Bordeaux wines: right bank and left bank, what is the difference?

by Mélissa Dameron
Bordeaux Saint Emilion

The Bordeaux wine region is crossed by two rivers. The Garonne and the Dordogne which flow into the Gironde Estuary and which divide the territory into three parts. All the vineyards of the region are located on either side of the two banks.

You will find in this article, the major differences and the characteristics of these banks.

Bordeaux and its unique terroirs

The Bordeaux wine region was formed around rivers. In total, more than 112,000 hectares spread over different appellations. The Médoc (with the appellations Pauillac, Margaux, Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Julien, Haut-Médoc…) then the appellations Pomerol, Saint-Emilion, Sauternes, Pessac-Léognan…

The diagram opposite allows us to understand a little more the distribution of the territory between the two shores.

The right bank includes the Libournais (in yellow). The left bank includes the Médoc (in green), Graves to the south (in red) as well as Sauternes, stronghold of botrytis, located south of Bordeaux.

So what the difference between lef bank and right bank?

Bordeaux left and right banks
Cartography of the Bordeaux wine region

The right bank and its exceptional terroirs

The right bank extends along the Dordogne. To the north of the Bordeaux wine region, the right bank brings together Libournais and Pomerol. In the Libournais, the famous Saint-Emilion appellation is distinguished in part by its classification: the official classification of Saint Emilion classified growths dating from 1954, which is revised every 10 years. With its Grands Crus Classés: Château Pavie, Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc, the Saint Emilion appellation is undeniably the star of the right bank. Pomerol wines are also talked about. Even if they do not belong to any classification, the wines of this singular terroir stand out, such as the famous Petrus, Château La Conseillante and Vieux Château Certan.

Wines of left bank

The main grape variety grown on the right bank is Merlot. Appeared in the 18th century in the Libournais, it is often used as a monovarietal or in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The wines of the right bank which have a dominance of Merlot are frank in the mouth. They have aromas of fruits such as blackcurrant, blackberry or cherry. Notes of flowers including violet, anise or honeysuckle and sometimes scents of leather, chocolate or vanilla.

The imposing left bank and its great castles

The left bank is located south of the Bordeaux wine region, along the Garonne and near the city of Bordeaux. Médoc and Graves (which includes Pessac Léognan) and Sauternais, represent the success of the left bank. Three classifications are present: the official classification of Médoc wines from 1855, the classification of Graves classified growths from 1953 and the official classification of Sauternes from 1855. For several decades, the notoriety of these wines has exceeded our borders, since the greatest Crus Classés from the left bank are now coveted and sold throughout the world, notably Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Margaux and Château d’Yquem.

Wines of right bank

The main grape variety grown on the left bank is Cabernet Sauvignon. Often used in blends, this variety gives powerful, tannic wines with great aging potential. Overall, the wines of the left bank and especially those of the Saint-Estèphe and Pauillac appellations are powerful and spicy. While the Margaux and Saint-Julien appellation wines are fine, elegant and velvety.

The Entre-Deux-Mers, a central location and yet…

Entre-deux-mers is located between the left bank and the right bank. Its position in the center of the Bordeaux wine region could lead us to believe in its neutrality between the quarrels of the winegrowers of the surrounding banks. However, the Entre-deux-mers has chosen its side well! This wine-growing sub-region is identified with the left bank. The reputation of the official Bordeaux wine classification of 1855 may have tipped the scales when L’Entre-Deux-Mers had to make its choice.

Our selection of Bordeaux wines

Château Clos Fourtet 2005

Château Clos Fourtet 2005

Saint-Emilion – Left bank

Rated 98/100 by Robert Parker in may 2015

“Dense ruby/purple, with notes of crushed rock, blueberry and blackberry fruit intermixed with some licorice and chocolate, this full-bodied, massive wine from proprietor Philippe Cuvelier coincides with the resurrection of this premier grand cru classé in St.-Emilion. As the wine sits in the glass, notes of espresso roast and chocolate emerge. This full-bodied classic should continue to drink well for another 25 years. This is a killer effort.”

Châteaux Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2010

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2010

Médoc, Pauillac – Right bank

Rated 17.5/20 by Jancis Robinson in february 2020

“Tasted blind. Deep garnet with brick rim. Spicy and lifted on the nose: attractive stone-dust as well as plenty of fruit and the start of tertiary savoury notes. Powerful, dry but elegant in that tannic power. There’s tension and a long future here, the tannins still chewy. “

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