and more. In order of importance, these are:
- Grand Cru Classé (or Premiers Crus) – First Growth
- Deuxième cru classé to Cinquème cru classé – 2nd to 5th growth
- Sub-region AOCs:
- Médoc for red wines from Médoc
- Haut-Médoc for the higher southern part
- Graves for red and white wines from the area south of Garonne and Bordeaux
- Entre-Deux-Mers for dry white wines
- Côtes de Bordeaux located predominantly on the right bank of the Dordogne
- Bordeaux Superior
The grand cru classé red wines, as you can imagine, are the top of the top in France and around the world. Some of the most famous Grand Crus are:
- Château Lafite Rothschild (under appellation Pauillac)
- Château Margaux (under appellation Margaux)
- Château Latour (under appellation Pauillac)
- Château Haut-Brion (under appellation Péssac-Leognan)
- Château Mouton Rothschild (under appellation Pauillac)
Good Bordeaux wines are usually labeled based on the estate/château, compared to Alsace which names bottles based on grape variety, and Burgundy wines which are named on “terroir” (land).
Beyond the classification of Cru versus Superior, the wines also have an appellation indicating the village or subregion they come from, along with the initials AOC/AOP. There are 38 different appellations for wines based on their location within the Bordeaux region, so let’s have a look at some of the biggest names below.
You can find out more about reading French wine labels here.
Top Names in Bordeaux Wines
1. Cabernet Sauvignon
As I mentioned before, the Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape, and makes some of the most popular wines across the world. It is not possible to judge the quality of the wine just from the name “Cabernet Sauvignon”, you must check the label for the appellations noted above, and the name of the estate/domaine. It could be a table wine or a high-end AOC.
In general, the Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its fruity tones (cherry, currant, blackberry).
Pairing: It is usually paired with red meats or cheesey and dishes like the raclette.
Buy a Bordeaux Discovery Wine Gift Set here.
One of the most popular wines in the world, the merlot grape is very much at home in Bordeaux. Interestingly, the Merlot is not recognized as an AOC in France by itself. The grape is used in many other wines, including Pomerol and Saint Emilion wines (see below).
Bordeaux Merlot wines are sold under the appellation “Vin de France”. And with tones of ripe red and blackberries and cheaper price point, it is easy to see why Merlot wines are so sought after.
Pairing: It pairs easily with everything from pizzas to elaborate meat dishes.
Buy a Bordeaux Classic Wine Gift Set here.
The category of Médoc is a bit special, because it grows some of the finest wines in the world. A Médoc Grand Cru is one of the most prestigious of Bordeaux wines in France and beyond, with prices to match.
This sub-region is so important in winemaking terms, there are several AOCs within the Médoc category, broken down by village:
- Saint Estèphe
- Haut Médoc
Some of these wines like the Pauillac and Margaux are so prestigious, they need their own category (see below). Unless the wines are part of one of village categories above, they are usually marketed under the Médoc AOC.
Médoc wines in general have a fruity and lightly oak aroma with a lot of tannins.
(P.S. if you have ever thought about doing a marathon, try the Marathon de Médoc. It is a race where you drink wine as you run!)
Pairing: They tend to pairs very well with a lot of dishes, but a particular favorite is lamb.
Buy a Bordeaux Prestige Wine Gift Set here.
Within Haut-Médoc in Bordeaux, is the village of Margaux. It contains 21 Cru Classé, more than any other commune in Bordeaux. They tend to be quite fruity with red berries, and age very well, which is also why they are so well sought after. A vintage Margaux Grand Cru classé can keep for more than 50 years.
Pairing: The Margaux is said to go particularly well with duck, lamb and steak.
Buy a bottle of Margaux here.
Another quintessential Bordeaux wine from Médoc, is the Pauillac. There are 18 Cru Classé from the village of Pauillac, including several Grand Cru classé.
The Pauillac is a heavy complex wine, whose flavors soften as it ages. It has tones of red fruits (blackcurrant, blackberry, plum), as well as vanilla and a peppery taste. The older the vintage, the softer the nuances, so a Pauillac Cru is usually held for years, if not decades before it is opened.
Pairing: The wine goes particularly well with red meats.
Buy a bottle from Paulliac here.
Another famous Bordelaise appellation is the Pomerol AOC, from the town of Pomerol. The grapes used in the Pomerol tend to be the Merlot grapes. Pomerol is the smallest of the major fine wine regions in Bordeaux, covering an area that is roughly 3km x 4km (1.8miles x 2.5miles). The area has one Premier cru called the Château Pétrus.
The Pomerol AOC tends to be softer than the Médoc wines, with less tannins and a richer plum flavor. Because of this, it requires less aging, with most vintages only kept for 5-12 years.
Pairing: The wine goes well with beef and lamb dishes, as well as terrines and pâtés.
Buy a Bordeaux Classic Wine Gift Set here.
7. Saint Emilion
The Saint Emilion Grand Cru is an AOC of great distinction. But there are white and rosé wines which will also be called Saint Emilion (without the AOC attached).
The wines of Saint-Émilion are typically blended from different grape varieties, the Merlot (60% of the blend), Cabernet Franc (nearly 30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (around 10%). This fruity red wine has discreet notes of vanilla and spices.
Pairing: It pairs well with all sorts of dishes, but especially lamb and beef.
Buy a Bordeaux Saint Emilion here.
8. Savignon Blanc
Similar to the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Sauvignon Blanc is also a grape that is widely used in white wines. Again, you will have to look for one of the other appellations such as the name of the village, etc. to judge the quality of the wine.
The Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc AOC is known for tones of green apple, citrus, peaches and pears.
Pairing: It is usually paired with lighter dishes like salads or starters like the coquilles st. jacques.
Buy a Bordeaux dry white here.
Type: Red or White
Graves is often said to have the oldest vineyards in Bordeaux, as part of the historic Duchy of Aquitaine. Records show that the area started exporting wine to London as early as the 12 century, after the Elenor, the Duchess of Aquitaine became Queen of England.
The subregion of Graves is the only one in the Bordelaise area that can produce Graves AOC red and white wines. The soil here is of poor quality and gravelly, hence the name.
Pairing: A red Graves wine goes well with duck and lamb, while a Graves white marries well with fish like trout and sole.
Buy a Bordeaux Graves here.
Type: Sweet Wine
Located on the Left bank of the Garonne river, is the area of Sauternes which specializes in sweet wines. It is made from overripe sémillon grapes to give it that saccharine flavor.
Pairing: It is usually served with dessert, but also goes well with fois gras as an appetizer.
Buy a Bordeaux Sauternes here.
11. Les Cordeliers
Type: White or Rosé Sparkling wine
Bordeaux doesn’t have many sparkling wines (sold under the appellation Cremant de Bordeaux AOC), but it does have Les Cordeliers. The tradition dates back to 1892, with Les Cordeliers sparkling wines being produced deep in the heart of Saint Emilion.
Pairing: A light bubbly, try Les Cordeliers with seafood such as shrimp or gambas prawns.
So are you ready to splash out on a good Pauillac? Or will you stick to other Bordeaux crus? As always, as the French Government advises, “the abuse of alcohol is dangerous for your health. Consume with moderation.”
Did you enjoy that article? Save it for later!