Here we go into the Right Bank of Bordeaux and associated appellations. If you’ve not yet read either my France Overview or my Bordeaux Overview, please do so, as there are a lot of key terms and concepts covered there that will help make sense of this post. I’ve also already covered the Left Bank of Bordeaux here.
Included is also a look at the Entre-deux-Mers as well as the sweet wine appellations of Bordeaux—Sauternes, Barsac, and other, smaller sweet AOCs.
For a simplified version of this information, please see Bordeaux Wine Region Breakdown and Bordeaux Classification System (more appropriate for WSET Level 3 studies).
RIGHT BANK RED WINE APPELLATIONS
St-Emilion AOC and St-Emilion Grand Cru AOC
“An important, fast-changing red wine district in Bordeaux producing more wine than any other in the Right Bank appellation,” states the Oxford. It goes on to say that, in contrast to Medoc, where most wines are produced by grand estates, most of St-Emilion is made up of “small holders,” essentially farmers, dedicated to a a single crop. That “single crop” is most commonly Merlot, the highest planted grape variety of the Right Bank, followed by Cabernet Franc, which FUN FACT: here is called Bouchet. There is also just a smidge of Cabernet Sauvignon grown (yes, that’s the technical term), but can only ripen fully on specific sites, as the soils of the Right Bank are dominated by the cooler clays.
St-Emilion AOC and St-Emilion Grand Cru AOC cover the same area and are both dedicated to the production of red wine only. The difference is that those classified as Grand Cru adhere to lower maximum yields and longer minimum maturation times than those of St-Emilion AOC. Further, those within the St-Emilion Grand Cru AOC can apply for cru classe status every ten years, (Premier Grand Cru A, Premier Grand Cru B and Grand Cru Classe) per the St-Emilion Classification system established in 1955. (See Bordeaux Overview for a full explanation of Bordeaux classification systems.)
Top wines typically have pronounced red and black plum fruit with noticeable vanilla and clove new oak character with full body, high alcohol, medium (+) to high acidity and medium (+) to high tannins
“Satellites,” an over-arching name given to four AOCs that are close to St-Emilion but further away from the River Dordogne: Montagne St-Emilion AOC, Lussac St-Emilion AOC (the two largest), Puisseguin-St-Emilion, and St-Georges-St-Emilion.
As the Oxford describes, “On this more rolling countryside north of the Barbanne, the vine is grown alongside other crops and viticulture now accounts for well over half of the total area.” Similar wines are made by the same rules as those for St-Emilion AOC, “but the standard of winemaking is generally more rudimentary,” comments the Oxford.
“Pomerol. The name conjures up red wines at its most velvety—although sometimes most expensive,” states the Atlas.
The appellation is for red wines only with Merlot the dominant grape, followed by Cabernet Franc. According to the Oxford, Pomerol‘s “finest wines” are made from grapes grown on the highest parts of the plateau made of layers of gravel interwoven with clay. These soils become sandier toward the west, where notably lighter wines are produced.
Vine age and low yields are an important component to the wines of Pomerol. In fact, the Oxford notes that yields here are the lowest of all red Bordeaux regions. Further, the fact that the early-flowering Merlot grape rules the planting percentage (at about 80%), means that in years with adverse weather during spring (like frost), yields can effectively become lower and, in horrible vintages, some crop lost all together.
My text notes that production is dominated by small estates. Small estates with low yields and small annual production means that top properties can command some of the highest prices in the world per bottle. Snap.
Top wines are noted for their pronounced red and black plum fruit aromas and flavors along with notes of vanilla and clove from new oak. They tend to be full bodied, high in alcohol, with medium (+) to high acid, and medium (+) to high tannin.
Lastly, I’d like to point out that we love Pomerol because there is NO classification system. (Woohoo!)
Lalande de Pomerol AOC
Simply put, this is a large satellite appellation of Pomerol, that follows the general guidelines of the dominant AOC, but allows slightly higher yields.
COTES DE BORDEAUX
This label was created in 2009 and refers to a group of appellations in the Right Bank, most notably Blaye Cote de Bordeaux (red wines) , Cadillac Cote de Bordeaux (red wine), Castillon Cote de Bordeaux (red wines), Francs Cote de Bordeaux (red and white wines), and Ste-Foy Cote de Bordeaux (red, white, and all sweet levels) each of whom can append their name to the title Cote de Bordeaux as seen here. In so doing, the max yield is restricted to 52 hL/ha
The umbrella appellation Cote de Bordeaux, according to the Atlas, allows for cross-blending of red wines among all five appellations. Cote de Bordeaux with no commune name attached is allotted 55 hL/ha.
COTE DE BOURG AOC
Cote de Bourg AOC is a series of vineyards surrounding the town of Bourg in Bordeaux. They are noted for their clay and limestone soils that are mixed with sandy gravel deposits and some marl. The dominant planting here is Merlot, but my text also notes that the AOC has a (small) focus on Malbec, which makes up about 10% of total plantings—the highest of any Bordeaux appellation.
The wines are said to be similar in style and price as those found in Medoc AOC.
ENTRE DEUX MERS
Entre-deux Mers AOC
“The name Entre-deux-Mers itself is reserved on wine labels for the harmless dry white produced there,” notes the Atlas. But, as the Oxford points out, a high proportion of vineyard land is responsible for the production of “light red, often austere wine” made from both Merlot and Cabernet, but sold as Bordeaux AOC and, my text adds, Bordeaux AOC Superieur.
SWEET WINE APPELLATIONS
Sauternes AOC and Barsac AOC
“The district with the potential to produce the greatest quantity of top-quality botrytized wine is Sauternes,” comments the Oxford. Of course, as noted in Bordeaux Overview, even here the success of the sweet wines produced are very much dependent on vintage conditions and the dedication of the producing estate.
Both Sauternes AOC and Barsac AOC, located in the south of Graves, are AOCs specifically for botrytis-affected wines made from a combination of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc and, sometimes, a small percentage of Muscadelle, and the Oxford also includes Sauvignon Gris in the mix.
Semillon is always the dominant variety due to its susceptibility to noble rot, making up about 80% of the typical blend.
The reason that these two AOCs have the highest potential to produce the greatest quantity of this style of sweet wine is because of the location amidst where the cold Ciron River meets the warmer Garronne River. Cold air plus hot air equals misty mornings—and if this is combined with dry, sunny afternoons, botrytis is born and develops into noble rot. (More details can be found in the Bordeaux Overview about the cultivation and production of botrytized sweet wines.)
Sauternes AOC is the largest sweet wine appellation in Bordeaux, accounting for 50% of all production. As the Oxford explains, “[Sauternes] is reserved for wines from five communes that must adhere to regulations stipulating minimum levels of alcohol (13%) and a tasting test that requires the wine to taste sweet.” Further, maximum yields are restricted to just 25 hL/ha (in both Sauternes and Barsac) to ensure concentrated flavors, but, again as mentioned in Bordeaux Overview, are often much much much lower.
Wines produced in Barsac AOC may be labelled as such or as Sauternes AOC (NOTE: The reverse is not true.) I’ve often heard this blanket statement, but have always wondered, do the wines of Barsac at all differ from those in Sauternes? The Oxford offers this explanation: “It is traditionally said that the wines of Barsac are slightly lighter than those of Sauternes, perhaps because the soils are more marked by sand and limestone, and because the land is flatter, but much depends on individual properties and winemaking policies too.”
In general, these botrytized wines of Barsac and Sauternes are said to have pronounced aromas singing of tertiary notes of citrus peel, honey along with tropical fruits as well as notes of vanilla from oak aging. These are full-bodied wines, high in alcohol with medium to medium (+) acidity and a sweet finish.
SAD FACT: Sweet wines aren’t so fashionable anymore, so Sauternes has been facing, what my text refers to as, a “crisis” within the last 30 years. As a result, many properties (supposedly) are making dry wines as well “as an important source of income.”
Other Sweet Wine Appellations
There are a number of other sweet wine appellations that surround Barsac and Sauternes, where sweet wine production may be based on botrytis infection or simply late harvest and maximum yields are at a whopping 40 hL/ha. The two noted in my text: Sainte Croix du Mont AOC, and Loupiac AOC.
My text also lumps Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux AOC in here, but the Atlas points out that this has typically been used for semi-sweet wine production, but “since Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux encircles the sweet white appellations of Cadillac, Loupiac, and Ste-Croix-du-Mont, it is no surprise that good sweet wines are produced here too.” Here maximum yields are even higher at 45 hL/ha (makes sense since they also produce the semi-sweet and not focused on the uber-concentrated noble rot-style wines).
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