This page is a guide to the Bordeaux wine grapes used in the production of white and red Bordeaux wine. Bordeaux wine gains its unique character and flavor profile from a combination of the grapes planted in the vineyards, the specific terroir, climate and choices made by the wine maker. But it all starts in the vineyard with Bordeaux wine grapes. Bordeaux wine being made today bears little resemblance to the wines produced in the region when the 1855 Classification took place. At that time, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere were widely grown throughout the region. After the phylloxera epidemic devastated much of the Bordeaux wine regions vineyards, as well as all over Europe, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc became the dominant Bordeaux wine grapes for the region. That trend continued following the frost of 1956.
By clicking on any of the following links on the left side of the page, you can read more detail on what each specific Bordeaux wine grape varietal provides in the process of Bordeaux wine making, as well as in the flavors and character of the wine.
Bordeaux Red Wine Grapes
Bordeaux White Wine Grapes
Each Bordeaux wine varietal adds a different character to the wine. Those characteristics are shaped by the main components provided by the fruit, tannin, acidity and alcohol. It is the balance of those three elements that produce a great wine. Grapes are incredibly complex fruits offering a myriad of flavors, aromas and character which offer Bordeaux wine its personality, beginning with the ability to age, evolve and improve in the bottle. Much of that starts with tannin.
Tannins found in wine come from the seeds, stems and skins from the Bordeaux wine grapes, as well as from aging in oak barrels. Tannins give a wine structure. They act as a preservative. When ripe, they help shape and define a wine and its textures along with enjoyable sensations. When unripe, they offer an experience similar to sucking on a lemon. They can dry your mouth and, or offer a rustic feeling to the wine. Tannins are more important to red wines than white. The level of the tannins versus the fruit, as well as the ripeness and style of the tannins help shape a wines personality.
Acidity is a key component in a wine. Acidity allows the wine to feel fresh and uplifting instead of flabby. Flabby wines do not feel good. They can be too sweet, with sensations similar to syrup. Too much acidity is not healthy for a wine either. The wine will taste and feel too bright and sharp. Of course much of this is in the eye of the beholder, as some wines offer higher acidic profiles than others. Wines grown in warmer climates are naturally lower in acidity than fruit planted in cooler climates.
Alcohol is the final part of the component trio. Alcohol is the product of fermentation. This natural process takes place when the sugars found in the fruit are converted to alcohol. The level of sugar found in the berries is the main factor in determining the level of alcohol a particular wine will have. Grapes grown in warmer weather will naturally produce wines higher in alcohol. Some grape varieties will also ripen with higher sugar levels. For example, Merlot will always ripen with higher sugar levels than Cabernet Sauvignon.
While the most famous wines of the Bordeaux region are red, Bordeaux also produces numerous dry white Bordeaux wine and sweet, white Bordeaux wine in a wide array of styles. White Bordeaux wine, most often referred to as Bordeaux Blanc is produced from blends featuring mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. However, a very, small amount of odd white wine grapes are also planted in less prestigious areas in the region; Colombard, Folle Blanche and Ugni Blanc. Those grapes are probably used in the production of inexpensive, white Bordeaux table wine. Close to 90% of Bordeaux is devoted to growing grapes to produce red wine. Only 10% of the grapes planted in the Bordeaux region are reserved for the production of white wine.
While numerous estates are famous in Graves/Pessac Leognan for making dry, white Bordeaux wine, several Bordeaux chateaux in the Medoc produce a small amount of dry, white, Bordeaux wine. The white Bordeaux wine from the Left Bank is sold under the designation of Bordeaux. Due to the cooler terroir, the southern most soils from the Margaux appellation produce more Bordeaux Blanc, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Preiure Lichine and Chateau Palmer are the most famous estates making white Bordeaux wine. In St. Julien, Chateau Talbot and Chateau Lagrange produce dry, white, Bordeaux wine. Chateau Mouton Rothschild makes Aile d’Argent and Chateau Lynch Bages, as well as Chateau Cos d’Estournel also make dry, white Bordeaux wine. Sauvignon Blanc is the dominant grape used in the better, dry, white, Bordeaux wines.
To make the famous, sweet, Bordeaux wine of Sauternes and Barsac, Semillon is king, due to what takes placed when the fruit is attacked by botrytis, also known as noble rot. For the production of sweet Bordeaux wine, while some estates use 100% Semillon, the more common practice is blending in some percentage of Sauvignon Blanc and for some estates, small amounts of Muscadelle.
Of course the terroir and soils found in Bordeaux add to the expression of the grapes. Bordeaux is a large region. But you can look at it in a simplified manner. Each of the grape varieties grow on both banks and in Pessac Leognan. However, in the Left Bank and Pessac Leognan Cabernet Sauvignon is king, followed by Merlot. The best soils are deep gravel and gravel with clay. In the Right Bank in Pomerol, where Merlot dominates, clay is most often the preferred soil type, although depending on the specific terroir, gravel can play an important role. For an example, look at Chateau Lafleur. In St. Emilion, where Merlot remains the most popular grape, followed by Cabernet Franc, the best soils are limestone and clay. For detailed information on the specific soils and terroirs at specific properties: Bordeaux Resource Page