The prestigious Bordeaux wine region is located on the western coast of France. The region is separated into two sub-regions, referred to as the Right Bank and the Left Bank. Each region has its own unique nuances that characterize it from the other.
The banks refer to the two riverbanks, the land masses on either side of the Gironde Estuary, the place where a river meets the sea. The Gironde Estuary is fed by two rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne. The Left Bank viticultural region is on the southwest side of the Gironde and the Right Bank is on the northeast side.
The prominent difference between the Left and Right banks is the grape varietal grown. The Left Bank is famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon while the Right Bank is mainly Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The reason for the grape varieties being different is due to the type of soil. The Left Bank is characterized by gravelly soils while the Right Bank is mainly clay soils.
The varietals grown determines the difference in style of wine produced. The Left Bank’s Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends tend to be more structured, powerful and have a higher presence of tannins, whereas the Right Bank’s Merlot-dominant blends tend to be softer and silkier. Personally, I am a fan of the wines from the Right Bank.
The most complicated difference between the Left and Right Banks is the way in which the wine is classified. For a detailed explanation of the classification methods see my post, France’s Cru Levels from March 18th.
The most notable vineyards on the Left Bank include Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion, Château Lafite, and Château Mouton Rothschild. Estates on the Right Bank include Château Cheval Blanc, Château Angélus, Château Pavie and Pétrus.