Bordeaux, or what’s in a name?

The most important wine region of France (or, dare we say, the world), has been the subject of countless studies, analyses and descriptions. Bordeaux does not lend itself easily to any accurate and concise description, as one can easily become lost in the profusion of information and often imprecise data that have accumulated over the years. Let’s focus on the very name of the region, as it evokes numerous – both good and bad – associations.

The world capital of wine

Bordeaux is a large and beautiful city with magnificent architecture. Its imposing edifices made of light stone testify to the glorious past of city that has built its power and wealth on the wine trade. In addition to the quality of its wines, highly valued by English merchants, it was the city’s strategic location, that is, the vicinity of the mouth of a large river flowing into the Atlantic Ocean, that allowed the city of Bordeaux to develop and thrive. The city was an important port on the Gironde and a point of departure for large ships that sailed around the world with the famous clarets, as the Bordeaux wine was referred to by the English merchants. Obviously, wines are not produced in the city itself, but in the surrounding area. The large and diverse region, also called Bordeaux, is home to numerous vineyards covering a total area of ​​over 120,000 hectares.

Take your pick

The Gironde, along with its main tributaries, i.e. the Garonne and the Dordogne, naturally divide Bordeaux into several smaller regions. It is worth remembering that on the left bank, in Médoc, the most outstanding red wines, full-bodied and robust, are made. Equally outstanding, yet lighter and fruitier reds are made on the right bank, in the vicinity of the historic town of St. Emilion. Graves in the south is home to the legendary Sauternes: finest white wines, both sweet and dry. In addition to the above elite, there are other interesting subregions producing wine that is usually better value for money. In total, you can choose among nearly 60 appellations and more than 7,000 producers. The majority proudly call themselves château, although most wineries resemble rather a modest manor or a country house than a castle. Let us not forget about rosé and sparkling wines. These, however, have a slightly lower rank in Bordeaux than reds and whites.

Do not buy Bordeaux in Bordeaux, or how to spoil the world’s best brand

The trouble is that the most recognizable of all appellations and subregions is the name of Bordeaux, a brand of some of the poorest wines. They are produced in mediocre vineyards located between the Garonne and the Dordogne. If the label of AOC Bordeaux is to be any indication of quality, it is better to look out for it when choosing less popular white wines. Unfortunately, more than half of all wines produced in the region bear this label. They are inexpensive and of average quality, mostly sold in supermarkets.

Not only do they not contribute to building the reputation, but even damage the prestige of the Bordeaux brand. For many years, a ‘simple Bordeaux’ has proven too simple and detrimental to this outstanding global trademark. It was only in 2006, that is, quite recently if we take into account many centuries of fame and glory of Bordeaux wines, that the category of Vin de Pays de l’Atlantique (IGP Atlantique) was created for simpler, regional wines. It applies to wines produced not only the Bordeaux region in the Gironde department, but in a much larger area of southwest France.

Marcin Zatorski