WTF is Bordeaux?

Here we are, folks… the big one. Bordeaux. This is going to be a very introductory guide, as I could literally dedicate a whole blog to the most famous of wine regions.

Soooooo, what is exactly is Bordeaux? It’s an entire region in France, not just the red wine blend you are most used to. The Garonne and Dordogne rivers in France eventually merge into the Gironde, which is a 50-mile long estuary that empties into the Atlantic. The city of Bordeaux, from which the region takes its name, rests near the bank of the Garonne. The rivers give the region a more mild climate, with plenty of humidity. Grape-wise, you’ll find the following:

Red Grapes

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Petite Verdot
  • Malbec (rare-ish)
  • Carménère (rare)

White Grapes

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Sémillon
  • Muscadelle

Red Bordeaux wines are normally a blend of two or more grape varietals. The ratio can vary from Left Bank to Right Bank, which you’ll see a bit later. White Bordeaux wines will mostly be blends of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Within Bordeaux, you’ll see four distinct regions.

Left Bank

Left Bank Bordeaux blends are going to be Cabernet Sauvignon dominant. Within that, the Left Bank can be even further divided into two regions: Médoc and Graves. Médoc is located north of the city and is known as producing the best red blends of the region. The area used to be prominently marshland, but when settled by the Dutch in the 17th century, it was drained, which led to the discovery of gravel terrain–perfect for great Cabernet Sauvignon. South of the city is Graves, which has a clay and sand terrain in addition to their gravel and also grows well-renowned Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.

Right Bank

Right Bank wines are grown on the eastern side of the Gironde estuary and are Merlot dominant. They tend to be slightly lighter than their Left Bank counterparts. On the right bank, you’ll find plenty of Merlot, Cabernet Frank, and Petit Verdot. Overall, the Right Bank also has smaller vineyards, both in area and production, with more of that classic Chateau feel.


This region is mainly located between the two Bordeaux rivers and is particularly known for dry whites. Though mainly Sauvignon Blanc, you’ll also see plenty of Sémillon and Muscadelle. There’s no need to age these wines. They’ll drink well at time of purchase.

Côtes de Bordeaux

This area of Bordeaux is more inland, hence the name–Côtes is French for “hills.” Here, you’ll often find more Merlot dominant blends, which tend to be more inexpensive and will drink well right away. Of course, there are some exceptions. Just like the rest of Bordeaux, you’ll find plenty of showstoppers read to be cellared and enjoyed in the years to come.

There it is–your Bordeaux basics! Keep in mind that there is so so so much more to delve into here, but this should be enough to get you started and to potentially help you at a wine store, since French wines are typically labeled by region vs. varietal. My main source of info was from the truly amazing Wine For Normal People podcast and The Guild of Sommeliers. Both are great sources to continue the dive and learn more.

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