Probably the greatest wine producing area in existence, certainly the most famous. A huge range of styles of wine are made from massively complex reds through to incredibly rich and sweet whites. The various types of soil in Bordeaux determine which wine is made in which area with the river Gironde effectively cutting the area in two, leaving gravel based sopils on one side and clay based soil on the other.
This is a very basic way of looking at Bordeaux of course as there are many other variants, but as many simply refer to 'left bank wines' and right bank wines' it is reasonably accurate. Bordeaux's red wines, or claret, are its most famous product. Quality control dates back to 1855 when the Medoc was classified in five tiers (from Premier Cru, or First Growth, to Cinquieme Cru, Fifth Growth), and the only change to this classification was the promotion of Château Mouton-Rothschild from Second to First Growth in 1973. Other quality control systems, or Appellation Controlee, exist such as Cru Bourgeois and Petits Chateaux, and a few areas such as St. Emilion operate their own quality control systems. Despite this there are a few outstaning properties, like Château Petrus in Pomerol, that have no classification other than AC Pomerol. Although it is for its reds that Bordeaux is mainly famous for it also makes what are considered to be some of the very best sweet white wines in the world, from the Sauternes and Barsac regions, of which Château d'Yquem is the greatest and most famous. These are incredibly long lived wines with extraordinary depth and balance. A little dry white is also produced; much of this is simple everyday drinking, but there are a few examples where the quality rivals that of top league white Burgundy - Château Haut Brion makes probably the finest dry white Bordeaux. Grape varieties are controlled - reds are generally made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, or some combination of these, but a little Carmenere is used although plantings are somewhat scarce. In the whites it is Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle that produce the best wines. Other varieties are grown; Ugni Blanc and Colombard, but these are generally used as blending varieties. There have been large scale changes in the Bordeaux market in the last decade or so with the boom years of 1995 and 1996 causing some prices to reach ludicrous levels. The lower quality 1997 vintage hit many producers hard who simply expected the escalating prices to carry them through a mediocre vintage. This has led to many being left with vast stocks of wine that the market simply doesn't want. Common sense has since prevailed and a large number of chateaux were cautious about their opening prices on subsequent vintages. Bordeaux remains the area that others can only emulate. 'Bordeaux blends' are made accross the wine-producing world, and it is only comparatively recently that a few very high quality producers in northern America and Australia (California's Ridge and Australia's McAllister are fine examples) have begun to make more old-fashioned and less 'gushy' reds that hark back to First Growth style.