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Left Bank


Wine By Region Right Europe Right France Right Bordeaux Right Left Bank Right Médoc   Graves


Chateau La Mission Haut Brion entrance

The entrance to the Graves estate Château La Mission Haut Brion. Photo by Benjamin Zingg. License: Creative Commons SA 2.5 Generic.

Wine casks in Chateau Margaux

A seeming infinity of oak casks in Château Margaux.
Photo by Kassander der Minoer on Wikipedia.
License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.

The Left Bank of Bordeaux is defined as the land around the city of Bordeaux that is south or west of the river Gironne, as well as south or west of its tributary, the Garonne. Although the Left Bank is not necessarily a better place to find wine than the competing Right Bank, the classification system is more logical and organized. More, if not necessarily better, famed wine villages exist, and the region has a longer and more established history. That being said, fans of the rich but light-bodied Merlot-based style found on the Right Bank will scarcely find the Left Bank wines as interesting.

While it is well-known for the full-bodied, varied wines of the Médoc, which is considered by many the world's best place to find red wine, the Left Bank also includes the slightly less esteemed Graves. Graves' subregion Pessac-Léognan makes several of the best reds in France, but also within Graves the golden-yellow, botrytized legend Sauternes is considered the best sweet wine in the world. This makes the Left Bank also a better place than the Right Bank to find white wine, as almost no white is grown in the latter area.

This page mainly serves as a intermediate page between the Bordeaux page and either the Médoc page or the Graves page. It discusses the specific climatic differences between the Left Bank and the Right Bank, and why full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon is more suited towards the Left Bank. Also, the major producers and major subregions of the Left Bank are covered.

History

While wine was developing in the early days, the Bordeaux area was greatly helped by the marriage of English king Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Early wine producers immediately learned of the profit to be made, and the Left Bank was mainly focused on at that time. The Right Bank, at that time, went largely unappreciated.

It is worth noting, though, that not Médoc but Graves has the long history that is often attributed to Bordeaux. Growers, when they found that Graves produced good wine, were satisfied with what they had. It was only in the 17th century that regional changes made the Médoc a viable wine area. Soon enough, the Médoc had overtaken Graves and by the 1855 classification only one Graves wine was included (true, as a first growth). Today, Médoc's reds still generally overshadow Graves' reds, although the latter have many fans as well.

Climate and Viticulture

It is a commonly cited fact that the Left Bank's specific climate and soil make it a perfect match for the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. On the Right Bank, a different soil environment makes Merlot the top grape. But the technical reason why Cabernet thrives on one side of the Gironde, and Merlot on the other, can be rather evasive.

A generally cited, and probably accurate, analysis is that the Right Bank of Bordeaux, especially St-Émilion, has more of a clay makeup in the soil. Cabernet Sauvignon does not do as well with clay, and as a result prefers the slightly different, sandstone-like soil of the Left Bank. Also, the soil is harder and less porous on the Left Bank, which goes well with Cabernet.

For more details about the weather and general climate in Bordeaux, see the Bordeaux page.

Grape Varieties

Cabernet grapes

Cabernet Sauvignon does well on the Left Bank.
Photo by BerndtF on Wikipedia.
License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.

As mentioned earlier, Cabernet Sauvignon is specifically adapted to the Left Bank climate, so the red wines of the Left Bank are usually based on a large amount of Cabernet Sauvignon (often 70% or more.) Merlot is often used to soften the Cabernet, but it is rarely allowed to make up the majority of the blend. In the instance of Graves, some of the wines use Cab and Merlot in roughly even proportions. Other grapes include Cabernet Franc and a usually low percentage of Petit Verdot.

Just like in the rest of Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon are the main white grapes. Sémillon, however, reaches unrivaled heights on the Left Bank. The sweet wines of Graves, such as Sauternes, are made up of usually at least half Sémillon, which contributes its unique flavors to the blend. To a lesser proportion, Muscadelle is used in some Sauternes blends.



Major Producers

Although many people think that the 1855 classification is outdated, it at least provides a reasonable way of determining what the biggest and most famous players are. Classifications for the Left Bank have a longer history and are more logical than those of the Right Bank. In fact, the Médoc, Graves, and Sauternes all have their own classifications.

Latour bottle

Despite the inauspicious design of this bottle of Latour,
the Pauillac winery is among the best in Bordeaux.
Photo by Renzo Grosso.
License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.

Médoc's landmark 1855 classification divided the wine produced there into 5 levels, the 1ers crus, 2ers crus, 3ers crus, 4ers crus 5ers crus. The 1ers, which are basically the créme de le créme, are listed here.

The 2ers Crus are less exclusive but still considered among the best wine worldwide.

Sauternes vineyard

Vineyard in Sauternes.
Photo by Olivier Aumage.
License: Creative Commons SA 2.0 France.

Go to the Médoc page and the specific village pages to see more specific discussions of these wines, as well as the full list including the 3ers, 4ers, and 5ers crus.

Pessac-Léognan, which is a higher-end part of Graves, has its own classification. The top wines are listed here; go to the Pessac page for a more detailed discussion of each ranked wine and the full list.

In the Sauternes area of Graves, Yquem was singled out as a Superior wine.

Not everyone can afford the $1,000 price tag commanded by Yquem. The runners-up are also extremely good, and can be found for lower prices. The full list is found on the Sauternes page, but here is a sampling of good Sauternes.

More in-depth region pages will give you more information about the top wines.

Subregions

Medoc vineyards

Vineyards in the Médoc. This photo is in the public domain.

The Left Bank is a "container region"—it is not an AOC of its own, but a number of Bordeaux's AOCs do lie within it. The Left Bank consists of the Médoc and Graves. The following list, set up for convenience, outlines the two and the subregions within them. Wines made in the Left Bank that do not fall under either of these appellations, or any of the appellations within them, likely are low-level Bordeaux AOC or something like that. A number of second wines (often noncompliant wines produced by large châteaux and sold for high prices) fall under this category.

However, as a result of the immense popularity of wine from the Left Bank, and Bordeaux in general, most of the desirable land has been bought up and wine made there is being sold at high prices. The savvy buyer should be fairly suspicious of a very cheap wine produced in either of these appellations, as these wines may come from estates with unfavorable land. It may be simpler to just buy Bordeaux AOC wines than to try to find bargains on the Left Bank.

Click on any of the links to be brought to that page.

Montrose wine

Château Montrose is one of the top
St-Estèphes. Photo by BerndB
on Wikipedia. License: Creative
Commons SA 3.0 Unported
.

Welcome to Margaux

A sign welcoming visitors to the village of Margaux. Photo by Florian Pépellin. License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.