In my last column, we discussed the great wines of the Medoc, or Left Bank Bordeaux. For this edition, we will expand on the Right Bank wines of Bordeaux.
The Right Bank of the Dordogne River is home to the great appellations of Saint Emilion and Pomerol, which both lie in the Libournais District. While these appellations are without a doubt the most sought after, classiest and of course most expensive, there are also several lesser known appellations that produce far more affordable wines.
The main difference between Left and Right Bank Bordeaux wines is that the former are based in cabernet sauvignon and the latter feature the merlot grape in addition to cabernet franc. On the Right Bank, the merlot grape dominates the encampagement, or blend. While both sides are known for producing some of the worlds’ finest wines, they offer different aromatic and flavor profiles. Because the Right Bank wines are typically 80 percent merlot-based, the wines are often denser, richer and mature earlier than those of the Left Bank.
The wines of Saint Emilion are known for their elegance, suppleness and finesse when compared to Left Bank wines, and are often excellent options for those who feel other wines are too harsh or tannic. Saint Emilion has a long history of viticulture dating back over 1,800 years to when the Romans planted vineyards. This hilltop village has remained relatively unchanged since the Middle Ages and is often regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
Pomerol is also reknowned for its merlot-based wines and lies just northwest of Saint Emilion. Here, the wines offer a slightly different texture than that of Saint Emilion. They are more velvety, while Saint Emilion’s wines are more silky. Pomerol’s sleepy farmhouse district is, oddly enough, home to the world’s most consistently expensive wine: Chateau Pétrus. Yes, Chateau Pétrus fetches higher prices than Chateau Margaux, Chateau Mouton, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti of Burgundy, Screaming Eagle of Napa and Penfolds’ Grange. For those who have watched the dark comedy movie “Sideways,” merlot is far from dead.
All things considered, the wines of these two villages are relatively affordable compared to their Left Bank counterparts, with prices starting at $30. For those seeking a more affordable alternative, there are outstanding values to be found from Cotes de Castillon, Cotes Canon Fronsac, Lalande de Pomerol, Lussac and Montagne de Saint Emilion. While the two famous villages of Saint Emilion and Pomerol rely on gravel and sandy soils, the satellite appellations have soil compositions with clay and limestone.
The wines from the Libournais display notes of blueberry, cassis, plum, spicy oak and vanilla. Of course, the concentration and body increase congruently with the price. As with most old-world wines, decanting the wines for an hour of two will allow their full potential to be enjoyed. One of my favorite pairings for these wines is pan-seared steak with a blueberry reduction sauce.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.