Bordeaux is all about red. Well 89% of it is.
How much? Yes that much!
The traditional divide in Bordeaux is between left and right bank. It’s about place, and soils and style.
Left Bank: Majority of gravel driven soils, ideally suited to ripening Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, but scratch a little deeper and you’ll find some clay and sandy soils and pockets of limestone. The blend of the wines will vary from place to place and vineyard to vineyard.
Right Bank: Mainly clay-limestone soils perfect for Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but also some gravels and sandy soils so again blends vary.
We’ll go with the rule of thumb that the soils and climate of the left bank give powerful, Cabernet Sauvignon driven wines with lean dark fruit aromas when young, ageing into cedary, cigar box and mineral notes. Yes really.
Whereas the Merlot driven right bank wines have bright red fruit aromas and smooth tannins, fleshy plummy wines that can be really accessible when young yet age with wonderful complexity to mushroomy and truffle aromas – think mushroom risotto on a winter’s night.
The vines look different on each bank
•Left Bank plants vines close together up to 10,000 vines per hectare, they are pruned lower to avoid shading the neighbours and benefiting reflected heat up from the soils.
•Right Bank: Lower density, 6,000-8,000 vines per hectare cropped taller – this is where to go if you want to try grape picking one summer – it’s still hard work but a little less back breaking.
•Left Bank: tend to be big properties owned by families for generations but also wealthy investors, especially in the top areas of Margaux and Pauillac. They make around 127 million bottles, across 8 appellations in the Médoc and two in the Graves.
•Right Bank: Historically smaller properties 6-8 ha (Sally is really boutique at George 7 with just 3) Usually family owned. They make about 75 million bottles across 10 different appellations.
•Left Bank: In the Médoc relatively new (for Bordeaux), as wine production really started in the 17th century
•Right Bank: they’ve been making wines since Roman times, yet it’s one of the most innovative and experimental wine making areas.
History & Classifications
•Left Bank: Wine were classified in 1855, some of the world famous names like Margaux, Lafite, Latour. But let's be clear, the production from these classified properties is only 4-5% of Bordeaux production.
•Right Bank: Saint-Emilion Classification only for Saint-Emilion Grand Cru since 1950s
Between the two
Between the left and the right banks there’s a large area in the centre, called Entre Deux Mers, (literally between the seas or in this case rivers). This is where the vast majority of everyday drinking wine is made, Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur, usually Merlot driven blends, for light, easy drinking and affordable wines. Technically we can make Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur across the whole of the whole 110 000 hectares of the region, but most will chose their regional or village appellations like Margaux or Saint Emilion as they fetch a higher price. Bordeaux Supérieur is cropped lower than Bordeaux and aged for a little longer (minimum 9 months before bottling) so tends to be more concentrated.
These are guidelines for us to start with. As Bordeaux is so big, over 100 000 ha and 5 000 properties there is so much choice. Each vineyard has its own history, stories, soils and wine making techniques and philosophies. This is what makes Bordeaux so very exciting, we’ll discover this together through our recommendations.
Some of our favourite reds
Fronsac Château George 7 (bien sûr!)
Pomerol Château Beauregard
A beautiful property and a beautiful wine from this prestigious appellation, mainly Merlot with some Cabernet Franc this is a classic right bank blend and it’s organic which we love.
Bordeaux - Bordeaux Superieur
Château Lestrille is owned and run by the dynamic Estelle Roumage, she makes a range of wines, including white, red, rosé and sparkling. Her red Chateau Lestrille is 100% Merlot with no oak aging so it’s all about the fruit. An easy drinking wine. The beautiful label (I’m always influenced by a good label) reflects her passion for the environment, the estate is sustainably farmed and under conversion to organic agriculture.
Château Lagrange is in Saint Julien, half way up the Médoc peninsula. It’s a wine that marries power and elegance from a vineyard that's been consistently working towards sustainability since the 1990s. This is a special occasion Cabernet-dominated wine with deep dark fruit and a lovely structure. Younger vintages would benefit from decanting, allowing the tannins to soften a little and serving in a decanter makes it even more special.
Château Branas Grand Poujeaux from the lesser known Moulis appellation of the Médoc, beautifully balances the power of Cabernet and plush Merlot, this is a great introduction to the Medoc, HVE sustainably certified and great value for money.
This introduction to Bordeaux is an excerpt from Bordeaux Bootcamp – Wendy’s Guide to Bordeaux Basics