Left and Right Bank Bordeaux: What is the difference?

left right bank Bordeaux

The very simple answer is that the Left Bank and Right Bank are two Bordeaux winemaking regions separated by an estuary and two rivers.

Situated on the west coast of France, Bordeaux is split in two by the Gironde Estuary, which divides into the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. When looking at a map of the region, the area to the north and right of the Gironde is the Right Bank and the areas below and to the left constitute the Left Bank.

More specifically, the Right Bank is the area to the north of the Dordogne river and the Left Bank is the area directly south of the Garonne River, both of which feed into the Gironde estuary that meets the Atlantic Ocean.

The joining of these three forms a shape like an upside down ‘Y’ with the two banks on either side and the area in between known as the ‘Entre-deux-Mers’.

Bordeaux map Left and Right Bank

Left vs Right Bank Bordeaux: Appellations

The Left Bank encompasses the Médoc wine region north of Bordeaux. Its four best-known appellations – from north to south – are St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Julien and Margaux.

It also encompasses the Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc and Moulis-en-Médoc appellations. South of Bordeaux, the Left Bank includes Pessac-Léognan and Graves, plus the (largely) sweet wine producing appellations of Sauternes and Barsac.

The Right Bank’s most famous appellations are Pomerol and St-Émilion, the latter of which has four ‘satellite’ appellations. These are Montagne-, Lussac-, Puisseguin- and St-Georges St-Émilion.

However, the Right Bank also encompasses the: Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Bourg, Fronsac, Canon-Fronsac, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Francs Côtes de Bordeaux and Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux.

River dissections aside, there are several important distinctions between the banks, most notably the dominance of specific red grape varieties.

Left Bank Cabernet

While all of the Left Bank wines are usually blends, Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant force here. Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc tend to play supporting roles.

As ever in the wine world, there are exceptions. Despite the prevailing narrative, there are many parts of the Médoc where Merlot is a dominant, if not the dominant component in blends. Château Clarke in Listrac-Médoc, for example, considers its soils more suited to Merlot in general. Its 2018 grand vin is 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The terroir of the Left Bank is mostly flat with gentle undulations in the landscape. Soils are largely composed of alluvial gravels with limestone underneath. That said, the composition can vary substantially from one vineyard to the next and there are large clay deposits in some appellations.

Wines typically have more tannin and a bigger overall structure than their Right Bank counterparts. Pauillac, in particular, has a reputation for producing powerful, muscular wines.

This has been particularly evident in several recent vintages such as the 2021 and 2023, where low volumes and/or poor quality Merlot crops has led to some wines being made with record high proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Right Bank Merlot

Right Bank wines are predominantly Merlot-based, with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot used as blending components.

Some estates have sought to increase their use of Cabernet Franc in recent years, for its ability to deliver freshness in the glass.

For example, the proportion of Cabernet Franc in Cheval Blanc’s grand vin has been creeping up in recent vintages, now comprising around 46% of the final blend.

The most famous terroir is the large limestone plateau that surrounds the pretty town of St-Émilion itself. This is where the majority of the appellation’s great domaines can be found. The slopes of the plateau and lower-lying areas are dominated by clay soils.

In nearby Pomerol, on the outskirts of the riverside entrepôt of Libourne, there is no limestone. However, the composition of the soils is much more like that of the Left Bank with alluvial gravels and sand,…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/learn/left-right-bank-bordeaux-difference-436548/