What's the Deal with...Bordeaux

You know that thing? That thing that’s everywhere, and it sounds like something you should already know about, so you don’t really want to ask? Well, we know about it, and we’ll give you the intel. Welcome to What’s the Deal with.


Photo credit: Jonathan Kantor/Getty Images

Bordeaux is back! At least, that’s what numerous drinks publications are telling us. But where did the wine with such a strong reputation go in the first place?

"It built up such status, thanks to wine reviewers, mostly, that the barrier to entry, cost-wise, has gotten ridiculous," says Food & Wine senior wine editor Megan Krigbaum. So for the average wine drinker, Bordeaux—the better bottlings of which retail from $100 and up—hasn’t been accessible for the past 20 years. “A lot of sommeliers haven’t had as much access to the wines, either, for that very same reason.”

So let’s discuss why it’s back.

Where It Comes From: Bordeaux, the largest wine growing region in France.

Defining Characteristic: Bordeaux might include between one and five of the following grape varietals, in varying percentages: Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. “The cool thing about Bordeaux is that they all have this tannic intensity—they’re all really structured—and when you pair that with meat and fat, the tannic structure cuts right through it.”(It’s because of the tannins,which are compounds in grapes, that some reds give wine that drying, slightly bitter sensation.) Krigbaum says the wine goes well with anything high in umami, such as mushrooms and red meat.

Why It’s Catching On: “People are starting to realize that, yes, these wines are expensive and, yes, these wines are bristly and difficult to understand when they’re young, but when they age, they’re just gorgeous,” says Krigbaum. “They mellow out, they get silky, the tannins aren’t as fierce as they were in their early days, and they go beautifully with food.”

How to Buy It: You might want to avoid the big-name châteaux. In fact, you might not have the chance to avoid them: “A lot of the most prestigious bottlings, you can’t even buy them in stores,” says Krigbaum. Collectors tend to gobble up the stuff straight from the barrel, a method called “futures.” Better to look for Côtes de Bordeaux, an appellation from the outskirts of the more esteemed locales, and one that’s coming into fashion. Also, “there’s an old classification that’s been resuscitated called Cru Bourgeois,” says Krigbaum. “It’s not judged based on where its grown, so this is unusual. This [classification] is based solely on quality.” Krigbaum says you can get a nice bottle for $20, which is far less than Bordeaux classified under fancier appellations.

Speaking of price, Krigbaum urges you to set your standards a little higher when buying Bordeaux. “It’s hard to find $15 Bordeaux. Start at 20, but be ready to spend at least $50.” Going the $20 route is smart, though, because “you can buy three bottles, stash two away, see what one is like right now, and drink the other two five and ten years from now—that will really show you the evolution.” Bordeaux, she says, really comes into its own ten to twenty years after bottling.

Finally, Krigbaum says to sbsolutely use the people who work at your local wine shop to your advantage. “Do you want something that’s really intensely tannic? Do you want something softer? Maybe it’s better to have something with more Merlot. Talk to them, and describe the food you’re having with it.”

So stop being so afraid of Bordeaux, okay? Start tasting (and investing).