Iris ten Teije
April 28, 2021

A Quick Guide to Bordeaux Wines

Are you wondering what types of wine make a good investment? Aside from taste and how well it ages, there are many factors to consider. One of the most important ones is where the wine comes from, with Bordeaux traditionally having been the most important region for sourcing investment-grade wines. The region has a long history of wine production and produces some of the most expensive wines in the world.

While only a small portion of all wines from Bordeaux are suitable for investment purposes, a large portion of all investment-grade wines in the world come from Bordeaux. According to fine wine trade marketplace Liv-ex, in 2008 more than 90% of its secondary market trade volume involved Bordeaux wines; 10 years later it had become a lot more diversified, but Bordeaux wines still accounted for more than half of trade share, maintaining its position as the most important fine wine producing region in the world.

In this article we’ll cover the basics, Bordeaux’s wine classification system and the history of the most important wine producers in Bordeaux. To learn more about wine investment in general, check out our beginner’s guide to investing in wine. 

What we’ll cover in this blog.

The Basics


Bordeaux is situated in the Southwest of France and the region has a temperate oceanic climate, with temperatures of around 6 degrees in January and warm, sunny summers with temperatures averaging 20 degrees. The weather and climate is perfect for growing grapes and in addition to that, Bordeaux’s soils are an important factor that allow this region to produce its world-renowned wines. Bordeaux is typically associated with red wine, but also produces famous white wines, particularly Sauternes, a sweet dessert wine.

Bordeaux “Left Bank” & “Right Bank”


Wine Map by Winefolly


The Bordeaux region is divided into two parts, left of the river and right of the river. Bordeaux’s most famous wines have traditionally come from the Médoc area, where the Cabernet Sauvignon grape plays the most important role in wine production. The grape produces full-bodied wines, high in tannin levels - the compound derived from a grape’s skin that creates a drying sensation in your mouth. Other important regions for fine wine production are Pomerol and Saint-Émilion on the Right Bank. 

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Wine Classification


Médoc & Graves


While there are many wine rankings out there, one of the oldest and most important rankings in Bordeaux is the classification system introduced in 1855, in response to the prestigious Exposition Universelle taking place in Paris that year. 

The four wines originally marked as Premier Grand Cru Classé - often described in short as Premier Cru - are still amongst the most expensive wines in the world. All but one of the Premiers Crus are produced in the Médoc area of Bordeaux, and only one producer ever got added to the list at a later date. Wines classified from second to fifth-growths are marked as “Cru Classé”.

The Premiers Crus are:



Saint-Émilion


Saint-Émilion introduced their own “Grand Cru Classés” classification system with distinct categories in 1955. The top category is the “Premier Grand Cru Classé A” and unlike the 1855 ranking, the ranking in Saint-Émilion gets updated from time to time. 

Wineries currently holding the top classification are:


Over 200 wines from Saint-Émilion carry the term “Grand Cru”, and whereas this is the highest distinction a wine in Burgundy can get, in Saint-Émilion this classification is of lesser significance. 


Pomerol


Pomerol does not have a classification system like Saint-Émilion or Médoc. However, it is considered one of Bordeaux's top regions for fine wine, and several vineyards in the area produce some of the world’s most expensive and finest wines. Amongst them are:



The Most Important Producers Today

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important wineries in each region. 


Médoc & Graves

The five producers originally marked as Premier Cru in Médoc and Graves are still amongst the most important producers in Bordeaux today.



Château Latour

Château Latour is located in the commune of Pauillac in the Médoc. Latour’s wine making history started in the 17th century when Alexandre de Ségur - whose family later also acquired Château Lafite and Mouton - became owner of the property. Latour is now owned by Groupe Artémis, which also holds stakes in luxury brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci. 

The wine produced by Château Latour consists of more than 90% of Cabernet Sauvignon. It needs at least 10 years to age, but like most other fine wines can age for much longer and some of the most expensive bottles sold at auction are vintages from more than 50 years ago.

One major difference between Latour and the vast majority of other fine wine producers in Bordeaux is that the Château is no longer supporting the En Primeur buying system, which would normally allow buyers to buy wine before it’s bottled and get in early at a better price. The winery is now more tightly controlling supply and only releasing supply when it is ready to be drunk. What this means for investors remains to be seen, as the Château started implementing this system in 2012 and only released their 2012 vintage to market last year. 

Cases of the 2012 vintage are currently going for around £2,500 per 6 bottles. 





Château Lafite Rothschild

Château Lafite Rothschild is located in Pauillac, Médoc and owned by members of the Rothschild family. Similar to other fine wines, no young grapevines are used for production in the Grand Vin - they may be used in other wines the châteaux produces - and the average age of grapevines is 39 years old.

The grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and Petit Verdot (2%).

One of the innovations the producer has introduced over the past years is adding a unique code and “Bubble Seal” that cannot be reproduced, to guarantee authenticity and fight fakes - a major problem with high-end wines.

Usually no more than 20,000 cases of Lafite Rothschild are produced per year and according to wine data provider Liv-Ex, the 2016 Lafite Rothschild was the second most traded wine by value in 2020 and it went up by 13.5% over the year. 

Cases of the five most recent vintages trade for £2,000-£4,000 per case of 6 bottles.






Château Margaux 

Château Margaux is located in Margaux, Médoc. The estate has a long and rich history, and even before the 1855 classification it had an international reputation, with Thomas Jefferson being an early admirer. He sent a friend 120 bottles of the 1784 vintage and wrote, ''I may safely assure you . . . that, according to the taste of this country and of England, there cannot be a bottle of better Bordeaux produced in France.''

Having changed hands several times throughout history, the winery didn’t always maintain its reputation as one of the world’s best wines, but it climbed back to the top from the late 1970s onwards when Margaux was acquired by André Mentzenopoulos, a supermarket tycoon living in France. 

The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (75%) and Merlot (20%) and around 30,000 cases are produced each year.

Cases of the five most recent vintages trade for £3,000-£4,000 per case of 6 bottles.






Château Haut-Brion

Château Haut-Brion is the only château located outside of Médoc that was classified as a Premier Cru. The winery is located in what was then Graves and now Pessac-Léogna. The first records of Haut-Brion wine found in the wine cellar ledger of the English King Charles II in 1660 and it is believed it was produced specifically for the English market. Haut-Brion was bought in 1935 by Clarence Dillon an American financier, and is now managed by the fourth generation of the family, represented by Prince Robert of Luxembourg. 

The wines are made with 45% merlot, 44% cabernet sauvignon, 9% cabernet franc and a bit of petit verdot. Annual production ranges from 10,000 to 12,000 cases per year of the grand vin.

Cases of the five most recent vintages trade for £3,000-£4,000 per case of 6 bottles. 



Château Mouton Rothschild

Château Mouton Rothschild is the only wine to be added to the 1855 Premier Cru classification after its original publication. While the château has a long history, it was Baron Philippe de Rothschild who got the wine to be classified as a first-growth in 1973.

Baron Philippe de Rothschild also brought various other innovations to the château. One of his ideas was to have each year’s label designed by a famous artist. Previous labels have been designed by the likes of Picasso, Dali and Miró. With the Chinese market for fine wines showing tremendous growth over the past decade, in 2018 Chinese artist Xu Bing designed the wine’s label. Some of the older vintages of Mouton Rothschild trade at higher prices than the other Premiers Crus, due to the added value the bottles carry as unique collectibles.

While the most expensive bottles of wine ever sold at auction are Burgundy wines, Mouton-Rothschild tops the list for Bordeaux with a 1945 Jerobaum (4.5L bottle) sold for US$ 310,700.

Cases of the five most recent vintages trade for £2,000-£4,000 per case of 6 bottles. 


Rest of Bordeaux

Outside of Médoc and the “Premiers Crus”, Bordeaux’s two other important regions for fine wine are Pomerol and Saint-Émilion.


Pomerol

Pomerol does not have any official classification system, but there are various châteaux that are generally considered as the most important ones in the region:




Le Pin 

Le Pin is the smallest producer on this list, producing around 600 cases of wine a year. It’s history started only 40 years ago, but it’s considered one of the top wines and has at times taken the spot of the most expensive wine in the world. 

Getting your hands on these wines isn’t an easy task. In Bordeaux, wines generally get sold via negociants (brokers) and wine merchants with longstanding relationships will be guaranteed certain allocations. These wine merchants selling to consumers, will then also have their top private clients who get their first pick. At the same time, it is exactly this type of scarcity that makes these fine wines valuable and an item to invest in.

Le Pin is the most expensive wine on this list, with 1 bottle of the 2016 vintage currently trading at almost £4,000.





Pétrus 

Pétrus is another winery that today produces some of the most expensive wines in the world, with single bottles fetching over £3,000 and production standing at 30,000 bottles a year. 

While Pétrus won a few important awards in the 19th century, the château really started to rise to prominence after the Second World War when Jean-Pierre Moueix acquired the château. 

The Pétrus wines are 100% merlot, the most important grape variety in Pomerol. 

Cases of 6 bottles of Pétrus for the most recent vintages retail at over £10,000.





Lafleur 

Lafleur is a relatively small vineyard, selling only around 1,000 cases of its grand vin a year. 

Lafleur is situated opposite the Pétrus vineyards, in some of the best soils of Bordeaux. With cases being sold from £2,000, Lafleur’s prices are slightly lower than those of its neighboring vineyards, however, due to its limited production it can be similarly difficult to get your hands on specific vintages. 

Cases of 6 bottles of the most recent vintages cost between £3,000-£8,000




La Fleur-Pétrus

Château La Fleur-Pétrus was acquired in 1950 by Jean Pierre Moueix, who also owns Pétrus. The Chateau is located just next to Lafleur and opposite Pétrus. 

Like the other two famous producers, it’s situated on the “Pomerol Plateau”, an area in Pomerol that is known to produce its best wines, due to the specific soil conditions and “terroir”, all environmental conditions affecting the grapes. 

The wines are made with 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.

Cases of 6 bottles of the most recent vintages cost between £800-£2,000.



Saint-Émilion

A third important area in Bordeaux when it comes to fine wine is Saint-Émilion. Things start to get slightly confusing here as the region has introduced their own classification in 1955, sometimes using the same terms as the “original” 1855 classification. Unlike the older classification, the classification in Saint-Émilion gets updated every 10 years. 

The producers currently holding the top classification of “Grand Cru Classé A” are:





Château Angelus 

Château Angelus has been in the hands of the same family for eight generations and was added as a Grand Cru Classé A wine in 1996. The name and logo of the wine are derived from the “Angelus Bell”, a church bell acting as a call to prayer, inspired by the fact that the vineyards of Angelus are surrounded by churches.

The vineyard is located on a slope, like many of the other famous vineyards of Saint-Émilion.

The wine is a blend of  Cabernet Franc (48%), which is grown at the bottom of the slope, where the soil is sandier and warmer and Merlot (50%), which  is grown in the limestone-rich clay soils at the top of the slope.

A case of 6 bottles of the most recent vintages is priced between £1,000-£2,000. 




Chateau Ausone

Chateau Ausone has a long history and the property is of historical significance. Ausone’s name comes from Decimius Magnus Ausonius, a poet who lived in Bordeaux in the 4th century. It is believed by some that Château Ausone is on the foundations of his villa.

The wine consists of Merlot 50% and Cabernet Franc 50% and is grown on a south-east facing slope, protecting the grapes from cold north winds and westerly rain. 

Chateau Ausone produces 2,000 cases of wine a year. 

Cases of 6 bottles of the most recent vintages cost between £2,000-£3,000.

 



Château Cheval Blanc 

Wine production at Château Cheval Blanc dates back to the 16th century and the château is currently part owned by Bernard Arnault, chairman of luxury goods group LVMH. 

The château is in Saint-Émilion, but borders Pomerol and the wine consists mostly of cabernet franc (57%), making it the most famous Cabernet Franc-based wine in the world.

A case of 6 bottles of the most recent vintages is priced between £2,000-£3,000. 





Château Pavie

Château Pavie is the largest producer out of the four Premier Grand Cru Classé wines coming out of Saint-Émilion. The product is still exclusive, however, with Pavie producing only 8,000 cases of wine a year. 

The vineyards of Pavie are situated on a south-facing slope on the limestone plateau known to produce some of Saint-Émilion’s best wines. Pavie's wine is typically a blend of 55% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.

A case of 6 bottles of the most recent vintages is priced between £1,000-£2,000. 


Getting Started With Wine Investment

Now that you know a bit more about the most important wine producers in Bordeaux, you might want to learn more about how to get started with investing in these wines. Check out our beginner’s guide to investing in wine to find out why to invest in wine, what to look out for and how to get started. 


Invest with Koia

Get started with investing in fine wine at any budget. 

At Koia we fractionalise ownership in investment-grade wines. You can own a percentage of a case of fine wine and create your own diversified wine portfolio via Koia’s mobile app. Our experts carefully select items that are put on the platform, so you don’t need to be an expert to get started. Koia ensures all the wine is stored in climate-controlled “bonded warehouses” and properly insured. It’s as simple as buying stock and shares from your trading app. 

At Koia, we allow you to start investing in tangible assets for as little as £50, via fractional ownership. Our experts make sure to source and buy the best assets, and we take care of authentication, storage and insurance. All of the benefits, with none of the hassle.

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The articles and information made available on Koia are provided for information and educational purposes only and do not constitute financial advice. You are advised to consult with an independent financial advisor for advice on your specific circumstances.