French wine labels can be intimidating

So let’s cut through the jargon and see what Bordeaux wine labels tell us.

Map of France showing Bordeaux City

Map of France showing Bordeaux City

The Bordeaux wine region is in south west France

The the sea , estuary & river affect the vines

The the sea , estuary & river affect the vines

The wine making of this region is profoundly affected by the nearness of the sea and the presence of the estuary and river. You can see that the region is divided into two by the river.

The left and right banks. The

The left and right banks. The “two halves” of Bordeaux

Left bank conditions favour Cabernet Sauvignon

Red Bordeaux wine is a blend of several grape varieties. The two major ones are Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot. Cabernet Sauvignon prefers the gravel soils on the left bank so more of that variety of it is used in their blends than Merlot.

Right bank conditions favour Merlot-so more is used

It’s the opposite situation on the right bank. Merlot prefers the cool clay soils there so the blend has more of it than Cabernet Sauvignon.

Let’s look at some labels:

Grand Cru Classé

Grand Cru Classé

Grand Cru Classé

Grand Cru Classé is the top classification established in the 1800’s. It was awarded to châteaux that were around at this time-all wine makers on the left bank. Château just means wine maker-there is not necessarily a big house involved. Little has changed since that time as there is no relegation or promotion.

Some time later growers on the right bank established their own Grand Cru. This works differently as the wine is judged so that a wine-maker here can be awarded the classification or it can be withdrawn.

Grand Cru Classé is the most prestigious wine of the region with prices to match. These wines are usually aged in oak barrels and in bottle for years. Complex flavours develop. They are not good to drink young because of the high acidity and tannins they have. These soften with age and the wine become very desirable and expensive.

Cru Bourgeois

Cru Bourgeois. Classification below Grand Cru Classé for left bank wines

Cru Bourgeois. Classification below Grand Cru Classé for left bank wines

The Cru Bourgeois classification was made for left bank châteaux that were left out of the Grand Cru Classé group or weren’t around at that time. These wine makers want to make very good quality wine too. This classification has to be earned by the wines though and they are judged each year. The classification is awarded (or not) annually.

Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur

Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur

Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur

That leaves the basic wines of Bordeaux. These are less expensive wines made anywhere in Bordeaux. They are usually not aged and are best drunk young.

What’s the difference between Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur?

Comparing alcohol content

Comparing alcohol content

Did you spot the difference in alcohol level?

Bordeaux Supérieur is made slightly differently, resulting in a higher alcohol level than Bordeaux.

What about the term Grand Vin?

Grand Vin

Grand Vin “Our main wine”

Grand vin is not an official term. It just means that it is the château’s main wine. The Château is the winemaker and here is showing that the wine has been made and bottled by them.

A Cru Bourgeois with Grand Vin on its label

A Cru Bourgeois with Grand Vin on its label

Here we see a more prestigious Cru Bourgeois with Grand Vin on its label

Simple summary of Bordeaux wine label hierarchy

Hierarchy of Bordeaux Wine labels

Hierarchy of Bordeaux Wine labels

  • Grand Cru Classé at the top. Desirable, a long time before drinkable & expensive.
  • Cru Bourgeois is also prestigious. A level lower than Grand Cru Classé.
  • Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur make up the bulk of the production. They are drunk young and are the least expensive.

We’re really into wine, into spirits & into sake. We love all of them. Luckily.

Suite 4b

113-115 Portland Street

Manchester

M1 6DW

Keep in touch