Bordeaux’s Appellations : The difference between the Left and Right Banks

Bordeaux appellations can be confusing… It’s happened to more people than would care to admit it. The mutual embarrassment and eagerness to move on from the situation. This was supposed to be easy right?

But no. It’s turned into an ordeal which could so easily have been avoided if you knew what you were getting yourself into.

Ordering wine in Bordeaux should be simple, right?

bordeaux wine toursMany newcomers to Bordeaux are often confused when their question to the barman- “may I have some Bordeaux wine?”- is met with a blank or faintly annoyed look.

What many people don’t know is that there are around 50 Bordeaux appellations, each with their own particularities. These ‘AOC’ indicate the geographical origin and general characteristics associated with the wines.

How do wines differ from appellation to appellation?

The soil and climate in the appellation is more conducive to the growth of certain grape varietals, which is why wines on the Left Bank and Right Bank of Bordeaux are noticeably different.

rustic vinesAs a general rule, left bank wines are dominated by the Cabernet Sauvignon grape whereas right bank ones use Merlot much more.

Even these types of grape take on different characteristics depending on the region in which they’re grown, hence the importance of the appellation system.

A wine from the Pessac-Léognan appellation on the left bank will have a different taste from one produced in the neighbouring appellation of Graves with the exact same ratio of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc.

Which are the main appellations?

Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur

Appellations that aren’t specifically geographically defined. These are wines from across the whole of the Bordeaux wine growing area that, for one reason or another, cannot carry the label for the appellation in which they are grown. For example, if the wine is grown in the Margaux appellation- where wines
bearing the appellation label are red and only red; but if the winemaker
decides to produce a white wine, his/her wine will be sold as a Bordeaux or
Bordeaux Supérieur wine, since it does not conform to the Margaux AOC norms.

The main difference is the yield of production that is more limited for Bordeaux Superieur and that it requires a minimum of 9 months in barrel compare to generic Bordeaux. Making regular Bordeaux wines more light and easy, compared to the more complex Bordeaux Superieur wines that can be kept and aged.


Le Médoc (Le Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Saint-Estèphe, etc.)

medoc wine tourWhile this appellation exists, encompassing wines that come from all across the geographical area of Le Médoc, chateaux prefer to use their more geographically specific and much smaller appellations that make up the region. These appellations- such as Margaux, Saint-Estèphe and Saint-Julien– carry much more prestige than the general appellation for the area. Some of the most famous chateaux in the world can be found here, such as the the eponymous Château MargauxLa Route des Châteaux takes you past some lavish properties which indicate their standing in the world of wine.

The large majority of wines from Le Médoc are typical of the Left Bank in that they’re Cabernet Sauvignon blends. Meaning that Merlot is the second main ingredient, while Petit VerdotMalbecCabernet FrancCarménère are also used.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that everyone follows the same blend… Chateau du Tertre produce a Margaux that blends more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon, the same goes for Marque de Terme and a few others. In fact, although technically on the Left Bank, the Margaux appellation produces a large proportion of prestigious Merlot dominant wines. However, all of them share the fact that they are aged until the 1st of June, following their year of harvest.

Graves & Pessac-Léognan (Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Sauternes, Barsac, etc.)

rustic vines toursThis is a large area on the left bank that contains many smaller appellations. Its name comes from the gravelly soil left behind from the glaciers in the Ice Age. The Graves region is home to the first named chateau of all Bordeaux, Château Pape Clément, as well as the only chateau outside of the Médoc area to be given the top ranking in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, Château Haut-Brion.

The region produces famous red wines and sweet wines, such as those produced in Sauternes and Barsac. White wines are also produced here and are permitted to wear the Graves label. The most famous appellations are Graves AOC, Pessac-Léognan AOC and Sauternes AOC.


Saint-Émilion & Pomerol

Both of these appellations belong to the wider region of Le Libournais, however these two are famous in their own right due to the prestige of their red wines and the historical nature of the UNESCO World Heritage site, the town of Saint-Émilion. They also both have smaller surrounding appellations such as Lalande-de-Pomerol and other official ‘satellite appellations’ such as Lussac-Saint-Émilion, Puisseguin, Montagne and Saint-Georges.

rustic vines napoleon tourAs opposed to the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 that ranked left bank wines, the Saint-Émilion classification is revisited every ten years, meaning that the system is far more reliable.

The soil in the Pomerol appellation has a particularity that makes its wines more tannic: a blue clay under the surface. It is also home to the world famous Petrus.

As opposed to the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 that ranked left bank wines, the Saint-Émilion classification is revisited every ten years, meaning that the system is far more reliable.

Discover the famous Vineyards surrounding Saint Emilion on Electric Bikes ! More info on the beloved St-Emilion E-Bike Tour Here

These are the most famous, however there are many more to discover!

For more on the Bordeaux Wine Region, don’t miss the series ;

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