BORDEAUX SIMPLE and SUPERIEUR

LITTLE “b” BORDEAX and SUPERIOR BORDEAUX SUPERIEUR
By Charles M. Bear Dalton

When I think of Bordeaux, I – yes even I – think first of the expensive red wines from famous chateaux, even though I know these wines represent fewer than 200 of the over 8,000 chateaux from the 58 appellations within the greater Bordeaux appellation (please see accompanying map). I know that there are white and pink and even sparkling Bordeaux wines but I (and pretty much everybody else too) thinks first of red wine from fancy big name properties. And maybe that’s as it should be. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Bordeaux sold around the world is mostly lower-priced red wine labeled not Margaux or Pauillac, or Pomerol or St. Emilion but Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur. Many in fact most of these wines don’t really come from what we think of as “Left Bank” or “Right Bank” (Ok, technically most of them do come from the right bank but not from what we think of as the right bank) but from what I think of as between the banks (please see box “Left, Right, and Middle”) or “the Middle.”

The LEFT, The RIGHT, & the MIDDLE
If you are standing on a bridge of the Garonne river (please see map) looking north (which is “down river”), all the wines on the bank to your left (west) are considered left bank and all the wines to your right (east) are considered right bank. At least technically. The left bank part is pretty much accepted but when you start talking about “right bank” appellations, the discussion centers on St. Emilion and Pomerol and may include some minor appellations (Fronsac and Graves de Vrayes) and what are often called satellites (Montagne St. Emilion, Pusiguin St. Emilion, Mussac St. Emilion, Francs, Castillon, Lalande de Pomerol). All of these are east of the other river – the Dordogne – and might properly be called Libournaise wines as the primary city in that area is Libourne. Maybe someone remembers to through in Bourg and Blaye (also east of the Dordogne). But few people remember that sea of Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur grown the area (not the appellation) known as the Entre Deux Mers* – which is the whole of the area between the Garonne and the Dordogne. Technically, this is part of the right bank but I find it easier to think of it as “the middle.” It is right bank because the vast majority of the terroir here is clay-over-limestone, just as it is in most of the Libournaise appelations. But it is different because most of the red wines from the middle sell in the US (if they even ever make it to the US) for under $20 and often for well under $20 and even in many cases for under $10. Their low prices and appellation of simply “Bordeaux” or the superior-sounding “Bordeaux Superieur” (both shared with red wines from all over the area of greater Bordeaux) make them more of an “other.” “The Middle” by the way is my invention and is certainly not and officially recognized term. Nevertheless, I find it useful, accurate, and descriptive.
*The appellation Entre Deux Mers is a white wine only designation which over-lays a section eastern side of “the Middle” or the area between the Garonne and the Dordogne.

These wines, whether from the Middle or from the hinterlands (the edges and odd spots around the other appellations that are not entitled to a fancier or more place specific name) are what is labeled Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur. These are the everyday wines of Bordeaux. Just as it is my job the figure out which Pauillacs or Pomerols or even Pessac Leognans are best, so too is it my job to find good drinking everyday Bordeaux – you know, the cheap stuff.

Actually, not all of it is cheap but then I think of these wines in two categories: Bordeaux-Under-$12 (also known as “little ‘b’ bordeaux” or “LbB”) and Bordeaux-$12-to-$20 (aka “Superior Bordeaux Superieur” or “SBS”). There are a few Bordeaux Superieur that are over $20 per bottle but I mostly ignore them because I generally don’t see the point. In any case, the red wines labeled Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur make up over 50% of the production of Bordeaux.

So before we get much further into this, maybe we should define Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur. For most American consumers there is no real difference as all of the wine entitled to be sold as Bordeaux Superieur (or “Bordeaux Sup” as it is often called in the trade) is also qualified as “Bordeaux” and much of it is sold that way. Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur cover the same area but wines labeled Bordeaux Superieur are required to be a bit riper (which is expressed in a higher minimum alcohol content) and are required to have 12 months aging before release. Many wines that would otherwise meet the requirements of “Bordeaux Sup” are bottled before 12 months in order to preserve more fruit flavor and so are labeled Bordeaux. ‘Nuff said?

So back to the task at hand: Just what is the good cheap stuff (LbB)? And what fits into the a bit better (and more expensive) SBS category? Those are two of the questions I look to answer every time I go to Bordeaux. Most of the qualifying wines are “chateau bottled” meaning they are the produce of one property and are bottled on that property. A very few are blends of wines from several properties put together by a negoçiant (Bordeaux wine merchant) or other commercial entity (maybe a co-op) that are sold under a brand name rather than a chateau name. Due to the predominantly clay-over-limestone terroir in which these sorts of wine are generally grown, Merlot is the dominant grape variety often making up 80-to-90% or more of the blend. What isn’t Merlot is mostly Cabernet Franc but a few of the wines – mostly in the SBS range – do feature some Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of the lower-priced wines (LbB) do not go into oak barrels and the few that do – with one notable exception – see very little new wood.

The LEFT, The RIGHT, & the MIDDLE
If you are standing on a bridge of the Garonne river (please see map) looking north (which is “down river”), all the wines on the bank to your left (west) are considered left bank and all the wines to your right (east) are considered right bank. At least technically. The left bank part is pretty much accepted but when you start talking about “right bank” appellations, the discussion centers on St. Emilion and Pomerol and may include some minor appellations (Fronsac and Graves de Vrayes) and what are often called satellites (Montagne St. Emilion, Pusiguin St. Emilion, Mussac St. Emilion, Francs, Castillon, Lalande de Pomerol). All of these are east of the other river – the Dordogne – and might properly be called Libournaise wines as the primary city in that area is Libourne. Maybe someone remembers to through in Bourg and Blaye (also east of the Dordogne). But few people remember that sea of Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur grown the area (not the appellation) known as the Entre Deux Mers* – which is the whole of the area between the Garonne and the Dordogne. Technically, this is part of the right bank but I find it easier to think of it as “the middle.” It is right bank because the vast majority of the terroir here is clay-over-limestone, just as it is in most of the Libournaise appelations. But it is different because most of the red wines from the middle sell in the US (if they even ever make it to the US) for under $20 and often for well under $20 and even in many cases for under $10. Their low prices and appellation of simply “Bordeaux” or the superior-sounding “Bordeaux Superieur” (both shared with red wines from all over the area of greater Bordeaux) make them more of an “other.” “The Middle” by the way is my invention and is certainly not and officially recognized term. Nevertheless, I find it useful, accurate, and descriptive.
*The appellation Entre Deux Mers is a white wine only designation which over-lays a section eastern side of “the Middle” or the area between the Garonne and the Dordogne.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS