When choosing a Bordeaux wine, it’s important to note a crucial difference between wines produced on the LEFT BANK and RIGHT BANK of the River Garonne.
While the vast majority of Bordeaux wines are blends of two or more grape varietals, those produced on the LEFT BANK are typically cabernet sauvignon-dominated blends whereas those produced on the RIGHT BANK are mostly merlot-dominated.
That said, each grape has different characteristics depending on the soil where the vine is planted, so two wines grown in neighbouring appellations and formed with the exact same blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes will still taste markedly different.
The varying characteristics of grape varietals, depending on their soil and climate, means that all across the right bank of Bordeaux each appellation has its own characteristics that are distinctly different from its neighbours, despite the fact that all right bank wines are typically merlot dominant.
A great example of this is the infamous Pomerol appellation. Pomerol lies within the area known as le Libournais, as does its venerable neighbour Saint-Émilion. Le Libournais encompasses most of the right bank, except for the large white wine appellation of Entre-Deux-Mers and the two appellations heading out to the Gironde Estuary and the Atlantic Ocean, Bourg and Blaye. Merlot is the dominant grape in blends from the Libournais appellations, however, in a small section of Pomerol, a specificity in the soil means that vines grown there produce grapes with a unique quality…
A soil’s specificity
A layer of blue clay lies under a small area of 50 hectares on the plateau of Pomerol, giving the grapes grown here a very tannic quality, which means that, in the mouth, any acidity in the wine is quickly dispensed with, leading to a smooth, crisp finish.
The rarity of this clay means that few of Pomerol’s châteaux enjoy this particular characteristic, especially as around half of this area is occupied by the biggest name from this appellation, and arguably the biggest name on the right bank: Château Pétrus. This demonstrates perfectly how knowing one wine from an appellation very well doesn’t mean that you can put a label on the whole AOC!
Pétrus: the pride of Pomerol
Speaking of Château Pétrus, contrary to the established Bordeaux credo of blending grapes, this chateau produces wines that are 100% merlot nowadays. It also is one of the most expensive wines in the world, with the average bottle selling for over 2000 euros! That said, you can still buy outstanding bottles of Pomerol wines for an infinitely more affordable price that are produced on excellent soils in the same appellation.
Unlike most of the other right bank appellations, Pomerol has no town to speak of. The whole area is taken up by distinguished châteaux and their hectares of vines. AOCs like Saint-Émilion have beautiful historical villages for visitors to enjoy. Libourne itself is an old fortified town, built by the English during their rule over Aquitaine.
Fronsac & Canon-Fronsac
To the west of Pomerol, going in the opposite direction from Saint-Émilion, lie the “Fronsadais” appellations, where the clay and chalky soils also create gorgeous wines.
The absence of big-name chateaus means that you can get high quality wines for a much lower price!
The same is true for other appellations on the right bank, such as Blaye and Bourg.
Blaye & Bourg
Two more fortified towns, ones with their fair share of history! There are traces that date back to Roman times and early Christianity, the time when vines were first planted in the region.
From Blaye’s astonishing 17th century fort, you can see several incredible châteaux with their slate roofs and interesting designs. The vines are a wonderful backdrop, spreading all along the Garonne river. These vines produce wine with the Côtes de Blaye label.
Between here and Bourg lie the remains of a Gallic-Roman villa, complete with columns and the whole layout. You can well imagine the garden having vines of its own, since the villa was constructed around the time that wine growing began in the region.
Today, Bourg-sur-Gironde is a very small and picturesque town that once thrived in the tin trade and quarrying. A citadel once sat here, of which some traces still remain. Red wines from around this town are sold with the label, Côtes de Bourg AOC. The area is geographically diverse as it moves closer to Libourne, Pomerol and the world-famous Saint-Émilion.
For more on the Bordeaux Wine Region, don’t miss the series ;
- Bordeaux’s Appellations – Left or Right (Bank), what’s the difference?
- Bordeaux Wine : Saint-Émilion Village & Vineyards