1960s Archive

The Bordeaux Appellations

continued (page 2 of 5)

  • Bordeaux
    30,000 Francs
  • Bordeaux Supérieur
    34,000 Francs
  • Médoc
    40,000 Francs
  • Haut-Médoc
    50,000 Francs
  • Pauillac
    70,000 Francs
  • Less Known château of Pauillac
    100,000 Francs
  • Château Lafite
    285,000 Francs

The precise conditions under which an Appellation Contrôlée is granted are far too technical and complex to be of much interest to the layman, covering, as they do, methods of pruning, grape varieties, production per acre, and much more. In the following pages I have tried to give the meaning of these appellations (and the list is complete) in layman's language. Here, in brief, is a small dictionary of Bordeaux wine names recognized by French law. with a few comments regarding each.


Seaport and city of 240,000 on the Garonne River in southwestern France. A few miles north of the city, the Garonne is joined by the Dordogne to form the broad estuary of the Gironde; this has given its name to the département which comprises the entire Bordeaux wine country; its 110,000 acres of vineyard produce some Bordeaux. Seaport and city of 240,000 on the Garonne River in southwestern seventy million gallons of wine a year.

Practically all of this is entitled to the name “Bordeaux,” and this appellation is a sort of catchall, or lowest common denominator. “Bordeaux Supérieur” is very little better—the wine must have slightly more alcohol (10 ½ per cent as against 9 ¾ per cent) and its maximum legal production per acre is somewhat lower. Both wines may and generally do come from inferior portions of the Bordeaux Country; if they came from the Médoc or St. Emilion or Graves or Sauternes they would be so labeled. In general, they are mass produced and blended.

The better districts in the Bordeaux Country have been defined and delimited with characteristic French precision; each one produces wine of a somewhat different character or class. Thus, north of the city, forming the left or west bank of the Gironde estuary, are the low, gravelly bills of the incomparable Médoc, producing red wines almost exclusively. and many of the greatest red wines of the world. West and south of Bordeaux is the wide district of Graves, with white wines ranging from dry to scmisweet, and many excellent reds. Along the southern edge of Graves, in turn, are the five little villages (including Barsac) which alone are entitled to the famous name Sauternes, Across the Garonne, beyond the intervening hills and the Dordogne, are the vineyards of St. Emilion and PomerolȔthis is red wine country. second only to the Médoc in quality. Lesser wine districts include Côtes de Bourg, Fronsac. Lalandc de Pomerol, Montagne-St. Emilion, Néac, etc.; white wine districts of less importance and less fame are Entre-Deux-Mers, Côtes de Blaye, Ste. Croix-du-Mont, Loupiac, Cadillac, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, Cérons (actually part of Graves), Graves de Vayres (not part of Graves), etc.

The red wines of Bordeaux have been known as Claret in English-speaking countries ever since the three-hundred year occupation of the region by the English (1154-1453); the French term Clairet has an altogether different meaning and is used to designate a son of vin rosé. Ordinary Claret is simply a pleasant table wine, but the very best Claret is second to no other red wine in the world, fine Burgundy being its only real rival; it is made principally from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, plus a good deal of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, often a little Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Carmenère; while lighter in alcohol than Burgundy, it is generally deeper in color and even longer-livedȔcertain Médocs of great vintages have been known to hold up, and even to improve, for fifty, sixty, and even eighty years.

White Bordeaux is a whole family of wines, some quite dry. some extremely sweet, though all made from grapes of the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc varieties, plus an occasional minor admixture of Muscadelle. Graves, Sauternes, and Barsac are known, like Claret, the world over.

What goes to market as “Bordeaux Blanc” is a rather common wine, golden, ranging from dry CO semisweet. The superior grades have, of course, their superior, and more limiting, appellations.


World-famous triangle of land extending some fifty miles north from Bordeaux, bounded on (he west by the dunes and pine forests along the Atlantic, and on the cast by the Gironde estuary. The good vineyards overlook or are near the estuary; they cover a strip of gently rolling, gravelly hills from six to ten miles wide. This is a red-wine district exclusively, and the few whites are entitled only to the appellation “Bordeaux Supérieur,”

Wines labeled simply “Médoc” almost invariably come from the lower, sandier, less fine, northern half of the district (called the Bis-Médoc, although this is not a wine name); while never great, they are well-balanced Clarets of good quality and some breed. The Haut-Médoc wines (and this is an appellation) are of a far higher class: they are sometimes sold under this name, more often under one of the celebrated village namesȔMargaux, Moulis, St. Julien, Pauillac, St. EstèpheȔbut most often of all under the label of a château. Well over half of the great Bordeaux châteaux (Lafite, Latour, Margaux, MoutonRothschild, the three Léovilles, the two Pichon-Longuevilles, Palmer, Cos d'Estournel, etc.) come from this area, and even the lesser wines are outstanding.

To sum up Médoc is a red wine appellation well above Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur in quality, less good, since less limiting, than Haut-Médoc. liven better arc the five village or township names mentioned above; best of all. the chateau vines that carry these as their Appellation Contrôlée.

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