Red Wines From Bordeaux
Red wine from Bordeaux is like saying coal from Newcastle (at least it used to be!) – the region is synonymous with wine and all the more so for its red wines. There are essentially two sides to Bordeaux red wines separated by the mighty Gironde river with the wines of Pauillac, Medoc and Margaux on the left bank and those of Pomerol, St Emilion and Fronsac on the right bank.
Despite their proximity there is a big difference between wines from the Right Bank and Left Bank. The terroir and soil are different for a start, the mix of grapes are not the same and, probably most importantly, the philosophy that drives the winemakers is different. Broadly speaking Left Bank wines lead with Cabernet Sauvignon balanced with Merlot, Right Bank wines do the opposite.
In essence the Left Bank wines are more structured with stronger tannins and will take longer to come to maturity but will also last longer (think 50 years as opposed to 20). Right Bank wines are softer, more fruity and generally can be drunk younger.
The Left Bank of Bordeaux is the home to all of the official 1855 Classified Bordeaux wines. The classification included 61 different chateaux, ranking them in order from First Growth, Second Growth, Third Growth, Fourth Growth and Fifth Growth. When the classification of 1855 was initially created, it was not intended to become a timeless list and in fact was based largely around the selling price of the wines with no other quality ratings. Today the best wines do have First Growth, or Second Growth labels but as there are no regular, formal tests to ensure they are good so try before you buy!
Looking on a map, the Medoc starts just north of the city of Bordeaux and extends north, past St. Estephe to the Le Verdon port. However, many people also consider the Left Bank to include the wines of Pessac Leognan which is also home to some great white wines.
The Right Bank looks and feels differently than the Left Bank starting with the vineyards and the majority of the actual chateaux that are in the region. In the Left Bank, you find numerous large, if not massive estates and vineyards that can be over 100 hectares in size. That is not the case with Right Bank vineyards, which are often closer to an average of 6 or 7 hectares in size. There are a few, stunning, massive, architecturally, stunning chateau in the Right Bank, but generally speaking, you find more family-owned estates and smaller properties here – like our own Château du Faure Haut Normand.
While most Bordeaux wines are blends, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the dominant grape varieties in the Right Bank. Although you will find some growers also plant Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot as well. This unique combination of soil types and grape varieties are a large part of what has helped make the wines from Right Bank of Bordeaux so famous, as well as sought after all over the world.
Rather confusingly however, and unlike on the other side of the river, there is no single quality label. In St Emilion there is the Grand Cru classification (you can read more on this in the St Emilion section). But none of the other appellations have any independent standard beyond that set by the regional Bordeaux A.O.C.