What is Bordeaux? It’s one of the largest and most famous wine regions in the world. More precisely, it’s in southwest France on the Atlantic coast and extends inland along the Gironde river. Its also Because it’s a huge wine area its wines come in all sorts of styles and prices—from under $10 to $1000s per bottle.
The most famous, like Château Margaux, Lafite-Rothschild or Pétrus will set you back hundreds for current releases or tens of thousands for rare older bottles. Even so, you don’t need a billionaire’s budget to enjoy Bordeaux.
To break it down simply, there is the Left Bank, to the left of the Gironde river, and the Right Bank, to the right. Each of these areas has a bunch of smaller Appellations within. And then there is the rest: a whole mess of other smaller, less well-known Appellations, and some generic ones. See map below of details.
These are specific geographic areas where each type of wine comes from. Famous appellations on the Left Bank include: Margaux and Pauillac, where Lafite Rothschild is from. The Right bank includes Saint-Emillion and Pomerol, where Pétrus is from. Sauternes is the most famous appellation making sweet wines. Generic appellations include Entre Deux Mers and just plain old Bordeaux, where many of the most affordable wines come from.
Reds on the Left Bank (aka the Médoc) feature mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, while the Right Bank Features Merlot and Cabernet Franc as well. The Pessac-Léognan/Graves region just south of the city of Bordeaux makes reds, dry whites and sweet whites. The main white grape is Sauvignon Blanc.
Back in 1855 the most famous and pricy wines (mostly on the Left Bank) were classified into groups: from 1st Growth, the highest level, to 5th Growth. Château Margaux and Lafite Rothschild are both 1st Growths. Since then the ratings have held mostly true, though some wineries have declined while others have improved. And some areas have added their own classifications.
Petite Châteaux and Cru Bourgeois
Below the Classified Growths are Petite Châteaux and Cru Bourgeous wines, where many values can be found, typically higher in quality than generic Bordeaux. The quality level at the lower end of the spectrum has increased dramatically over the last 15 years, so there are fewer clunkers out there than ever before.
If money is no object, buy First Growths! But for most of the rest of us there are plenty of other options worth trying. Classified Growths for collecting and special occasions, Petite Chateaux and Cru Bourgeois for nicer wines that won’t break the bank and generic Bordeaux appellations for budget, everyday drinking.