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5 Facts to Know About Bordeaux Today

From affordable blends and single-varietal wines to sustainability efforts and education initiatives, here’s what you need to know

Bordeaux harvest
Photo courtesy of Bordeaux Wines.
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When most wine professionals think of Bordeaux wines, the first ones that come to mind are the region’s collectible red blends and Sauternes—but Bordeaux has long offered a broad range of wines that includes dry whites, sparkling, and everyday wines that are affordable, accessible, and modern in style. Today, Bordeaux is working to raise awareness among the international wine community of the breadth of its offerings. 

“The diversity of Bordeaux offers dimensions not typically found in other prestigious global regionsboth in wine styles and price points,” says Robert Cavanaugh, a Bordeaux wine educator and the president of Adventure Wine, a wine marketing and promotions company based in Washington, D.C. “From affordable to collectible, Bordeaux has something for everyone.”

1. Blends and single-varietal wines are available at more affordable prices.

Jeff Harding, the beverage director at the Waverly Inn in New York City, encourages people to look beyond the classic examples of big Left Bank Cabernets and famous châteaus. Bordeaux, he says, has “great Merlots from small producers that are really versatile.”

Harding also reveals that he’s fascinated by how successfully red Bordeaux can be paired with vegetables. He hosts a five-course dinner at the Waverly Inn each winter in which he pairs a majority of all-vegetarian courses with red Bordeaux. “There are so many vegetarian ingredients—faro, bitter greens, broccoli, kale, lentils, mushrooms, walnuts—that go really well with these red wines.”

Another aspect of the region that people may not be aware of, says Harding, is its diverse selection of white Bordeaux. “You can get big, full-bodied Sémillon-based wines or lighter, brighter Sauvignon Blancs,” he says. “Everybody likes Sancerre, and there are versions of white Bordeaux that are similar to Sancerre. There are some full-bodied ones as well.”

Bordeaux wine
Photo courtesy of Bordeaux Wines.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW, the market adviser for North America for the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB), says that there is a critical mass of single-varietal Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc now being produced in the region. In addition, some producers are focusing on single-varietal Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Sémillon. In the bigger picture, however, single-varietal wines are still something of an anomaly in Bordeaux.

More significant is the higher percentage of “historic” varieties being used in blends. “Blends remain Bordeaux’s specialty,” says Gorman-McAdams, “but there’s a growing interest in integrating more Malbec and Carménère into the blends. There is also a push toward going back to [the notion of] terroir and varying the varieties [that are being planted] to enrich the land.”

Bordeaux is now beginning to develop a strong reputation for its more affordable wines. “More than 95 percent of the wine produced in Bordeaux is sold for under $50,” says Gorman-McAdams. “We’re trying to change the conversation from a ‘collector’ perception to [one of] wines for every occasion.

2. The U.S. remains a significant market for Bordeaux.

A little more than half of Bordeaux’s wines are sold in France. In 2017 domestic sales accounted for 56 percent of the wine, with the other 44 percent sold as exports. China is Bordeaux’s biggest export market by volume, followed by Belgium, and then the U.S. The U.S. is Bordeaux’s second largest export market by value, after China; it’s also the number one export market for dry white Bordeaux.

America has always been a significant market for Bordeaux. These days, more and more négociants are hiring people to work in the U.S. market, which accounts for 9 percent of Bordeaux exports by volume (up 6 percent from 2016) and 11.4 percent by value (up 18 percent from 2016). In 2017, Bordeaux exported 2.2 million cases to the U.S., which is also a particularly interesting market because of its near even consumption of red (55 percent) and white (45 percent) wines. Approximately 70 percent of the wines exported to the U.S. retail for between $10 and $35.


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“Bordeaux has a well-deserved reputation for prestige,” says Cavanaugh, “and with the value found in under-$25 price points, broad diversity of styles, and bold, appealing flavors available—these benefits help make Bordeaux a logical category to enhance and actively promote.”

3. The new generation blends traditional and modern approaches.

A younger generation of winegrowers and winemakers is making its mark on Bordeaux’s wine culture and helping transform its heritage. These younger vintners are “well traveled, less formal, fun, innovative, and keen to experiment,” says Gorman-McAdams. But she’s quick to point out that they also have respect for tradition despite not being afraid to think outside the box. Harding concurs, saying, “The new generation is open to change and quick to adapt.” They’re helping to shift the paradigm toward organic and biodynamic viticulture practices.

“Dry white wines,” says Gorman-McAdams, “are more diverse and exciting than ever.” There are numerous permutations and combinations of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Sauvignon Gris, and Muscadelle, which are produced both with and without oak. The styles of red wine have also evolved. “They’re more supple, less tannic, lighter bodied, with less oak,” Gorman-McAdams says. “The styles are fresher, more fruit driven. They’re ready to enjoy on release but can also age medium term.” 

End of Bordeaux harvest
Photo courtesy of Bordeaux Wines.

4. Sustainability efforts are a top priority in Bordeaux.

“Bordeaux is committed to implementing exemplary sustainable practices from the vineyard to the cellar,” says Gorman-McAdams. The region has been fostering a sustainable approach to winegrowing for more than two decades, and recently it has been stepping up efforts to get 100 percent of the vineyards involved in environmental initiatives. In 2017, 60 percent such involvement was achieved.

The region’s sustainability efforts include planning for the future through research, particularly with regard to climate change and disease pressure; reducing pesticides in the long term; preserving and promoting biodiversity; improving the Bordeaux wine industry’s global footprint; and providing hands-on environmental management solutions to help protect its terroirs. Individual and collective efforts have led to numerous environmental certifications.

Already, there’s been a major shift in focus from cellar practices to vineyard practices. There’s also been a move by both large and small producers to divide vineyards into smaller parcels and employ plot-by-plot viticulture techniques. Efforts in the cellar include the use of more, smaller vessels to vinify grapes from individual plots. The region’s winegrowers are also developing a better understanding of soil diversity and micro-terroirs. Winemakers are also experimenting more with techniques like low- and zero-sulfur cuvées, and vessels like amphorae and cement vats.

Bordeaux has set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, conserve 20 percent more energy and 20 percent more water, and create 20 percent more renewable energy—all by 2020.

Bordeaux grapes
Photo courtesy of Bordeaux Wines.

5. Education initiatives connect busy wine professionals with the information they need about Bordeaux.  

The Bordeaux Wine School educates wine professionals around the world about what’s happening in the region today. Based in Bordeaux, the school has additional outlets in 20 countries, as well as online, and a team of 250 accredited tutors who train more than 85,000 people a year.

“The training courses offered by the school, whether face-to-face or digital, are aimed at helping professionals better understand the region, the wines, and the current trends in Bordeaux,” says Stéphanie Barral, the school’s director. “We want to help professionals increase their sales.” To achieve this, the school has developed a suite of targeted educational tools. “The more your staff is trained,” says Barral, “the more they will convince and satisfy your customers, and the more you will sell wine to increase your bottom line.”

The OenoBordeaux mobile app, she explains, was developed by the school to give busy wine professionals convenient access to the “training and news they want, when they want it, and where they want it.” It features nine modules that offer in-depth information about Bordeaux’s wines and wine culture, region-focused economic data, and key information on market and consumer trends. Its news feed also lets users receive live news straight from the vineyards.

Bordeaux
Photo courtesy of Bordeaux Wines.

“It’s like having a little class in your pocket,” says Harding, adding that the app is likely to be most useful to wine professionals who are just starting out in their careers and who want to learn about Bordeaux.

The Bordeaux Wine School believes that the app can help seasoned wine professionals as well, and in a number of ways. For example, sommeliers can use it to boost their knowledge about the region’s wines and terroirs, get practical tips for serving Bordeaux wines, and find new ideas for food pairings. Sales reps can source specific details that will help them perfect their pitches. And retailers can use it to improve their Bordeaux-focused in-store demonstrations and enhance technical explanations to better inform and satisfy customers.

“A wealth of Bordeaux Wine School resources are available to the wine trade,” says Cavanaugh. These range from booklets and educational materials for all levels of knowledge to innovative mobile apps like OenoBordeaux. “Plus,” he says, “Bordeaux tutors are available to help establishments build up their offerings of Bordeaux, launch staff training programs, and further develop the local consumer base.”


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Bordeaux

From affordable everyday wines to collectible red blends, today’s Bordeaux offers a breadth of styles—and price points—that attract wine drinkers at every level.


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