Bordeaux

A tale of two river banks

Oak barrels at Ch. Margaux
Oak barrels at Ch. Margaux

Although only separated by some thirty miles; the Medoc and the Right Bank are very different stylistically, historically and culturally.

The left bank is dominated by Cabernet plantings, largely due to the fast draining gravel found close to the Garonne estuary. St Emilion and Pomerol are predominantly planted with Merlot and a small smattering of Cabertnet Franc. These varieties thrive on the limestone slopes and clay plateau found around St Emilion and Libourne. In the Medoc one encounters vast, fairytale Chateaux surrounded by vast, flat vineyards. The Right Bank is a little less grand with more modest Chateaux or sometimes no Chateau at all. The topography of St Emilion and Pomerol are quite varied too. The flat planes beneath St Emilion produce unexceptional wines on sandy soils. The Cote of St Emilion affords vineyards a steep southerly exposure. It is here where limestone dominates that St Emilion really shines. As one moves towards Libourne from St Emilion the vineyards gently slope up towards the plateau of Pomerol. By Bordeaux standards the vineyards on the plateau have to be considered quite high altitude... The Medoc was classified in 1855 creating a hierarchy which is still relevant today. The first growths are more sought after and command higher prices than even before. Today, one can drive the short distance from Bordeaux town to the vineyards of St Emilion in a mere 45 minutes. However, before the advent of the car, trade was reliant on the Garonne and Gironde. Therefore, although Belair and Ausone were considered to be of similar quality and shared a similar status to that of Latour, Lafite and Margaux, they were not recognised in the 1855 classification. Pomerol now enjoys a reputation as one of the most exclusive appellations in the world. Their wines are perfumed, seductive and exude breed. They boast many household names such as Petrus, Le Pin, Evangile, Conseillante, Lafleur, Eglise Clinet and Trotanoy, however, serious winemaking is relatively new to this region. Until the '40s, Sauvignon Blanc dominated plantings and the appellation was considered a rather poor neighbour to the more illustrious St Emilion. Generalisations are difficult to make in Bordeaux given the vast number of Chateaux, the multitude of microclimates, winemakers, soils, subsoils, grape varieties and winemaking techniques. However, given the dominance of Cabernet on the left bank, wines tend to be structured, cool and ageworthy, whereas the Merlot biased wines from the right bank demonstrate a fleshy, approachable character, which affords earlier drinking.