Bordeaux - The Left Bank

Last time we explored the Right Bank of Bordeaux with its Merlot-based red blends, primarily from the appellations of Saint Émilion, Pomerol and Fronsac. Next, its over to the Left Bank.

Located west of the Gironde and Garonne Rivers, the Left Bank is also known for its red blends. The two primary appellations for red blends on the Left Bank are Médoc and Graves.  These appellations are further broken down as follows:

  • Médoc
    • Pauillac
    • Margaux
    • St-Estéphe
    • St-Julien
    • Haut- Médoc (this 'fifth' region is a receptacle for less expensive wines from Médoc that are grown outside the other four regions)
  • Graves
    • Pessac- Léognan
    • Sauternes

The Left Bank blends are based on Cabernet Sauvignon.  And, like the Right Bank, these blends may include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec. But typically, the Left Bank blends are comprised of 70% or more Cabernet Sauvignon with small fractions of the other, usually to soften the final product.

While the Left Bank is typically thought to have the "better" wines, they certainly have the more expensive wines.  And wines that are well suited to aging.

But sometimes these Cabernet Sauvignon blends are described as a bit bitter when young.  This is largely due to the high tannin levels in the Cabernet Sauvignon. And these wines tannins 'soften' as they age.  Some might ask "Why pay a premium for a Bordeaux that's bitter initially and then have to age it for it to be really good?"  And I suppose that's a question that can only be answered by actually experiencing an aged Bordeaux.

The Left Bank of Bordeaux is the only bank to produce white wines. And these are based on Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle.  But the most famous white wine-producing region is Sauternes, a sub-region within Graves. These are tropical fruit flavored sweet wines made from botrytized grapes. And before you say "I don't like sweet wines" you really should give the Sauternes wines a chance. If you can afford to purchase one, that is.  These wines can easily go for $100 to $1000 for a bottle.

The sweet wines of Sauternes are extremely expensive to make, for several reasons. First, there is a lot of risk involved in leaving ripe grapes on the vines for an extended period of time to achieve botrytized grapes. Second, grape pickers must be paid to make the multiple passes through the vineyards, searching for grape bunches affected by botrytis. Third, Sauternes wines are usually aged in expensive oak barrels for 18 and 36 months. And on top of all this, there is no guarantee that botrytis will develop in the vineyards at all, since it is entirely dependent on specific climatic conditions. So, in some years, almost no Sauternes wine is produced at all.

So there's a quick look at the Left Bank of Bordeaux. And while Bordeaux is a famous wine-producing region of France, no discussion of French wines would be complete without addressing other important regions such as Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhône Valley, the Loire Valley and Chateaunuf de Pape.  And I'll get to those in future blogs.  Cheers!

Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Chateau Bellegrave Bordeaux Médoc ($15)

This red blend is from Médoc which is an appellation on the Left Bank of Bordeaux in France.  Being from the Left Bank, it is a blend, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an affordable Left Bank Bordeaux that is big and bold without being overly tannic. Great with a steak!