Before I leave Bordeaux and move on to other French regions (and the rest of the wine world), I want to do a little regional breakdown of Bordeaux. And, if you can stay with me through that, I have a wine review (or two) at the very end…
[Information based on WSET Level 3 material]
To set the scene, The Dordogne and Garonne rivers combine to form the Gironde Estuary and divide Bordeaux vineyards into three broad areas. The wine growing regions to the west and south of the river is called The Left Bank. It includes the Médoc, Graves, and Sauternes districts.
Médoc can be further divided into two regions, if you will. The northern portion, called the Bas-Médoc (typically simply labelled Médoc on labels), is home to more clay-based soils. Thus, plantings in this northern portion of Médoc are predominantly Merlot, the blends Merlot-based, and the wines produced are mostly intended for early-drinking.
The more southern portion of the Médoc is called Haut-Médoc; it is considered the more “highly rated” of the two Médoc areas. Within Haut-Médoc, there are several smaller appellations, the most renowned being:
It is here we find the more gravelly soils. Therefore, the dominant grape variety in these appellations is Cabernet Sauvignon; the blends here have a higher percentage of the grape variety. The wines tend to have that classic core of black currant, complemented by flavors and aromas of oak. They often have grippy tannins in their youth that smooth and soften elegantly with age.
Graves and Pessac-Léognan
This was a bit confusing for me at first, but to be clear, Pessac-Léognan is actually a region inside the larger region of Graves.
In Graves, as you may be able to tell from the name, the soil is also quite, well, gravelly. And, again, the dominant grape variety is Cabernet Sauvignon. However, it’s noted that the wines are bit lighter in body and more fragrant than those found to the north in the Haut-Médoc.
Graves and Pessac-Léognan are permitted to produce both red and white wines, but it is Pessac-Léognan, which is in the northern portion of Graves, that is most noted for premium white wine production, with many wines eligible for cru classé status. (Note: The larger Graves appellation does produce white wine, typically Sauvignon Blanc in an un-oaked style.)
As noted in a previous post, like the red wines of Bordeaux, most whites are blended wines, predominantly Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon, with some including a touch of Muscadelle as well. Sauvignon Blanc adds the citrus and green fruits as well as provides the acidity; Sémillon adds the body, texture, and lends to the ageability of these wines; Muscadelle, when used, provides a subtle touch of floral perfume.
The white wines of Pessac-Léognan are usually fermented and/or aged in oak, often with a certain percentage of new oak. So, these wines will be medium to full bodied and have notes of toast and other flavors indicative of oak usage.
FUN FACT: Médoc and Sauternes can also produced dry white wines, but they have to be labelled under the generic Bordeaux appellations as opposed to their specified appellation.
SAUTERNES & BARSAC
See my previous post talking all about botrytized sweet wines and learn more about Sauternes and the production of noble rot-influenced sweet wines.
Personal Fact: I find that I much prefer wines from the Right Bank. That being said, I am young in my wine career, so welcome the opportunity to change my mind about that in the future. But the thing is, the Right Bank, with it’s clay-based soils is dominated by Merlot and second place goes to Cabernet Franc—which I love.
Fun Fact: It is in the Right bank where the garagiste movement was created. The term refers to small-lot winemaking (small batches from small plots)—with no expense spared in the vineyard or the winery—the result of which are full-bodied, incredibly ripe wines.
St. Émillion has three distinct soil types.
- Vineyards on a plateau to the north and west of the town of Saint-Émillion are planted warm, well-drained soils and it is here where Cab Franc (and to a lesser extent Cab Sauv) can thrive.
- Vineyards on the escarpment to the south and east of town are planted on clay limestone soils.
Note: It is from these two areas where the most prestigious wines known to St. Émillion come from. Wines have high to medium tannins, but compared to the Left Bank, they have a softer, richer mouthfeel, and include complex red berry fruit aromas, and, with age, develop notes of tobacco and cedar. Yum.
3. The vineyards located on sandy soils at the foot of the escarpment are usually a source of lighter-bodied, less prestigious wines. (Wallet friendly.)
Pomerol is significantly smaller than St. Émillion, but both the wines and the reputation of Pomerol are similar to that of St. Émillion. However, because of a slight difference in soil type, the wines tend to be a bit richer and spicier.
CÔTES DE BORDEAUX
There is a group of “lesser known” red wine appellations that have collectively agreed to share the name Côtes de Bordeaux:
Similar to the Bordeaux appellated wines, these wines tend to be Merlot-based and intended for early drinking.
Entre-Deux Mers—located between the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers (clever name, no?)—is a white wine only appellation. Here, the wine is typically made from Sauvignon Blanc—an exception to the “Bordeaux wines are always a blend” rule. They are made in a fresh, unoaked style.
For more information about Bordeaux, be sure to read about the Bordeaux Classification System.
How’d I do? Anything you want to add about any of these Bordeaux appellations?
You made it! Congrats. Here are two wine reviews. One, from Bordeaux and another a Bordeaux inspired blend from Sonoma. And, yes, if you can sort of make out the background of each photo, they were both paired with the same duck dish—both provided a wonderful pairing. Cheers!
About the Wine: Chateau Miqueu 2016 Haut-Médoc
Appearance: pale ruby
Aroma: developing aromas with medium (+) intensity: black currant, terragon, black cherry, cloves, smoke, sweet tobacco, a hint of leather and meatiness
Palate: dry; high acid; medium (+) tannins; medium alcohol; medium body; with medium (+) flavor intensity: black currant, black cherry, smoke, pepper, licorice, capsicum; medium (+) finish.
Conclusion: Based on the WSET criteria, I concluded that this wine is very good and that you can, indeed, enjoy it now, but does have the potential for aging.
About the Wine: Benziger Family Winery 2016 Oonapais
Appearance: medium ruby
Aroma: developing aromas with pronounced intensity: cranberry, chocolate, black cherry, black plum, smoke, eucalyptus, black currant, licorice, and a hint of leather
Palate: dry; high alcohol; medium (+) body; medium (+) tannin level; medium (+) acid; and medium (+) flavor intensity: black cherry, anise, blackberry, smoke/toast, cedar wood, black pepper, hint leather, eucalyptus, kalamata olives, chocolate; finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: Based on the WSET criteria, I concluded that this is an outstanding wine that can be enjoyed now but certainly has the potential for aging.
PERSONAL NOTE: Between the two? I’d recommend (and reach for) the Benziger over the Haut-Médoc.
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**Please note: all reviews and opinions are my own and are not associated with any of my places of business. I will always state when a wine has been sent as a sample for review. Sending samples for review on my personal website in no way guarantees coverage in any other media outlet I may be currently associated with.**