Bordeaux is a vast region right by the Atlantic Coast, so unpredictable weather sometimes plagues the region. The area is cut in half by the Gironde River, an integral geological feature that one must keep in mind. On the left bank of the Gironde River is the Medoc wine region, known for its gravelly soils and red wines with an age-worthy blend of Cabernet Sauvignon. Medoc enjoys an international distinction and recognition in the wine industry and is home to Bordeaux’s famous large wine estates. We have the Pomerol and Saint Emilion Regions in the right bank of the river, known for their more diverse wines. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the dominant grape varieties in the Right Bank, although you will still see other grape varieties, such as the Cabernet Sauvignon. Vineyards in the Right Bank tend to be smaller than those in the Left Bank, as they average only about five hectares per vineyard compared to the Left Bank’s vineyards that can reach over a hundred hectares each.
Most people think that Bordeaux is simply a red wine region; however, this is far from the truth. It produces three other styles of wine: dry, white wine from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, sweet wines made from Sauternes, and rose wines (which are very popular for wine lovers). Bordeaux is moving away from its traditional red wine region image and is diversifying into other types. As always, any Bordeaux wine performs and tastes exceptional.
The Debate of the Right Bank versus the Left Bank
In the wine community, there is a dichotomy between the two well-known parts of Bordeaux: the Right Bank (Pomerol and Saint Emilion) and the Left Bank (Medoc Region). Every individual has their preference and claims that one is better than the other. However, things are rarely that simple. These two exceptional wine regions are distinct and unique from each other, and so are their wines up to a point. Different factors influence the taste and smell of the wine, from the region’s culture to climate.
Both areas produce exceptional red wine, but the Left Bank is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon-based, in stark contrast with the Merlot preference of wines in the Right bank. Because of this, wines from both regions taste very different. Cabernet Sauvignon wines stain dark and have more tannins, so wines from Medoc are the boldest and perfect for matching with dishes of red meats. Left Bank wines also tend to age well due to the higher tannin levels, and the blend also utilizes some Merlot, although not as much as the Right Bank.
Speaking of Merlot, Right Bank wines have a higher concentration of Merlot grapes which are considered to be smoother and with softer fruit flavors. They also tend to have fewer tannins, making the flavor less dominant than the Left Bank wines. Since it is less tannic, Merlot wines have a lighter color than Cabernet wines and are less dry. When faced with these flavors, one needs to understand the grape varieties and characteristics in order to make it easier to identify what wines come from the Right Bank or the Left Bank.
Every wine in the Bordeaux region requires different growing conditions, but that helps with the diversity of the grapes in the area. Each bank has a unique soil that is perfect for the grape types grown in their respective areas. Red, white, or sweet wines need different kinds of grapes in their blend, so the grape diversity in the region helps produce the iconic Bordeaux wines. Because of this, one cannot just say that “oh, this is a great vintage from Bordeaux” because there are different styles of wine in the region. It depends on the year and the kind of wine that the region has produced. For example, the 1985 and 1995 red wines from Pomerol and Saint Emilion are better than the Left Bank wines. However, for the 1986 and 1996 wines, that honor goes to the Medoc region, where the Cabernet grapes grew very nicely that year. These vintages, a decade apart, already show the different personalities of the region that translate to the flavor and quality of the wine.
In choosing the right wine for the right occasion, you must be specific with what you are looking for instead of automatically selecting a wine from a well-known wine country.
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