Bordeaux, in south-western France, is arguably the most famous wine region in the world. It is rivaled only by the likes of Burgundy, Champagne, Rioja, Chianti and the Napa Valley. The region takes its name (which translates roughly as 'next to the waters') from the port city of Bordeaux, which serves as its logistical and administrative center.
The Bordeaux viticultural region stretches for 80 miles (130km) inland from the Atlantic coast. It is home to more than 10,000 producers, who turn out a vast quantity of wine every vintage. These range from inexpensive table wines through to some of the world’s most expensive and prestigious labels. The majority of Bordeaux vineyards are planted with red wine grapes, although some white varieties are used in the production of dry white and sparkling wines. The remainder go into the region's highly esteemed sweet wines.
The success of Bordeaux as a wine-growing region is closely related to its particular climate and geography. Its location at a latitude of 45 degrees north (halfway between the equator and the North Pole) provides ideal climatic conditions for viticulture. Warm summers and relatively mild (if wet) winters mean the climate is particularly well suited to growing late-ripening varieties. The vast expanse of pine forest to the south (La Foret des Landes) protects Bordeaux from strong, salt-bearing winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean, although there is a risk of still winter air getting trapped and bringing frost to the Bordelais vineyards. The region's proximity to large masses of water, such as the Atlantic Ocean, the Gironde Estuary and the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, helps to moderate climatic extremes.
Merlot dominates the red-grape plantings throughout Bordeaux, closely followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and then Cabernet Franc. Petit Verdot, Malbec and the rarely seen Carmenere are also permitted. When used in combination, these varieties are variously referred to as a Bordeaux Blend, Claret or Meritage (used mainly in the United States). Bordeaux's white wines are generally blends of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle, although Ondenc, Mauzac, Merlot Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Colombard are also sanctioned within this region.
While Bordeaux is well-regarded for wines produced within specific areas, such as Margaux and Saint-Emilion, many of its wines fall under other, far less ambitious appellations. These include Bordeaux (rouge, blanc, rose and sec), Bordeaux Superieur and limited production of Crémant de Bordeaux sparkling wines. Bordeaux also has a distinct and historically significant classification system, which has remained largely unchanged since the middle of the 19th century.