Left & Right Bank Bordeaux - The Difference

Left & Right Bank Bordeaux - The Difference

Left & Right Bank Bordeaux - The Difference

Left & Right Bank Bordeaux - The Difference

Have you ever heard someone refer to a wine as "Left Bank Bordeaux" or "Right Bank Bordeaux" and have no idea what they mean?

I have, and I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. As far as I was concerned it was all "Bordeaux" and the good stuff had a name that I had heard like "Château Latour" or "Château Mouton Rothschild".

I'm not ashamed to admit that as soon as I started showing an interest in wine I heard those phrases all the time but couldn't figure out how to understand it. Left bank? Right Bank? Which way were they looking at the map?

I'll get into the map bit in a minute but suffice to say, I did figure it out and it's pretty simple to explain and remember.

There are a lot of differences between the two sides and it's a good idea to know so that when you're buying a bottle of Bordeaux you can at least have an idea of what should be in the bottle.

Bordeaux map

Bordeaux sits on the east coast of France on the Atlantic coast. The region is flat and uneventful, if it's not vines it's pines (as in pine trees) growing. Although the Atlantic coastline going south from Bordeaux is home to some of the best beaches and surfing in France.

The wine region of Bordeaux is split in half by the Gironde Estuary which turns into the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.

If you look at the map above, the area to the north and right of the estuary is referred to as the "Right Bank" and the areas below and to the left of the estuary are referred to as the "Left Bank" - simple right?


Right Bank Bordeaux

The Right Bank produces predominantly Merlot based wines with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot as blending grapes.

It is home to the appellations such as St. Émilion, Pomerol, Bourg and Blaye which will be softer and rounder due to the large amount of Merlot.

Soils here vary dramatically from vineyard to vineyard, hence the differences between certain wines (Pomerol vs St. Émilion for example are very different). In general Right Bank soils include limestone, clay, gravel, sand and iron deposits. The best sites are elevated with good drainage allowing the calcium rich ground to offer perfect vine growing conditions - happy fat and plump grapes!


Left Bank Bordeaux

Wines from the Left Bank are produced predominantly from Cabernet Sauvignon with lesser amounts of Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc as blending additions.

The Medoc "Big Hitters" live here: Médoc (Haut and Bas), St. Estèphe, St. Julien, Margaux, Pauillac, Graves - serious full bodied, dry red wines that can be aged for decades. These aren't for the faint hearted and are completely different from their Right Bank neighbours.

Soils here are predominantly gravel based imparting a unique and sought after minerality to it's wines. Vines here have to burrow deep down through gravel beds to find nutrients which is perfect for the Cabernet Sauvignon variety that thrives in a challenging environment - happy small tough little grapes! 


Left Bank - Cabernet Sauvignon Based

Right Bank - Merlot Based

However - you will need to know which major communes are in the Left and Right Bank as I mentioned above as wines aren't labelled that way. They will be labelled by commune and/or Château name.

AOC Bordeaux isn't labelled that way either which takes us into another article all together about appellations and there are MANY in Bordeaux so i'll leave that until another day and another bottle!

At least the next time someone refers to Left or Right Bank Bordeaux you will have some knowledge of where it is.

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