Bordeaux is the largest fine wine region in the world and fifth largest wine district on earth. It has 60 appellations (AOCs / Appellation of Controlled Origin, the official wine regions of France) and 8,650 winemakers. No wonder it can be overwhelming! But with 2009 wines releasing and experts saying this may be the best vintage in over 30 years, its time to learn how to pick out a Bordeaux you like.

I spent several days in Bordeaux last year and since have done more exploring, tasting and reading. There is a lot to digest and make sense of! I think I finally have a grasp of it… so thought I’d share my summary and simplification with you in case it helps you explore the Bordeaux world.

Today we’ll start with a Summary. Tomorrow we’ll go a little deeper on Bordeaux Grape Varieties and AOCs. Then we’ll cover Buying Bordeaux Wine and Exploring Bordeaux in person.

* Summary – If you know this much, its a great start.

  • France labels their wines by region not grape, so you need to understand the grapes and regions of Bordeaux to pick a wine you like.
  • Bordeaux is in the southwest of France just in from the Atlantic Ocean. Click here for a map of France’s wine regions.
  • Bordeaux is THE world-wide example for blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes.
  • 85% of Bordeaux’s wine production is Red. Its nearly always a blended wine of up to 5 grapes. Merlot is the most widely planted grape but Cabernet Sauvignon is the King of Bordeaux.
  • Bordeaux has a Left Bank (where Cabernet Sauvignon dominates with fuller bodied and strong tannin wines, includes Médoc & Graves AOCs) and a Right Bank (where Merlot dominates with rounder medium bodied and softer tannin wines, includes Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac AOCs). Understanding which grape you like and which regions are on each bank can help you pick out wines.
  • Château is the name used for a wine estate / vineyard with wine making facilities attached.
  • The most basic wine is from the Bordeaux AOC and labeled as such. The most complex is a 1855 Classification Great Red Wine of Bordeaux, First Growth/Premiers Cru like Château Lafite-Rothschild.

More depth on above tomorrow in Part 2. And the Bordeaux Wine Council offers great tools to help you learn more (official site, U.S. site and they have a mobile app called Smart Bordeaux).