It's all in the soil

  • Monday 1 July 2002

Bordeaux's myriad terroirs have given birth to some of the world's finest wines. John Downes MW gives a brief overview of the different soils.

Fans of Left Bank wines will know that they are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, while the vineyards of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol on the Right Bank are more heavily planted with Merlot. But how do the soils in the individual communes affect the wines?

1 MEDOC
Similar wines to the Haut-Médoc but generally of lesser quality due to richer alluvial or sandy soils. Exceptions where gravel is present.

2 SAINT-ESTEPHE
Near the prestigious Haut-Médoc and the Médoc. The best wines show a powerful masculinity while others can sometimes be austere and mean.

3 PAUILLAC
Deep gravel terroir, perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon. It produces powerful blackcurrant beauties with wonderful ageing potential.

4 SAINT-JULIEN
Soils have more clay than Margaux, giving more body to the lively blackcurrant wines.

5 HAUT-MEDOC
Cabernet Sauvignon is king. Some of the world's best wines are born from gravel soils.

6 MARGAUX
Deep gravels support rich, rarely heavy reds of finesse and elegance.

7 GRAVES
Gravels with deep limestone sub-soils produce brilliant Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon. Generally whites in the south, reds to the north.

8 COTES DE BLAYE
The same soils profile as in Bourg, but more Merlot is planted here. The resulting wines are easy to drink, fruity and good value.

9 COTES DE BOURG
Clay-limestone terraces produce attractive, good value wines.

10 POMEROL
More Merlot than Saint-Emilion, grown on a rolling gravel plateau. The wines are often halfway between those of Haut-Médoc and Saint-Emilion in style, partly as a result of iron-rich subsoils.

11 SAINT-EMILION
Complex limestone and gravel soils produce Merlot-dominated wines.

12 ENTRE-DEUX-MERS
Largest vineyard area of Bordeaux. Both whites and reds, including large volumes of AC Bordeaux.

13 BARSAC and SAUTERNES
On gravel-clay soils, the Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon double act responds in perfect balance to a unique terroir and its mist-induced noble rot.

FRONSAC
On the plateau calcaire, Fronsac (70%) and Canon-Fronsac (30%) make up this red wine appellation. Many new-style, fruity wines have lost rustic, hard character of old.

LALANDE DE POMEROL
Gravel and sand terraces give similar reds to Pomerol but with less finesse, lacking the power and tannin structure.

PREMIERES COTES DE BORDEAUX
Traditionally fruity and lively reds now joined by better structured wines from calcareous clay soils.

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