01438 741177         thewinesociety.com

Testing a Right and Left Bank Bordeaux

Hi all,

I have had a search of the forum but couldn’t quite find a thread on this, which surprised me (that means I probably missed it).

I’m looking to test a left and right bank Bordeaux to see what the ‘hype’ is and to see the difference between the two. I understand that left bank Bordeaux is often more tannic and therefore aged and right bank a little bit more mellow and young and this is all down to the growing conditions and the limestone.

Would members be able to advise one of each which would give me an understanding of what I might like, dislike and differentiate? I guess as this is exploratory I’d be willing to spend a bit more on the bottles but ideally just one of each.

As ever, I’m subject to the responses of the hivemind…

2 Likes

I wouldn’t agree with ‘all’

Difference in the variety or varieties used is important.

Merlot is the majority grape grown in Bordeaux, but many left bank Bordeaux have a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon. Quite a lot of TWS claret is 100% Merlot, which is easier drinking when young.

Right bank is enormous and covers different terroirs. A test of two randomly picked clarets will not, IMO, tell you anything.

When I started drinking wine there were fewer Bordeaux appellations, and many right bank regions, such as Bourg, were dismissed as not worth drinking. Things have changed greatly there.

I preferred St Emilion when I started drinking; I didn’t know at the time it featured Merlot.

5 Likes

Broadly speaking I would have said the key difference is blends dominated by cabernet-sauvignon on the left bank vs merlot on the right, and they produce very different taste profiles. I often find merlot more plush, which I don’t necessarily enjoy.

3 Likes

If you’re interested in the ‘extremes’ ie pushing the stereotype to it’s limits , then I’d suggest getting a left bank (frankly anywhere from Haut Medoc, through Paulliac, St Julien and St Estephe) from 2011, where the tannins really win, and a right bank from 2015, where there is a tendency to lushness.

May I enquire as to what you’re aim is with this piece of research though? As @peterm said further up, stereotypes in Bordeaux are not what they were, and frankly whilst some holdd, there is so much more going on - for instance, it might depend on whether Michel Roland owns/makes/consults etc. A list of these is here:- Michel Rolland - Wikipedia . He tends to produce Parkerized wines.

2 Likes

Agree, obviously, that the partition is how much merlot there is or isn’t in the blend but, for me, it’s more about how much petit verdot makes it into the blend; hence my favourite Bordeaux being Chateau d’Angludet (a Margaux left bank as it happens…)

As an aside, and this is one of my favourite observations that most people seem to have missed, when, in Sideways, Miles gets quite agitated about the prospect of their blind dates wanting to order merlot (“I’m not going to drink no …'in Merlot…” or words to that effect) when his most treasured bottle, a '61 Cheval Blanc which he ends up drinking out of a plastic cup at the KFC, is, of course almost 100% merlot…

But to answer your questions I would pit a Gazin (Pomerol) against a Giscours (Margaux) same vintages and very similar price points and the difference will be clear. (both lovely…)

4 Likes

Ah, were the proportions different back in the 50s/60s then…? Just wondering because the grand vin - nowadays at the very least - is usually between a third and a half cabernet franc, with plantings fairly evenly split between the two.

Anyway … back on topic, I think this would be a fun experiment, even taking into account the differences between individual producers and so on. I reckon a ‘typical’ example of each should show what you’re after, Jonathon.

What would your budget be? Even under £20 this should be do-able. For example, there’s the 2010 Pierbone and the 2014 Ampélia on the list.

6 Likes

Ah dunno tbf. I think my point is that St Emilions - even the top dollar stuff - contain quite a bit of merlot. I’m sure the point in the film was deliberately and ironically made…

Just looked it all up again. Apparently the director Anthony Payne originally wanted Miles to nurture a Petrus (which is 100% merlot…) but was denied the use of. So the counterpoint was deliberate…and Cheval Blanc was picked as a similar metaphor. But yes it does usually / always (who knows - I’ve never been anywhere near an example) contain cab franc as well.

1 Like

How about this Château Bel-Air, Pomerol 2016
Vs this Château Citran, Haut-Médoc 2016

Same vintage, similar price point, won’t break the bank but should be a reasonable drop.

I imagine the Citran has a fair whack of CS in it (40-50% perhaps) vs the Bel-Air being 100% Merlot.

Although not sure what the experiment will tell you.
Probably that they are both decent, solid wines, if a bit young.

5 Likes

Of the 100 hectares there are almost equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with 47 hectares of the former, and 48 hectares of the latter. Making up the total is Cabernet Franc, which accounts for 5 hectares.

2 Likes

Was a good guess :nerd_face:
Was 16 a bit of a Cabernet year so possibly higher proportion eg, 55%?
Unsure if the 2nd wine has a more Merlot dominant profile but that tends to be the way typically.

Here is the definitive answer to the uncertainty.


4 Likes

And that’s those two bought and heading my way Friday - please a few other rack fillers. Thanks for the suggestions.

3 Likes

Hi all, thanks for the responses and sorry for the delay. I don’t know how to reply individually but in the same post, so rather than bombard the thread with individual replies I’ll try to do it from memory!

My purpose is to deepen my understanding of wines, particularly Bordeaux. I have experienced a couple before but never with a thinking cap on. I’m led to believe that there are big proponents of left vs red bank vine yards and I’d like to know what that means. I appreciate from some of the replies here that it might not be that simple. I suppose I was thinking that it might be a Pinot noir vs Malbec sort of differentiation.

Budget wise I was thinking £50-£75 per bottle. I’m somewhat relieved to see a lot of recommendations here at well under half of that and that might allow me to do a broader tasting. I’m not looking to chuck cash away but thought that might be what I would need for a bit of aged character.

1 Like

Start at the bottom and work your way up, not the other way round. Learn the differences on the left bank first before you worry about right bank. Massive differences from St Estephe to Margaux ( north to south). Start of with generics.

10 Likes

Great suggestion. I could not agree more.

Halve your per bottle budget and double your number of wines. At the price point you’re talking about there’s as much variation in commune as is side of the river.

An example could be on the left bank Capbern (St Estephe), Peyrabon (Paulliac), Lalande-Borie (St Jullien), Angludet (Margeaux) and then @winechief’s suggestion of a the Bel-Air (Pomerol) and Grand Corbin Despagne* (St Emilion) on the right. Go even lower - look for Second wines of the Chateaux you’ve heard of (I’m a particular fan of the ones from St Estephe, where they seem to offer better value than those further south. This could just be because i am a fan of St Estephe. Les Pagodes du Cos and Marquis du Calon are my favourites) and Cru Bourgeois level wines from across the Medoc (left bank). Next step is into the smaller (better value, lesser known) appelations like Molis (Left bank but higher up), Fronsac (right bank), Grave/Pessac Leognan and the various “Cotes”.

Of course if you want two delicious bottles of wine, @PHarvey’s recommendation of Gazin and Giscours will work very well.

*I struggled a bit here as I wanted to suggest wines I’ve tried and I’ve had very few St Emilion, hence it being a tenner-ish more than the others

10 Likes

It’s a bit like comparing Audi vs. BMW; yes there ARE stylistic differences if one GENERALISES (eg. front wheel drive vs rear wheel drive) however these differences are not true across the full range and it depends upon selecting ‘typical’ examples.

I would suggest that the primary differences between left/ right bank are the terroirs; which drives the choice of grape, ease of ripening, must concentration, wine making choices etc. So start with a geological map in hand !

3 Likes

Incidentally, it’s interesting & worth checking out a Château’s website, many have an English translation. Once you get beyond the fluff (a remarkable number of ‘vintage of the century’ and never a duff year) they are often keen to share their passionate knowledge of the vineyards* and details of soil make-up, vinification for that year, barrel types, weather patterns etc.

  • Most château have several vineyards with different characteristics / micro terroirs, vine ages & types. So you think you have a particular Château nailed down - not so !

Next step is to visit the region. Spend a couple of weeks chuntering around & travelling slowly, go ‘off-Piste’ and avoid the well known names. On the right bank, St-Emillion is a (beautiful) tourist trap, Libourne is far more genuine. On the Left bank, Pauillac is a semi-industrial backwater, yet Margaux is quite charming. Or not… that’s the interest.

As a novice to Bordeaux, I’d like to learn a bit more about the influence of Petit Verdot on blends, plus a few examples. Any advice on lesser Chateaux with Cab Franc influence would be great too!

Not a blend, rather 100% Cab Franc - this is a cracker for the price!

https://www.thewinesociety.com/product/chateau-de-pitray-cuvee-cabernet-franc-castillon-cotes-de-bordeaux-2018

6 Likes

I agree with @strawpig . Drink as many different wines as you can, keep notes (can be as simple as like/like muchly/not like and you will be able to look back on them and find the appellations you lean to and those you don’t.

With more than 4,000 Chateau each making a wine which is between 100% of a single variety to a blend of six there’s no single simple rule to follow, IMO.

TWS has a wide selection of clarets - you could do worse than
Claret for Drinking Now (thewinesociety.com)

and
The Bordeaux Left Bank Collection Case (thewinesociety.com)

@dunstanburgh - @Inbar has highlighted an unusual wine that is excellent – go for it!!
Re Petit Verdot, it got its name (little green one) because it so rarely ripened in Bordeaux, thus few grew it. With warming and better winegrowing techniques there’s more about than when I started drinking claret, and you cannot be sure that just because a Chateau is growing PV that any will end up in the final wine in a particular vintage. You’ll need to look as @lapin_rouge says, at the website and the fact sheet for that vintage.

If you want - and why not - to taste PV try a 100% PV grown elsewhere; there are some from Australia and on Sunday I had one from Italy. PV is a delightfully tasting variety.

10 Likes