Bordeaux AOC and Supérieur
Find better wine by learning wine classifications including Bordeaux Supérieur and Bordeaux AOC – delicious secrets for finding great wines in Bordeaux.
The secret to finding great wine in Bordeaux is learning how to navigate the region's classification system. This microguide will walk you through Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur wines so that you know what to expect, and how to find good Bordeaux wine.
Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur
AOC stands for "appellation origine controlée" and it's France's highest quality wine denomination – first introduced in 1936.
Each French wine AOC has its own bylaws that help guarantee the quality and style of wine made, including what grapes are allowed.
For example, if you buy a bottle labeled Sauternes, it will always be a sweet white wine that includes Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Let's understand how the wine appellations of Bordeaux work including Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur AOC.
This is the basic classification of Bordeaux wines. Grapes can come from any of the 53 named appellations in Bordeaux. There are several styles allowed in Bordeaux AOC, including red, white, rosé, sweet, and sparkling wines. Plus! Only certain grape varieties are allowed.
Varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Carménère, Petit Verdot
Tasting Notes: black currant, raspberry, violet, herbal notes, crushed rocks
At the basic Bordeaux AOC level, red Bordeaux is much more fresh and juicy in style. Wines typically don't have rigorous tannin nor baking spice aromas from new oak aging.
In 2017, 64% of Bordeaux production was dedicated to red Bordeaux AOC. You can expect these wines to often blend with Merlot.
Grapes allowed: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle
Tasting Notes: Citrus fruits, white flowers, grapefruit
Expect these wines to be light-bodied, easy drinking white wines with citrus flavors and roundness on the palate.
Within the Bordeaux appellation, you'll also find some Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and rarer Merlot Blanc which are occasionally blended into Bordeaux blanc.
Rosé and Clairet
Grapes allowed: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Carménère, Petit Verdot
Rosé Tasting Notes: Citrus peel, grapefruit, fresh strawberry, spearmint, melon
Clairet Tasting Notes: Strawberry, blackcurrant, peony, rose hip, spearmint, wet rocks
Bordeaux produces two styles of rosé, one called "rosé" and the other "clairet" and they're very different in taste!
In order to make Bordeaux Rosé, red grapes are rested on their skins for a couple of hours and then pressed and finished into wine the same way white wines are made. You can expect these wines to be dry with fresh, fruity aromas.
Clairet sits between a red and rosé wine. Red grapes rest on their skins for 3 to 4 days which extracts more color and flavor!
Then, the wines are finished like rosé. These deep ruby rosé wines are typically offered dry, with forest berry notes, and much more texture and body on the palate than Bordeaux rosé.
Grapes Allowed: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle
Tasting notes: Sweet melon, citrus fruits, candied grapefruit
Using the same grapes as dry white Bordeaux, the sweet styles are a touch more rich and fruity on the nose and slightly richer (and sweeter!) on the palate. Still, they aren't quite as bold and as rich as Sauternes, which makes them an easy sipper.
Crémant de Bordeaux
Grapes Allowed: All Bordeaux varieties
Sparkling Rosé Tasting Notes: Strawberry, currant, rose, citrus fruits
Sparkling White Tasting Notes: Citrus fruits, grapefruit, cream, hazelnut
Crémant de Bordeaux is one of the fastest growing wine categories in Bordeaux today! Many of these bubbly wines enlist Bordeaux's most planted grape, Merlot, in a rosé style. Still, it's possible to find a white (blanc) style using the region's white grapes of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.
Crémant follows the same winemaking method as Champagne, but they typically don't receive as much aging (which is what gives these wines creamy-nutty flavors). So, you can expect these wines to deliver fruity and floral aromas, and a typically dry taste.
Bordeaux Supérieur is a bump up from the basic Bordeaux AOC wines with more rigorous standards. Bordeaux Supérieur wines come from grapes sourced throughout the Bordeaux wine region but are generally considered of higher quality.
Bordeaux Supérieur can only be used on bottles of dry red Bordeaux and sweet white Bordeaux. This appellation includes all the same grapes allowed in Bordeaux AOC. There are more rigorous grape quality standards (such as minimum ripeness) in order to use the "Supérieur" name on a label.
Look for "Grand Vin de Bordeaux" on the label.
Wineries add "Grand Vin de Bordeaux" to the label to indicate the wine is their pride and joy – their top quality wine!
This is a great way to discover new producers from lesser known appellations of Bordeaux. You also know that you're tasting their best wine. You will be surprised at the value when you compare it to a Cru Classé!
Exploring Bordeaux's Sub-Appellations
If you're looking for good Bordeaux wine, chances are you'll be looking beyond Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur to one of the region's many sub-appellations. While this number seems daunting to explore, there's really only about 10 major sub-regions you need to know to get started.
Head over to the Region page of this guide to see a breakdown of what's there, and what's delicious!