What is Bordeaux?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Bordeaux is a region in France known for its amazing wines. The term Bordeaux is usually used to refer to any wines that come from this distinctive region. The red wines of Bordeaux are probably the most well known, though there are a number of sweet white wines that are quite popular as well.

Bordeaux is responsible for more wine than any other region of the world, with more than 9,000 distinct châteaux producing hundreds of millions of bottles of wine annually. More than 25% of the designated wines of France come from the Bordeaux region. Until the 1970s, the majority of wine produced in Bordeaux was white; today, more than 80% of the wines produced are red.

There are four major growing regions in Bordeaux: the Médoc, Pomerol, Graves, and St-Émillion. The majority of châteaux in Bordeaux are found within the Médoc region. The Médoc classification dates from 1855, when Napoleon III asked a number of important people in the wine industry to choose the top wines to represent France in the International Exposition. Five of these Bordeaux châteaux are considered first growth – or premiers crus – by the classification scheme. These are: Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion, and Château Mouton-Rothschild, all of which should be familiar to anyone who enjoys a good Bordeaux.


The original classification has stood for over 150 years without changes – except for one. In 1973, the Château Mouton-Rothschild was raised from being a second-growth château to a first-growth, after nearly fifty years of concerted effort on the part of the Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Château Mouton-Rothschild is also notable for having each year’s labels designed by a different artist. This has led to designs by such luminaries as Dali (1958), Moore (1964), Picasso (1973), Warhol (1975), and Setsuko (1991).

While many of the wines of Bordeaux are generally agreed to be among the best in the world, wine sales have consistently dropped in the past years. This is no doubt because, as the world’s taste in wine has changed to fruitier, easier wines, the style of Bordeaux has remained relatively unchanged. Many of the best Bordeaux require aging for at least ten years before being ready to enjoy, a quality that does not appeal to the bulk of contemporary wine drinkers. In spite of its long history, however, it appears that the styles of some Bordeaux châteaux may be changing. Many critics have charged that, with the ascendancy of wine critics such as Robert Parker, who look for “fruit bombs” that offer an immediate taste of fruit, even at the expense of longevity, Bordeaux wine-makers have begun to change their ways.


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