Last week we reviewed Bordeaux’s Left Bank super-star, Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, however, we move across the Gironde to the Right Bank. Bordeaux’s "Right Bank" is home to the famous vineyards of St. Emilion and Pomerol. The Right Bank is also reigned by the Merlot grape. Yes, Cabernet Sauvignon is grown here, (as is Cabernet Franc), but her Royal Highness is definitely Merlot.
The Right Bank wine growing region of St Emilion and Pomerol is only twenty-something miles as the bird flies from the Medoc’s Left Bank, but it might as well be two hundred miles. The Right Bank’s terroir is completely different from the former swamp of the Left Bank’s Medoc.
Merlot thrives on the Right Bank because of its soil, climate and topography. The soil is clay and limestone. While clay retains moisture, limestone provides a great drainage system. Merlot likes the moisture provided by clay, but has the best of both worlds with limestone’s ability to wick away too much moisture. The Right Bank is topographically different from the flat Left Bank. The Right Bank’s small hills also facilitate drainage. The Right Bank is located further inland from the Atlantic than the Left Bank. This means it’s less susceptible to Atlantic storms.
The St Emilion and Pomerol wine districts on the Right Bank produce softer wines because of their larger percentage of Merlot. The Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines of the Left Bank are more masculine due to this grape’s higher tannin content. Merlot wine is more feminine with softer tannins, thus, Right Bank wines tend to be more approachable earlier.
Right or Left Bank? Do you like poodles or German shepherds? Both wines can be divine. A few pointers: consider the vintage (e.g. if it’s a really young wine, choose the Merlot-based St Emilion). If it’s a really old bottle, remember that tannins in a wine help it age more gracefully….so you may want to opt for the Cabernet Sauvignon-centric Left Bank wine.