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Wine Region Focus: Bordeaux

Arguably the best wine region of the world, it’s this part of France where the largest variety of wines can be found. On one hand we have the full-bodied reds, often blends of robust varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, on the other hand the supremely sweet dessert wines of Sauternes. And then there’s everything in between…It was from here that the French export machine started, with bottles of ‘claret’ finding their way to the United Kingdom (the Brits still call it ‘claret’) and it was here where Napoleon III himself devised a classification to create order in the various ranks of red wine. A classification which has evolved over the decades and which can be quite puzzling today. Let me take you on a quick tour of the region where we focus on what’s on offer for us ‘foodies’ .

Capitol of the region is the city of Bordeaux, a major cultural centre with no less than 3 UNESCO heritage sites within its’ borders: the Saint-Andre Cathedral, the Saint-Seurin Basilica and the Saint-Michel Basilica. Plenty to see for the culture vultures! But the real reason we’re here is the food and wine, and luckily the vineyards are only a stone’s throw away of the city. The river Gironde which runs through the city cuts the region in two, with a left bank and a right bank.


– Pont de Pierre


– The city by night

Understanding Bordeaux’s system of appellations and classifications can be made as complex as one desires as the region is massive, the number of chateaux and producers (15000) phenomenal and the system of classification at times confusing.
However, it can be made very easy when you take a look at the following picture. A general rule of thumb is that villages and regions on the left bank primarily use Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and on the right bank they use Merlot.


This basic knowledge is all one needs to start the voyage down the Gironde. Remember, Bordeaux wine is made to be enjoyed by anyone, everywhere.

Chateax Mouton Rotschild

A must-visit winery, and part of Food and Wine Travel’s ‘Best of Bordeaux’ itinerary, is Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Consisting of 195 acres of vines near Pauillac northwest of Bordeaux, it has been owned by the Barons de Rothschild for over 100 years. Baron Philippe de Rothschild came up with the idea of having
each year’s label designed by a famous artist of the day. This tradition continues today. Most notable artists who have cooperated in the past: Andy Warhol and…Prince Charles!

Mouton Rothschild –
Prince Charles’s design efforts

Pauillac –
Mouton Rotschild

Bay of Arcachon

The bay of Arcachon lies to the south-west of the city. Another must-visit for anyone with a healthy interest in where their food comes from. This is where, again, Napoleon III decided to cultivate oysters as the wild oyster picking was decimating the stock. We should thank him as the enclosed bay now produces 10.000 tons of oyster a year, mostly eaten within France.
They specialise in the plump Pacific oyster, the native ‘English’ oysters are rounder and flatter, but more expensive, due to their slow growth rate. Best of all, try both species accompanied with a glass of white wine, a real hit with our clients that visit the region! When you’re done eating and drinking why not head for the uncrowded beaches or climb Dune duPyla, a giant sand dune at 107 meters high?

The food of the region

Apart from oysters, lamb is another staple of the area. The bold flavour of the animal pairs superbly with the reds with their full-bodied flavours. Historically, feasting on lamb was a traditional means of ushering in the spring season. I urge you to do the same! The lamb (Agneau Pauillac) is very often served with local truffles or mushrooms and combined with a red wine from…Pauillac ofcourse! Whether it’s the local lamb from the salt marshes of perhaps beef, poultry, rabbit, pork, even fish and vegetables, good chance that the restaurant offers to prepare it ‘a la Bordelaise’ (Bordeaux style) The incredible  sauce is made with red wine, ham, butter, shallots, thyme and parsley with perhaps a dash of cognac. Fantastically rich and gorgeous!

St. Emilion

Last but not least on the must-do list is a visit to the ancient town of St. Emilion, heart of the oldest wine growing area of Bordeaux. Fascinating Romanesque churches and ruins stretching all along steep and narrow streets. However, it is what’s underground that sets St. Emilion apart. In the 8th century, a hermit named Emilion settled in a small cave with an underground spring. Over the next 500 years the cave was enlarged to make the world’s largest monolithic (one rock) cathedral. When you go into the huge open room, it is hard to imagine that it was built hundreds of years ago.




Medoc, Pauillac, Sauternes, Graves, Pomerol plus 33 others.

Size of vineyards planted:

115.000 hectares


Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot


Temperate with high humidity

Soil Type



Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, 1955 Official Classification of St.-Émilion, 1959 Official Classification
of Graves

Viticultural hazards

High humidity causes certain disease such as botrytis and mildew

Notable wine houses

Chateaux Haut-Brion, Chateaux Lafite-Rothschild, Pomerol, Latour, Margaux, Chateaux d’Yquem

Karen’s wine tip:

Taltarni Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon


is made by a French winemaker by the name of

Loic le Calvez. This is a powerhouse of a wine: deep colour, blackcurrant fruit and obvious French on bouquet and palate
alike. It rivals the great 1977 Taltarni Cabernet Sauvignon, Taltarni’s first commercial release which won gold at
the Royal Melbourne Show. 100% Australian made wine, yet with that ‘left bank’ flavour. This wine is good now but will probably
benefit even further from careful cellaring.

It takes a wine of class to stand up to the gamey flavours of Lamb a la Bordelaise (check out ‘Further reading’ for a recipe)
but this wine will definitely stand up to the challenge.


If you would like to visit Bordeaux, Food and Wine Travel offer tailor-made travel solutions to the region. There’s a host
of travel options available for you on the


. Alternatively, contact the author to speak about your personal requirements:

Written by Karen Ridge
Director Food and Wine Travel
1800 701 521

[email protected]

Further reading:

All Chateaux Mouton Rothschild wine labels from 1945 onwards

Chubby Hubby’s amazing Lamb a la Bordelaise

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