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Right Bank


Wine By Region Right Europe Right France Right Bordeaux Right Right Bank Right St-Émilion   Pomerol


Vineyards in St-Émilion

A scenic view of St-Émilion, near Château Cheval Blanc. Photo by Vi..Cult... on Wikipedia. License: Creative Commons SA 2.5 Generic.

Fermentation Tank

A fermentation tank at a Pomerol château.
Photo by Antoine Bertier. License: Creative Commons 2.0 Generic.

The Right Bank is the area to the north of the Dordogne in Bordeaux, rather than to the south of the Garonne (this is the Left Bank) or Entre-deux-Mers (the area between the two rivers). While not nearly as famous or versatile as the Left Bank, the Right Bank is important for two essential appellations that lie within it: St-Émilion and Pomerol. The prominently Merlot-based Right Bank wines can, at the top levels, match or, by some opinions, exceed, Left Bank reds in both quality and price.

Lighter, more smooth styles of red wine are produced on the Right Bank, as opposed to the layered, intense, and complex wines of the Left Bank. While houses such as Pétrus still produce very sophisticated wine, it is of an entirely different style. This is primarily due to the use of Merlot in most Right Bank wines. Cabernet Sauvignon hardly thrives on the Right Bank, and rarely makes up more than a few percent of plantings at Right Bank châteaux. This page discusses the two essential appellations of the Right Bank, in addition to other, more obscure Right Bank regions.

History

Just like the Left Bank and, in fact, all of Bordeaux, the Right Bank areas were greatly assisted in the 12th century by the marriage of Henry II of England to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Right after that marriage, Bordeaux wine became a commonly exported commodity, and through the Middle Ages Bordeaux wine kept growing in popularity. But not all the attention went to Right Bank wine. Indeed, at this point it was the Left Bank's Graves that was popular among red wine buyers. Nonetheless, St-Émilion in particular made advances in the English marketplace.

The excavation of the Médoc happened throughout the 1700s, but by this time many Right Bank areas had already defined themselves for red wine sales. Eventually, the Médoc attained a superior reputation to the Right Bank areas. It was also the Left Bank that got its first classification, while the wines of the Right Bank were left behind. In 1955, St-Émilion wines were finally classified, but Pomerol wine has still never been ranked. But several châteaux from the Right Bank have become status symbols and the area's appellations are now about as highly reputed as those of the Left Bank.

Figeac Barrels

Oak barrels in Château Figeac in St-Émilion. This photo is in the public domain.

Climate and Viticulture

The weather and general climate is not too different from the Left Bank. Temperatures are warm but, crucially, there is much less of a saltwater-maritime influence on the Right Bank. This could be one of the factors that makes Cabernet Sauvignon undistinguished there, and grapes such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc in their element.

Technically, there are probably a number of reasons why the wines of the Right Bank are so remarkably different. The primary reason, as in much of Bordeaux, probably lies below the surface...literally. The soil of both St-Émilion and Pomerol has a heavy clay influence. Cabernet Sauvignon does not reactly particularly well to clay, but Merlot's best wines are made from these soils. As a result, it's no coincidence that the preponderance of Right Bank wines are made from Merlot.

Grape Varieties

Cabernet Sauvignon is usually fairly drab on the Right Bank, although certainly there are some good examples from less esteemed châteaux. The real stars are Merlot and, to a lesser extent, Cabernet Franc. Often considered a blending grape when made elsewhere in the world, Merlot becomes a star in many St-Émilions and even more so in Pomerol wines. One of the famous examples is Pétrus, 90% or more Merlot. Pétrus charges as much as $3,000 (new!) for their stellar wine, which is no less complex than any vicious beast of the Médoc.

Merlot grapes

Merlot does excellently on the Right Bank as a varietal or as the majority of a blend.
Photo by David Carrero Fernéndez-Baillo. License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.

No white wines are produced on the Right Bank. Botrytized sweet examples, for whatever reason, do not work, and neither of the prominent appellations has ever bothered to try their luck with dry white. As a result, the Right Bank is an entirely red-dominated area. It achieves brilliance by concentrating solely on what it does best.

Major Producers

In general, the wines of the Right Bank are much less highly organized than those of the Left Bank. While some prefer rigid structure even if it takes the form of a possibly outdated or inaccurate classification, it can often be far superior for the best wines to simply acquire a reputation as the best wines. There has never been a Pomerol classification for this exact reason: top Pomerol châteaux have resisted it, claiming that the reputation-based system has worked out for them. St-Émilion classifications have not gone particularly well, with the 2006 hierarchy even drawing lawsuits from burned producers. As a result, the lists on both these pages are our own and are only based on the official classifications.

The top two St-Émilion châteaux are listed below.

If there were a "2er cru" designation in St-Émilion, these would be the wines likely to fall into it:

Go to the St-Émilion page to see the best producers for St-Émilion's satellites.

The most radical example of unclassified wine in Bordeaux is Pomerol, whose wines were never classified. A number of attempts have been made to organize an official ranking system, but the châteaux' owners have looked on these proceedings unfavorably, and none of them ever came to anything. As a result, the wine buyer must go by 3rd-party reputation alone to determine the "best" wines of Pomerol. We have compiled our own list, which appears in abbreviated form here. See the Pomerol page for a full list.

Subregions

The significant regions on the Right Bank are St-Émilion, Pomerol, and Fronsac. Fronsac is less of a prominent appellation by far. The following convenient list outlines the three and the differences between them. Below them is a list of the more obscure Right Bank regions.

Fronsac

A view of scenic Fronsac. Photo by Père Igor.
License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.

Cheap wines in St-Émilion and Pomerol (and by cheap we mean less than $15 or so) should be treated with some suspicion. Land in these areas is very expensive, and demand is always fairly high for good wines from these appellations. So cheap wine from there may not have the same pedigree of quality as, even, a Bordeaux AOC or a $10 American wine. Fronsac, however, is a different story, with a number of reasonably priced wines that nevertheless are likely to have good quality.

Click on the St-Émilion or Pomerol links to be brought to those pages.

A number of other appellations exist, but most of them are fairly small and obscure. Bordeaux-Côtes de Francs is one to remember. Several of them were recently merged into Côtes de Bordeaux AOC.

Petrus case label

Pétrus's distinguishing design, as seen on a case of their wine.
Original photo by michael clarke stuff on Flickr. Modifications by Agne27 on Wikipedia. License: Creative Commons SA 2.0 Generic.