Speedcourse Bordeaux wines

Wil & Roel Koning - Translation: Henk van der Linden


BORDEAUX: wines with finesse.

The Bordeaux region is without doubt one of the most important areas of the wineproduction.

155.000 hectares grapes are cultivated with an output of 500 millions of wine annually : red, white and rosé.

And not just another wine: all wines from the Bordeaux are characterized by their elegance, large finesse and taste nuances, thanks to the quality of the soil and the grapetypes. Most of the Bordeaux wines are made from different grapes with their own specific taste.

The Bordeaux region is divided in 8 wine districts. The best known are : the Médoc, the Sauternes, the Pomerol and the Saint-Emilion. The great Bordeaux wines are cultivated here.


Château Margaux from the Médoc is one of the most beautiful ( and most expensive ) wines of the world. But a good Bordeaux is not always expensive. Regions, such as Fronsac and Côte de Bourg, are able to produce wines with an excellent price/quality relation and do not forget that the famous châteaux often have a second wine that comes close to the quality of their first wine but is earlier ready for consumption and costs less. The Bordeaux also has culinary surprises. Lamprei, a fish originating from the river Gironde is boiled in a red Bordeaux wine. Together with the boiled-in sauce and accompanied by a beautiful red Bordeaux wine it is a delightful combination. 

Château Margaux



Bordeaux wines have beautiful taste nuances mainly owing to the unique combination of natural factors of which the winefarmers take the optimal benefit.

The climate of the Bordeaux is excellent for the viniculture: much sunshine and plenty of moisture. Through planting of the correct grape variety in the correct area, the taste of the grape will develop completely.

Most of the Bordeaux wines are made up from various grapes (blending). The cellarmasters of each wine-domain determine the percentages of the various types of grapes to be used for a specific wine.

The blending provides the constitution and the grace of the taste that characterizes the Bordeaux wines.

The white wines are normally made up from the grapes sémillon and sauvignon blanc and to a lesser extent muscadelle, ugni blanc, colombard and merlot blanc.

For the red wines the most important grapes are the cabernet sauvignon and the merlot.

On a smaller scale cabernet-franc, malbec and petit verdot are planted for the Bordeaux wines.







The white Bordeaux has lost its first place as winesupplier of the region since the 1970’s. Till then Bordeaux produced more white than red wine. Nowadays the white wine production is only 22%. This relatively low production has, however, no relation whatsoever to the quality of the white wines.

Next to the general Bordeaux Blanc (Appellation Bordeaux) a few regions got the right to connect their names to the wines of their regions. The concerning producers have to fulfil certain conditions. One of the conditions is that the output per hectare is lower than that of the "normal" Bordeaux. And, of course, quality and composition play an import role.



Appellation Bordeaux:

The majority of all vineyards produces generical wines of one or more Bordeaux grapes from anywhere in the region. The name of origin is Bordeaux Blanc. Minimum percentage of alcohol for the white wine is 10,5. The basic output must be lower than 65 hectoliters per hectare. The white Bordeaux Supérieur has a lower output per hectare and a higher alcohol percentage as conditions. The result is that this wine has more class and concentration but this type is rare.

For the dry version of all Appellation Bordeaux the word "sec" is used most of the times.

Most of the Bordeaux Blanc are blended wines but there also are wines made of sauvignon blanc only. A Sauvignon Blanc can be served as an aperitif but is also a good companion for cold entrées, mussels and fresh salads.



The Graves are very well known because of the semi-sweet, cheap white wines known as Graves Supérieur. Supérieur means 1% more alcohol. The popularity of the semi-sweet Graves Supérieur is fading. In the meantime the dry white Graves wines are discovered and appreciated more and more.

The dry white Graves wines appear in all kinds of styles : from aristocratic refinement to crackling dry. From modern production to the traditional way.

Concerning the sweetest white wines : in the village of Cérons a limited quantity of a beautiful dessertwine, coming close to the richness of a Sauternes, is produced.

Did you know…during the 18th century the Benedictine fathers were the owners of the Graves château Carbonnieux. They shipped their white wines to the Turkish court. However, Mohammedans were ( and are ) not allowed to consume alcohol. For that reason the Benedictines labelled the fusts as "Eau Minérale de Carbonnieux". A Turkish ruler could not understand why the godless French people drank wine having such beautiful mineralwater.



The wine, bearing the name of the area, used to taste the same as the Graves : mainly sweet.

Nowadays the Entre-Deux-Mers is known for its dry white blended wine, mainly composed of sémillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle.

The wine varies from sappy, light succulent, fresh and simple with nuances and is often fermented on oak.



The Sauternes is a small district within the Graves, situated approximately 25 kilometers southeast of the town Bordeaux.

Over centuries already this is an area of white wine. During the 16th and the 17th century heavy, sweet muscatelwines were produced here.

At present grapes fitting better with the climate and the soil have been planted.

The secret of the Sauternes, however, is not the types of grapes or the soil.

Due to the microclimate of humidity and high temperatures the bacterium Botrytis Cinerea develops. This bacterium affects the grapes during autumn. During this putrefaction process in which the grapes remain healthy (pourriture noble = noble rot), the grapes lose much of their moisture and the percentage of sugar increases.

The grapes are picked with special pointed scissors in order to harvest only grapes that are affected by the noble rot.

From these grapes a beautiful gold-coloured wine is made with taste-impressions of apricots, peaches and honey.

As pourritue noble only happens when the grapes are 100% matured , the harvest in the Sauternes is much later than in the rest of the Bordeaux.

As the raining chances increase the farmers in the Sauternes run the risk of a lost harvest because the grape with noble rotting absorbs the rainwater, the taste of the wine will deteriorate dramatically.

Output maximum 25 hectoliters per hectare.

How did d’Yquem became the most famous Sauternes ?

During an, incidentally, late harvest in 1847 the grapes gave a different wine than usual and the farmer decided not to bring this wine onto the market, However, when Grand Duke Constantine tasted the wine he offered a fortune for it : that was the start of the popularity of the wines from the Sauternes.


In the southern part of the area, between the rivers Dordogne and Garonne, three white dessert wines are made : Cadillac, Loupiac and Sainte-Croix-du-Mont.

These wine districts are situated opposite Sauternes on the other side of the river Garonne.

The pourriture noble happens here much less.

The wines are full and liqueur-like, of which the Croix-du-Mont is the sweetest.

Although the wines make a good combination with fruit, not too sweet desserts and paté’s, they never equal the richness and abundance of a Sauternes. You can also conclude that from the figures of the output allowances : not the 25 hectoliters per hectare as for the Sauternes but 40 hl/ha,






Appellation Bordeaux: The largest part of all vineyards in the Bordeaux produces genetic wines of one or more Bordeaux-grapes from anywhere in the district. The name of origin is BORDEAUX.

Minimum alcohol percentage for the red Bordeaux is 10,5. The basic output has to be 55 hectoliters per hectare.

The red BORDEAUX SUPÉRIEUR has a lower output : maximum 50 hectoliters and a minimum alcoholpercentage of 12,5. The blending of the Bordeaux Supérieur is limited at 4 types of grapes. That’s why this wine has more class and concentration than the normal Bordeaux.

Bordeaux is France’s largest district for excellent and even exceptional quality-wine.

115.000 hectares produce red, white and rosé wines.

Bordeaux wines belong to the most asked for and most expensive wines.

The reason is their subtle character, their style and their taste nuances.

Moreover, the quality of the finest wines is guarded by the Classificationsystem of which the first one was created in 1855.

The best wines are classified according to their quality on an official list.

This classification system is still in use today.

The Bordeaux has 6 important districts. Within these districts the wines differ in taste nuances from area to area and even from château to château.

Each cellarmaster or château owner has his way and secret to produce wine.

The necessary large financial investments do (unfortunately) reflect in the often extremely high prices of the finer Bordeaux wines.



Each estate in the Bordeaux with installations for the production of wine is allowed to call itself a château. This has nothing to do whatsoever with the existence of a real castle.

There are of course many respectable winehouses of which the family lives comfortably on the château.


Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, St. Juliën




The most important districts with the finest châteaux and their world-famous wines are :



The Médoc is a small district northwest of the town of Bordeaux. The area is a paradise for wine lovers. Here one finds brilliant red wines, graceful of character and with a strong maturing potential.

The area is climatologically perfect : enough sunshine and enough water. The subsoil from which the long roots of the vines get their food is complex, namely different types of pebblelayers brought there over the years by rivers from different parts of France. The best fields are low pebble hills with a height of 10-25 meters. They make a perfect drainage.

The most important grape in the Médoc is the cabernet sauvignon followed by the merlot , the cabernet franc and the petit verdot.

All better Médoc wines are consistently kept on cask. The wines get softer and become more dimension.

In the northern part of the Médoc (Médoc Maritime) qualitatively fine wines are produced but they lack the grandeur of the wines from the southern part of the Médoc (Haut Médoc).

The Médoc has 8 appellations controlées, which means 8 wine-districts with the right to give their name to the local producers.

Next to the Appellation Médoc there are the following Appellations:


Moulis en Listrac







In Margaux the landed property is rather cut up and the castles have their vineyards hither and thither.

Margaux wines distinguish themselves by their excellence and elegance but it surely is not a very light wine as the wine has enough strength to mature many years.

Château Palmer, Matgaux

The most famous Margaux wines are of course the CRU’S CLASSÉS : wines classified by the authorities in 1855 as being the best wines of the Médoc. Margaux has two 5th cru’s, three 4th cru’s, ten 3rd cru’s, five 2nd cru’s and one 1st cru : the CHÂTEAU MARGAUX. This wine is known as the limit of finesse.

Output : 40 hectoliters per hectare. Classificatiesysteem


Nice ? A retired owner of Château Margaux, famous for his excellent wine, met an American minister who told him that he was fond of wine. "Do you know how I drink wine ? Half a glass of Margaux of a good year with half a glass strawberry juice well stirred. Delicious." The château owner did not appreciate the recipe.


But still they produce elegant and supptle wines of which 5 are good enough for the classification "cru grand bourgeois exceptionel". The municipality of Moulis is situated centrally in the Haut-Médoc. Some of the best Moulis domains are in the hamlet of Grand Poujeaux, which has nearly more châteaux than houses.

Another known Moulis château is Chasse-Spleen: drive out the weariness of life !

Basic output of the Moulis vineyards is 45 hectoliters per hectare.

Listrac has appr. 500 hectares of vineyards. The wines are related with those of Moulis but have more strength and substance.

Basic output : 45 hectoliters per hectare.

Moulis and Listrac wines are very good matches for red meat or a not too strong cheese.


In our opinion an out of place promotion as the Appellation St-Julien is one of the most appreciated and wanted wines in the world.

The wines of Saint-Julien have more body than Margaux wines and are less robust than those of Pauillac. These two villages make the ideal wine for many Bordeaux lovers.

Output : 40 hectoliters per hectare.

Gruaud Larose: St. Juliën


Saint-Julien produces 11 grand cru wines. These wines take 85% of the available vineyards.

The other wines of Saint-Julien are also all of a good level and are above average.Classificationsysteem.


Old, older, oldest. In 1934 the then mayor of Saint-Julien discovered that inhabitants of his municipality lived on average longer than people in the rest of France.

Among the 1272 inhabitants were 14 couples that were longer than 50 years married.

A comparison with the national statistics showed than an inhabitant of Saint-Julien had 45% more chance to get older than the average French men or women.

The mayor was of the opinion that it should testify little respect for the wine if he should not announce the favourable influence of his wine on health everywhere.



Pauillac’s vocation as wine municipality is evident if one knows that 3 of the 5 premier grand cru’s are from this district CHÂTEAU LATOUR - CHÂTEAU LAFITE-ROTHSCHILD and CHÂTEAU MOUTON-ROTHSCHILD.

Another 15 classified wines also come from this area.

Output : 40 hectoliters per hectare.Classification system


The soil of the Pauillac is poor with a thick layer of pebble, rich on iron. The wine of Pauillac is vital and strong with nuances of blackberry, cedar, mint and oak-wood. Tannin is always there.

That’s why Pauillac wines can be kept very well and have to/are able to mature 5 to 20 years.

Even after maturation the wine can be kept surprisingly well and keeps its characteristic properties.


Château Batailley

The wine of Lafite-Rothschild is classified as the best red wine of the whole of Bordeaux . It belongs to the French Rothschild branch. Mouton-Rothschild ( the big competitor) belonging to the English branch of the family.

Does making a really good wine costs much money ?

Only 80 years after Lafite was taken over by Rothschild they started to show profit.

Lafite-Rothschild is exclusively made from over 10-years old vines.



The basic output is 40 hectoliters per hectare. The average total annual output is 55.000 liters of wine.

Saint-Estèphe brings two 2nd cru’s:CHÂTEAU COS D’ESTOURNEL and CHÂTEAU MONTROSE, one 3rd cru, one 4th cru and one 5th cru.

The wine is characterized by a deep red colour. Young wines are rich of tannin and taste hard.

After maturing on bottle, which may and could take quite a lot of years, the wine improves on aroma and taste and the tannin makes place for softness and harmony.


Cos d' Estournel


These wines are surely not inferior to those of the 6 large municipalities.

Evidence for that is that also a number of Haut-Médoc wines are included in the Classification system of 1855van

Output 43 hectoliter per hectare.

Cantemerle: Haut-Médoc


Two thirds of the production is red wine. The best Graves wines come from the north of the Graves.

This part got in 1987 its own appellation : PESSAC-LÉOGAN, named to the 2 most important municipalities. The types of grapes are the same as for the Médoc : cabernet-sauvignon, cabernet-franc and merlot.

A GRAVES ROUGE looks like a Médoc but is softer and more friendly from nature.

The wines often have a spicy, smoky or light resinous aroma.

Output : 50 hectoliters per hectare.

In the Classification system of 1855 the Château Haut-Brion is listed (as the only not-Médoc wine) as premier grand cru.

Clarence Dillon, an American financier, came in 1935 to France to buy the Château Cheval Blanc (Saint Émilion). Before signing the contract he wanted to see the castle. Unfortunately it was foggy and he lost his way. After a long, cold and wet trip he got irritated and decided not to buy the castle.

But as he remained interested to buy a wine-château he had talks with other agents and eventually he bought Haut-Brion : a lucky choice and he did very well out of it.


The choice of these varieties makes the wines more round and accessible than those of the Médoc and they don’t need a long riping time.

As the region is divided in areas of different qualities it is necessary to be critical when buying Saint-Émilion wines : the quality can differ considerably.

The highest average quality can be found in Saint-Émilion itself and not in the A.O.C. (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) with the addition Saint-Émilion.

Of those A.O.C.’s the Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion is the best wine.

The little town of Saint-Émilion is absolutely mediaeval with ramparts, towers, cloisters, a cave church and other monuments : worth a visit and not for wine lovers only

St. Emilion

Saint-Emilion heeft een eigen officieel erkende classificatie die elk decennium wordt herzien. De top wordt gevormd door twee premiers grand crus, daarna volgen de premiers grand crus classés B en de grands crus classés. De basis van het systeem wordt gevormd door honderden grands crus die zich voornamelijk van de gewone Saint-Emilion onderscheiden door een lagere opbrengst per hectare. Een systeem waarover een bekend schrijver opmerkte: meer generaals dan soldaten. Rendement: grand cru of hoger: 40 hectoliter per hectare. Rendement Saint-Emilion: 45 hectoliter per hectare.  Saint-Émilion has an own officially recognized classification, which is reconsidered each decennium. The top of the list exists of two premier grand cru’s followed by premier grand cru’s classé B and C. The baqsis of the system are the hundreds of grand cru’s that differ with the normal Saint-Émilion by a lower output per hectare : more generals than soldiers.

Output : grand cru or higher : 40 hectoliters per hectare. Output Saint-Émilion : 45 hectoliters per hectare.


Output : 42 hectoliters per hectare.



Output : 50 hectoliters per hectare.

North of the Côtes de Bourg we find Blaye. A hilly area where the most important soil-element is lime.

The red wines of Blaye often have a fresh taste and are mainly sold as Première Côtes de Blaye.

The allowed types of grapes are cabernet-sauvignon, cabernet-franc, merlot and malbec.

Output : 50 hectoliters per hectare.

Serving tip. A Côtes de Bourg has enough strength for meat from the charcoal grill but also with a fried steak it tastes, lightly chilled, very nice.




One third of the total output of the Bordeaux exists of simple country wines : Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur. The normal Bordeaux must contain at least 10,5% alcohol and the basic output is 55 hectoliters per hectare.

Concerning Bordeaux Supérieur : this wine must contain minimally more alcohol and the basic output is 50 hectoliters per hectare.

For the Bordeaux Côtes de Francs and Bordeaux Côtes de Castillon there is a minimum alcohol percentage of 11 and a basic output of 50 hectoliters per hectare.

Bordeaux is often a blend of which the quality is decided by the producer bringing the wine onto the market.



In the Bordeaux region several classification systems are in use. The oldest is that of 1855, drafted on occasion of the World Fair in Paris. This list still has its value, which proves the accuracy of the makers in that time.

The instruction for this task was given by the Chambre de Commerce to the local wine brokers.

The brokers took as quality standard for each wine the maximum price it reached in the year before.

The 65 most expensive wines were divided in 5 classes and also per class the price determined the place in that class.

The 5 classes are called the cru’s.

The next Châteaux have been classified :

1e cru

2e cru

3e cru

4e cru

5e cru

















Léoville Poyferré












La Tour Carnet


















Pichon Baron

La Lagune

Marquis de Terme

Du Tertre


Pichon Lalande



Haut-Bages Libéral







Cos d' Estournel






Marquis d'Alesme







Cos Labory





Clerc Milon











A complete synopsis of the 1855 classification: Classification Bordeaux wines

The only changes in the Médoc classification since 1855 are a few minor changes of names and the promotion of Mouton-Rothschild from a 2nd Cru to a Premier Cru (1973).

Léoville-las-Cases: 2e cru St. Juliën


A problem of this classification system is that many fine wines are not listed although they deserve that now.

In order to meet this problem a "cru bourgeois" classification has been opened.

Yet, certain châteaux are, on own request, not listed here as they are of the opinion that they have wines of a "cru classé" quality.


Cos d'Estourel

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