The key difference between Left and Right Bank Bordeaux wine centres around three things, terroir, grapes and style. Wines from Bordeaux can be intimidating. Firstly, they’re expensive and highly sought after. Then there are a lot of different appellations and chateaux to take in. However, knowing the difference between Left and Right Banks wines is actually pretty straightforward.
Left and Right Bank Terroir
The Bordeaux region is on the South Western coast of France. If you look at a map you’ll see the region is separated by the Gironde Estuary. This body of water connects the Atlantic Estuary to two rivers, the Dordogne and Garonne. The regions to the right of the Dordogne river are classified as the Right Bank. The regions to the west (left of the Garonne) are the Left Bank, this area encompasses the well known region of Médoc which includes St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Julien and Margaux. The Right Bank’s most famous appellations are St-Emilion and Pomerol. Finally, there is also a third region in Bordeaux. The area between the Dordogne and Garonne is known as Entre-Deux-Mers. If you want to see this visually we stock a great hand-illustrated wine map of the region.
The two banks of the river have very different climate and soil or terroir. On the Left bank there’s more limestone with gravel on top. On this bank there’s very little clay so the vine roots need to go deep in order to get moisture. As the vines have to work harder in this environment better quality develops. However, on the Right although there is still limestone it’s much closer to the surface. And the key difference is that here there is clay. This retains moisture which means that the vines don’t have to work so hard.
The difference in terroir between the two banks means that different grape varieties thrive in each area. On the Left Bank it’s all about Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that loves the rocky, gravelly soil. The gravel surrounding the vines holds heat that helps the grapes develop ripe fruit flavours. Left Bank wines are normally blends with Cabernet Sauvignon playing the leading role and Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot supporting.
However on the Right Bank, the dominant grape variety is Merlot. This grape variety ripens easily even in the cool clay soil. The wines in this region tend to be smoother with round fruit flavours. They are still blends. Merlot dominates but Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot support.
Key Difference Between Left and Right Bank Bordeaux Wine
The Left Bank is home to all the 1855 classification wines. Here are some of the most famous Chateaux in the world including Chateaux Margaux, Lafite, Latour and Mouton Rothschild. The Cabernet driven wines of the Left Bank tend to be higher in tannins making them great candidates for ageing. This means that that as well as the fruit flavours of the wine tertiary flavours develop. These are long lasting, quality wines and they have price tags to match. There is some premium White Bordeaux on the Left Bank as well particularly from Pessac-Léognan.
On the Right the Merlot driven wines can be drunk earlier. Merlot’s softness means that it lends itself to high volume, inexpensive wines that are easy to drink. However, that’s not to say Right Bank wines are overshadowed by the Left Bank. Wines from the Right Bank have a world famous reputation particularly from Saint Emillion and Pomerol. In Saint Emillion the Grand Cru classification is given to the best chateaux. And Pomerol is home to Chateau Petrus probably one of the most expensive wines in the world.
If you love wine from Bordeaux and want to extend the experience then explore our range of Bordeaux related wine gifts.