With more than 7,000 chateaux, France’s Bordeaux region is the most important wine producing region in the world. As well as being the basis for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot-based wines everywhere, Bordeaux wines are acknowledged to be among the world’s best reds—according to experts and amateurs alike.
The wine region of Bordeaux is comprised of many smaller areas and encompasses both banks of the Gironde estuary in southwest France, as well as the land bordering the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, which split off from the Gironde in the southern Medoc area. Generally, Bordeaux's best red wines are from seven major (and well-known) appellations: Pauillac, Saint-Estephe, Saint-Julien, and Margaux in the greater Medoc region, Graves to the south of the city of Bordeaux—in the region’s center, and Saint-Emilion and Pomerol toward the east. The large Graves region, as well as being the birthplace of claret, is home to many of the best dry whites. Premium sweet wines are made in Sauternes and Barsac, which are also within the Graves appellation but toward the south.
In understanding the multitude of Bordeaux wines, experts tend to talk about the right and left banks of the Gironde River. Generally, red wines from the river’s left bank, especially from Bordeaux’s Medoc region, are based on Cabernet Sauvignon, mixed with varying amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and, occasionally, a spot of Petit Verdot and Malbec. These reds are known to be firm and dry, with a substantial tannic spine, and are frequently austere in their youth. They are also among the world’s longest-lived. The Graves’ gravel and sand soil content contribute to more texture early and roasted accents of hot stones, smoke and tobacco.
The softer Merlot grape is the foundation for right bank wines, mostly to the town of Libourne’s eastern side. These wines are fleshier in general than wines from the left bank and are more pliant. They are also accessible at an earlier age—though the best of them can improve in bottle for decades.
Wine Spectator, 95 points: Incredible nose of crushed berries, flowers, spices and nuts. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins and a long, long finish. Powerful and solid. Builds on the palate. Give it time.--'95/'96 Bordeaux retrospective. Best after...
Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 95 points: Another unbelievably rich, multidimensional, broad-shouldered wine, with slightly more elegance and less weight than the powerhouse 1996, this gorgeously proportioned, medium to full-bodied, fabulously ripe, rich...
Wine Spectator, 96 points: Flower and berry character with hints of clove and black pepper. Full-bodied and very rich with decadent flavors. Oozes with ripe fruit. Goes on and on. Fabulous.--'95/'96 Bordeaux retrospective. Best after 2008. –JS
Jancis Robinson's Purple Pages, 91 points: Dark crimson with a little age at the rim. Beefy, bloody notes on the nose. Quite open. Already quite soft and round on the front palate with fine tannins only on the very end. You could drink this now with food but there...
Wine Spectator, 90 points: A bit coarse now, but massive. Sweet berry aromas with hints of citrus and smoke. Full-bodied, with big, velvety tannins and a long, long aftertaste. Best after 2001. 14,000 cases made. –JS
Wine Spectator, 92 points: Wonderful aromas of citrus fruit blackberry and currant. Full-bodied with Port-like flavors and chewy tannins. Super well-structured. Needs time to come together.--'95/'96 Bordeaux retrospective. Best after 2009. –JS
Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 95 points: This vintage is aging at a glacial pace and the tannins are currently more significant than their counterbalancing components of fruit and glycerin. While the word “potential” seems to be the most positive descriptor for...
Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 96 points: It is fun to go back and forth between the 1995 and 1996, two superb vintages for Haut-Brion. The 1995 seems to have sweeter tannin and a bit more fat and seamlessness when compared to the more structured and muscular...
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