Three cheers for my wine tasting group. This weekend, we did a Bordeaux tasting, where we compared Left Bank and Right Bank wines. How fun is that! Please read all about it here. Thank you to VinePair for their help with this article.
Why Left Bank vs. Right Bank?
The banks we’re referring to here are the river banks on either side of the Gironde Estuary and, believe it or not, these banks have very different terroirs (Merriam-Webster defines terroir as “the combination of factors including soil, climate, and sunlight that gives wine grapes their distinctive character”).
Left Bank Terroir
The soil on the left side is rockier, forcing the vines to struggle a little more to get nutrients. The result is more character and potentially better quality.
According to VinePair, “This is why Bordeaux wines of the Left Bank are considered prime candidates for aging, while Right Bank Bordeaux are generally thought to be smoother, drink-me-soon-style wines.”
Right Bank Terroir
The Right Bank’s soil is less difficult, with limestone closer to the top and less gravel to deal with.
Left Bank vs. Right Bank Grapes
Depending on the side of the Gironde, you’ll lean more towards Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. If you’re on the left, it’s Cabernet. If you’re on the right, it’s Merlot.
The Cabernet-driven Left Bank wines tend to be higher in tannin, again, making them good candidates for aging, which helps to mellow out the tannins and integrate the flavors of the wine.
Merlot-driven Right Bank wines are generally smoother, with softer fruit flavors and balancing, but not dominating, tannins.
Chateaux on the Left vs. the Right
To keep things interesting, the castles on the left vs. the right are quite different. The left castles look like tiny castles. The right castles are smaller and don’t really look like castles.
Some of the most famous Left Bank players include Lafite, Chateaux Margaux, and Mouton Rothschild. Right Bank Bordeaux has fewer important names. But one of them, Petrus, is the most expensive wine in all of Bordeaux.
Our Tasting Experience
We started with three white Bordeaux, which are a combination of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. They were all lovely, especially with Comte cheese, but nothing to really write home about.
We then tasted six decanted Left Bank reds and six Right Bank reds. We tasted them in groups of two, starting each group with the Right Bank wine followed by the Left Bank wine.
The 11 of us unanimously enjoyed the Left Bank wines more than the Right Bank wines. We found them to be more complex and flavorful. Some of the Right Bank wines tasted too restrained. Here is a picture of our favorite wine, along with a beautiful decanter.
The wines we tasted had vintages from 2010 through 2016. We felt that most of them could benefit from additional ageing.
Our Final Takeaway
We all recognized that we Californians are particular to California wine, so we’re not likely to enjoy French wine as much. We realize that if we drank French wine every day for the next year, and then repeat this tasting next year, we would be far more enthusiastic about the French wines.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with tasting French wine and Bordeaux wine in particular. Merci!
As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!
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