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Bordeaux - Winegrowing Areas of the Right Bank

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
Photo: Detail of Château Pavie, St-Émilion Grand Cru © Provided by DKBooks Detail of Château Pavie, St-Émilion Grand Cru

Photo: Château Angélus entrance, St-Émilion Grand Cru © Provided by DKBooks Château Angélus entrance, St-Émilion Grand Cru

Detail of Château Pavie, St-Émilion Grand Cru

Photo: Harvest time at the world-famous Château Pétrus in Pomerol © Provided by DKBooks Harvest time at the world-famous Château Pétrus in Pomerol

Harvest time at the world-famous Château Pétrus in Pomerol

Photo: Vineyards around Canon-Fronsac © Provided by DKBooks Vineyards around Canon-Fronsac

Vineyards around Canon-Fronsac

© Provided by DKBooks

Château Angélus entrance, St-Émilion Grand Cru

Photo: Detail on château, Premières Côtes de Blaye © Provided by DKBooks Detail on château, Premières Côtes de Blaye

Detail on château, Premières Côtes de Blaye

Winegrowing Areas of the Right Bank

The limestone and clay soils of the Right Bank make earlier-ripening Merlot the king in this part of Bordeaux. St-Émilion and Pomerol are the key appellations, producing round, sappy, full-bodied wines. There is also good value from Fronsac and the numerous “Côtes.”


St-Émilion & St-Émilion Grand Cru

soil type: limestone-and-clay, gravel, sand
red grape variety: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon
wine styles: red

The vine was cultivated in St-Émilion as far back as Gallo-Roman times. Today, the appellation encompasses exactly the same area that was set out in the original administrative charter of 1289: nine parishes, including the medieval town of St-Émilion. In 1999, the whole district was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. In contrast to the Médoc on the Left Bank, the mainly limestone-and-clay soils are better adapted to Merlot than the later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Franc, known locally as Bouchet, used to be more widely planted and is an important second element in most blends. St-Émilion wines as a whole offer soft fruit and a cool freshness, the best with a fine tannic structure and the ability to age. Modern styles are darker, riper, and more concentrated. In all, St-Émilion has 5,500 ha under production, declared as either AOC St-Émilion or AOC St-Émilion Grand Cru. Both have the same geographical delimitations, but the latter requires a higher minimum alcohol content, lower yields, and the approval of two tasting panels. The superior designation accounts for 65 percent of production and includes all the classified châteaux.


The soils of St-Émilion

Six principal soil zones can be identified in the large St-Émilion region, each with its own effect on the quality and style of the wine. The best restrict the water supply to the vine, thus helping to concentrate tannins, color, and extract in the grapes.


St-Émilion Satellites

soil type: limestone-and-clay, sand
red grape variety: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon
wine styles: red

The so-called St-Émilion Satellites are really the northern extension of the St-Émilion hillslopes, separated from these by the tiny Barbanne stream. Four AOC communes—Lussac, Montagne, Puisseguin, and St-Georges—have the authorization to append St-Émilion to their communal names. The same limestone-and-clay soils can be found as well as silty sand, but the ripening cycle is just a bit later, meaning the fall weather is critical for the harvest. Merlot is the dominant grape variety, and the wines are similar in style to St-Émilion, although perhaps a touch more rustic. The level of investment is not as high, but this is reflected in the prices—these wines remain in the value-for-money bracket. There are numerous small producers, but the cooperative, Les Producteurs Réunis, accounts for 40 percent of AOC Lussac-St-Émilion’s production and 20 percent of AOC Puisseguin-St-Émilion’s. All told, there are 3,900 ha under production in the area; AOC Montagne-St-Émilion is the largest division.


Pomerol

soil type: gravel, clay, sand
red grape variety: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon
wine styles: red

At its very best, Pomerol is the ultimate in wine seduction. Rich and unctuous, it has a velvety texture and sumptuous bouquet as well as a firm inner core, which allows it to age well. There are nearly 800 ha in production. The average holding is only 6.5 ha, so quantities of wine are limited. Accordingly, there is a rarity value and the prices are high. Strangely, these wines were relatively unknown outside of France and the Benelux countries until the 1960s. Unlike neighboring St-Émilion, there is no limestone in Pomerol, but gravel, sand, and clay make this an early ripening zone in which mainly Merlot (80 percent) is cultivated with positive results. Located on a gently sloping plateau northeast of the town of Libourne, the richest wines come from the clay and gravel soils of the central plateau. It is here that all the top châteaux, including Pétrus, Lafleur, and Le Pin, can be found. On the lower terraces to the west and south, the soils are sandier and the wines lighter and less powerful in style. AOC Pomerol is the only major wine district in Bordeaux to have no official classification system.


Lalande-de-Pomerol

soil type: gravel, clay, sand
red grape variety: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec
wine styles: red

There has recently been an undercurrent of activity in this satellite district, with new investment and a younger generation coming to the helm. Consequently, the rougher edges have been smoothed away and the wines have become more interesting. Located directly north of its more prestigious neighbor Pomerol, across the tiny Barbanne stream, AOC Lalande-de-Pomerol has 1,120 ha under vine. As in Pomerol, the properties are small, the price of the wines is on the high side (although not in the same league as Pomerol), and Merlot is the dominant variety, with 75 percent of vineyard space. The soils vary, but it is the areas of gravel and clay that have the potential to produce wines of a type similar to Pomerol, if not with the same weight and ability to age. The further west one goes in the appellation, the sandier the soils, and the lighter the wines.


Fronsac & Canon-Fronsac

soil type: limestone-and-clay, sandstone
red grape variety: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec
wine styles: red

West of the town of Libourne, AOC Fronsac and the tiny 300-ha enclave of AOC Canon-Fronsac form a triangular area bounded to the east by the Isle River and to the south by the Dordogne River. In the 18th and 19th centuries, wines from this area were as highly regarded as those of St-Émilion. Toward the end of the 19th century, however, phylloxera destroyed the vineyards, and it was not until the 1970s that a renaissance got under way. Investment in the 1980s and 90s has given new life to these appellations, and the top wines are now back on a par with those of St-Émilion. The soils on this hilly terrain are mostly clay and limestone on a bedrock of loamy-clay known as fronsadais molasse. The main grape variety, as in most Right Bank AOCs, is Merlot (78 percent). The wines have a natural power and concentration, but there is a tendency toward astringency and rusticity if not carefully produced. Later harvests and investment in new barrels and winemaking equipment have gone some way toward eradicating the problem. The generally south-facing exposure and higher limestone content of Canon-Fronsac gives it the potential to produce finer wines then Fronsac. In reality, however, this potential is rarely fulfilled; the quality of the wines is often variable.


Côtes de Castillon & Bordeaux-Côtes de Francs

soil type: limestone-and-clay, sand, gravel
red grape variety: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon
white grape variety: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle
wine styles: red, white

The côtes de castillon has 3,000 ha under vine and a profile similar to neighboring St-Émilion. The limestone plateau and hillslopes are planted with a majority of Merlot vines and some Cabernet Franc, which make full-bodied red wines with a firm, fresh finish. The key difference is that the Côtes de Castillon has a slightly cooler climate, and therefore the harvest is later, since good fruit ripeness is needed to prevent the wines from becoming too acidic. Until recently the area had been held back by limited investment and a lack of technical expertise, but these problems have now been overcome, and this AOC is responding with some of the most interesting wines on the Right Bank. The AOC Côtes de Castillon takes its name from the town of Castillon-la-Bataille, where in 1453 the French army defeated the English, ending 300 years of English rule in Aquitaine.

Located northeast of the Côtes de Castillon, AOC Bordeaux-Côtes de Francs is a much smaller district producing red and a very limited quantity of white wines. Standards for both tend to be high. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc play a greater role in the reds here, yielding wines that are less aromatic but with a firm, linear presence on the palate and good aging potential. The whites are full, rich, and fragrant with good acidity.


The Bordeaux barrique

The famous Bordeaux barrels, or barriques, are used throughout France and all over the world. A barrique holds 225 liters of wine, measures 37.5 in (95 cm) high, and is made from oak staves 0.78–0.87 in (20–22 mm) thick. The barrique is used for fermenting, maturing, or conditioning wine prior to bottling, and fine wines can spend up to two years in barrel. The slow absorption of tiny amounts of oxygen through the wood helps to soften tannins, stabilize color, and increase the wine’s aromatic complexity. Many top Bordeaux estates use new oak barrels, which are microbiologically more stable than old ones, and give additional aroma and flavor.


Côtes de Bourg

soil type: limestone-and-clay
red grape variety: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec
white grape variety: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Colombard, Muscadelle
wine styles: red, white

The AOC Côtes de Bourg is known locally as the Gironde’s little Switzerland because of the hilly limestone-and-clay terrain. Located at the confluence of the Dordogne River and the Gironde Estuary, this area has a slightly warmer climate than other parts of Bordeaux, which helps to ward off frost. Average rainfall is also one of the lowest in the region. The Romans were the first to discover the viticultural potential of this compact district, and wines have been made here ever since. Merlot is the principal red variety cultivated in the area’s 3,900 ha, but wines are still very much a blend, occasionally including Malbec, which represents six percent of the vineyard area. Wines are usually full-bodied and firm with deep color and an earthy fruitiness, which has become more refined in recent years. A very small quantity of white is also produced. There are a number of good individual producers, and the cooperatives are becoming increasingly quality-conscious, especially the Cave de Bourg-Tauriac.


Blaye, Côtes de Blaye & Premières Côtes de Blaye

soil type: limestone-and-clay, sand, gravel
red grape variety: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec
white grape variety: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle
wine styles: red, white

The district of Blaye surrounds that of Bourg but the vineyards are more spread out and the terrain varied. There are essentially three poles of production: around the port of Blaye to the west, north near the little town of St-Ciers, and south at St-Savin. Nearly 6,000 ha are planted in these zones with mixed agriculture in between. Over 90 percent of the production is red, labeled AOC Premières Côtes de Blaye. Merlot is still the dominant variety, but the wines are crisper in style than those of the Côtes de Bourg, with less weight and structure. Since 2000 a superior designation for red wines, AOC Blaye, has made an appearance. These are essentially richer and more concentrated wines, requiring lower yields, and verification by a second tasting panel at 18 months. White Premières Côtes de Blaye is Sauvignon Blanc-dominated and often good value. It can be fresh and fruity, as well as generous in style.

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