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Understanding the Left Bank: A comprehensive guide

Get to grips with the different appellations on this side of the Gironde, as Stephen Brook offers a comprehensive guide from north to south for anyone who is just beginning their love affair with Bordeaux wines...

As the terms Left and Right Bank clearly imply, what we think of as Bordeaux is in reality two different regions separated by the broad Gironde River. It’s not just geography that divides them. The Left Bank is, in its best terroirs, dominated by gravel banks, which Cabernet Sauvignon in particular finds accommodating. Across the river, the Right Bank is largely clay and limestone, where Merlot is more at home.

Yet even the Left Bank is far from homogeneous. Its numerous appellations are divided by location – it’s 130km from the northern Médoc to the southern Graves – and also by proximity to the river. Soil too plays a part: top sub-regions such as Margaux are a series of gravel mounds, while elsewhere gravel is sporadic at best. The role of gravel is twofold: it permits excellent drainage, a crucial factor in a maritime region, as it stores heat during sunny days and then releases it slowly after sundown, encouraging the ripening process.

Scroll down to see Brook’s selection of classic tastes from the Left Bank

The city of Bordeaux is at the region’s centre. Within the city itself, and for some distance to the south, is the Graves, home to the Left Bank’s oldest properties. To the north lies the Médoc, home to the Left Bank’s most prestigious sub-regions: Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe. Almost all the estates classified in 1855 lie within those communes, with just a few exceptions such as La Lagune, Cantemerle and Belgrave.

See Brook’s notes and scores for a selection of classic tastes from the Left Bank

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