Having cantered through all the major regions and appellations of Bordeaux, looking at the top left-bank communes where many cru classé châteaux hang out, the more Medieval vineyards of Graves and its many enclaves, and then across to the ancient right-bank terroirs largely Roman in origin, from Castillon right down to Blaye, you might think we have covered most of what Bordeaux has to offer. In one way we have, but taking a different viewpoint we might consider ourselves to have only just scratched the surface.
In taking this vicarious journey through the famous appellations listed in the box, right, we have trodden in the footsteps of countless vignerons, merchants, bankers, négociants, wine writers and wine critics. These are regions which have been picked over for centuries, in some cases millennia, by those who make wine, those who deal in it, and those who write about it. It is easy to conclude, therefore, that those regions with the greatest potential have long been recognised and elevated to a suitable position. And everywhere else is, presumably, of lesser interest.
Well, there is some truth to this. There is certainly a coarse hierarchy here; as a rule of thumb, I would say drinkers are much more likely to get excited about Pauillac and Pomerol than they are Moulis or Montagne-St-Emilion. And likewise these latter appellations are perhaps more interesting than very generic ones, such as the Entre-Deux-Mers, Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux or even just good old basic Bordeaux. But we should not confuse a lack of grandeur in these lesser appellations with a deficiency of wines of interest. None of these lesser appellations will give us a wine that is magically the equivalent of Château Latour or Petrus, but they can – provided we do our homework – find wines here of interest and quality, wines that mirror the styles of more famous appellations (after all, the soils, climate and grape varieties involved are broadly the same) but which offer early approachability and good value. These are wines worth knowing about. But it can be difficult to know where to begin; visiting the cru classé châteaux and their equivalents during a tasting visit to Bordeaux takes up the best part of a week (and that’s only if you rush madcap from one appointment to the next), so deciding which of the many thousands of minor-appellation châteaux to visit in a spare half-hour can be a daunting task. Here, in this final instalment of my guide to Bordeaux, I take a look at the significant regions for basic Bordeaux, and pick out a few worthy names.