The Five Famous First Growths of Bordeaux
Bordeaux wines are, perhaps, the world's most famous and highly coveted wines. The wine-growing region of Bordeaux in southern France produces 90% red wines that are predominantly made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. What are Bordeaux wines and what makes them remarkably special?
What are Bordeaux wines?
Bordeaux refers to the wines that came from Bordeaux, France. As the largest wine-growing region in France, Bordeaux is divided into two: the Bordeaux right bank and Bordeaux left bank, which pertains to the river banks of the Gironde river. Each area produces distinct characteristics and specifications in the grapes they produce because of the climate, soil quality, rainfall, humidity and other factors that impact the taste and quality of Bordeaux wines.
The left bank, known as the ‘Graves’, has gravelly and rockier lands with deep deposits of limestones. Although there is a struggle and difficulty for the vines to get nutrients, the left bank produces powerful wines that have higher tannins and alcohol content, deeper body and are the prime choice for ageing. They mainly use Cabernet Sauvignon and a smaller quantity of Merlot.
The right bank, on the other hand, has red clay soil which produces smoother wines. They primarily use Merlot with a smaller amount of Cabernet. It has lower alcohol content, medium tannin levels and less acid.
The five first growths of Bordeaux
The first growth or premier cru refers to the classification system of Bordeaux wines. Through the order of Emperor Napoleon III, Bordeaux wine merchants ranked the wines according to quality, reputation and price to showcase to the world. This best-in-wine classification is still awarded today.
The first five growths which are at the top of the Bordeaux ranking are the legendary chateaus that have become world-renowned wineries. These are:
Chateau Lafite Rothschild has 276 acres of vines some of which are over 50 years old. The vines are grown in clay and gravelly plateau. Its most expensive single bottle is the 1787 Lafite has a world-record auction price of US$156,000. It is super tannic with flavours and aromas of black currant, tobacco, hazelnut and plum.
Mouton Rothschild is owned by the celebrated winemaker Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Grown in gravelly soil, this Bordeaux wine is dominantly Cabernet Sauvignon that exhibits power and elegance in its taste and quality. Mouton Rothschild wines have velvety tannins and notes of black currant.
Chateau Latour is known for their sustainable developments with 100% organic vineyards. Their wines are described as powerful, muscular and intense with Cabernet Sauvignon as the dominant grape variety. The legendary L’Enclos vineyard dates back to the 17th century and now uses biodynamics.
Chateau Margaux’s wines are described as silky and elegant. Their vineyard dates back to the 13th century with Cabernet Sauvignon as its dominant wine. They also practise organic viticulture that produces wines that have floral and fruity aromas and full-bodied flavour.
Chateau Haut-Brion is the oldest of the five growths established in the 1530s. They are the first vineyards in the Bordeaux region. Their dominant wine is Merlot planted on gravelly land. Their wines have complex aromas and dark fruit flavours.
What is Bordeaux wine like?
Bordeaux is dominantly red wine with vibrant red to deep purple colour. The wines from the Bordeaux left bank are highly tannic with medium levels of acidity while the Bordeaux right bank wines have medium tannin levels and lower levels of acidity. There is also the white Bordeaux, which can be dry or oak-aged, which is known as a dessert wine. The dry white wine has citrus notes while oak-aged has notes of caramel, honey and apricot.
Bordeaux wines can be paired with strong meats such as fillet mignon steak and well-done burgers; vegetables such as roasted potatoes and sauteed mushrooms; and seafood such as scallops or mussels.