It is usual to think of Bordeaux red wine, Claret, as either Right Bank or Left Bank. Right Bank is North of the Dordogne, Left Bank is West of the Garonne. These two great rivers meet about 10 miles North of Bordeaux to form the Gironde estuary, which gives the department its name.

Bordeaux is a massive wine area. On its own it would be about the 14th largest wine country. About a third of Bordeaux is Right Bank.

The map below shows the main Right Bank appellations. Going from the East: Côtes des Castillon and Côtes de Francs make up about 6% of all Bordeaux wine; then St. Emilion (5%) and St. Emilion satellites (4%); Pomerol (& Lalande-) only about 1% – the same for Fronsac (& Canon-). Finally another 17% or so come from Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Blaye, at the West end of  the Right Bank.

brdmap

Right Bank wines are mainly Merlot based, typically 70% or more, and all aspire to a richer, fragrant, supple, more approachable character than the Cabernet-based wines from the Left Bank.

At their best they should offer plummy and chocolate Merlot characteristics, combined with food friendly structure, fragrance, acidity, and complexity from their geology and the minority grapes.

At the centre of this continuum of Merlot-based wine production are the (very) famous names of Pomerol and Saint Emilion, producing wines that do fulfil this aspiration. However top St. Emilion and nearly all production from the tiny area of Pomerol do so at a very high price.

Uniquely among these areas, St. Emilion has a classification system which goes: Premier Grand Cru Classé A [Cheval Blanc and Ausone]; Premier Grand Cru Classé B  (11 others); Grand Cru Classé (55); Grand Cru (hundreds); and plain St. Emilion (ditto). All the GC Classé are likely to start over £25. Plain Grand Cru St. Emilion vary enormously from below the level of good satellite wines to Classé-level examples at prices likely to push most people’s budgets.

Most of the other areas, including the St. Emilion satellites, provide better-than-average examples around the £12 – £18 mark. I would expect them to compare with examples from more famous appellations that are 20% more, maybe 40% more.

So what might we expect from so-called “lesser” appellations? All are reputed to produce simpler wines, which can appear in two ways. Either as a lighter style, without the depth of flavour, length or interest of the “real thing” – or as a more rustic, clumsier version.

Traditional wisdom attributes the former reputation to Fronsac, Lalande, the St. Emilion satellites & Castillon – the latter to Bourg & Blaye.  However it seems clear that good producers in the each region are aiming at a deeper style and better wines than in the past from those appellations.

The tasting this month is an opportunity for a snapshot of some of these more progressive Châteaux. Concentrating on the East (Côtes des Castillon and Côtes des Francs), the Satellites (Lalande-, Lussac-, Montagne-) and Fronsac – the selection has been made by the Wine Society – and seized on by me for the “Dealer’s Choice” session this year.

I’ll be posting tasting notes in 4 or 5 days.

 

Finally it’s sad to see that Serge Hochar, the charismatic owner of Lebanon’s Château Musar, died at the age of 74, while on holiday with his family in Mexico over the new-year break.

“Serge Hochar reminded the world that the Lebanon could make wines of extraordinary beauty and character and in doing so unleashed upon the world wines with a genuine cult status and a profound expression of a unique terroir.” (Michael Karam). Next time you try a glass of Château Musar, remember Serge – RIP.

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