Bordeaux: Geography

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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The wine districts of Bordeaux hug the Gironde estuary and the Rivers dordogne and garonne which flow into it (see map on p. 90). The largest and most important appellation is bordeaux aoc, but there are nearly 50 appellations in all even if many of them are rarely seen outside the region. The notably flat Bordeaux vineyards are rarely at elevations of more than a few metres above sea level.

Conventionally, in terms of the all-important fine red wines at least, the whole region is split into ‘left bank’ and ‘right bank’, or médoc and graves on the west side of the Gironde, and St-Émilion and pomerol on the east side, leaving the vast entre-deux-mers (‘between two seas’) district in the middle. Within the Haut-Médoc, the superior, higher land closer to Bordeaux, are the world-famous communes, south to north, margaux, st-julien, pauillac, and st-estèphe, together with the slightly less illustrious and, significantly, more inland appellations of listrac and moulis. Most of the finest wines of the Graves, on the other hand, have come from an enclave awarded its own appellation in 1987, pessac-léognan. Pomerol and St-Émilion have their ‘satellite’ appellations: lalande-de-pomerol; and Montagne-St-Émilion, Lussac-St-Émilion, St-Georges-St-Émilion, and Puisseguin-St-Émilion (for details of which see st-émilion). And just west of Pomerol are the historic appellations of fronsac and Canon-Fronsac. Other appellations on the right bank of the Garonne are bourg, blaye, grouped as côtes de Bordeaux. The graves de vayres enclave near Libourne remains resolutely outside the fold. Although a certain amount of white wine is made between the two rivers, most of Bordeaux’s best white wines are made south of the river Garonne: dry wines from Graves and Pessac-Léognan, and sweet white wines which include some of the finest in the world from sauternes and barsac. (See Climate below for a more detailed explanation.) Other, lesser sweet white appellations in the south east of the region are cadillac, cérons, loupiac, premières côtes de bordeaux, sainte-croix du mont, and Sainte-Foy Bordeaux which can also be red.