Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bordeaux Step 5: Where the *&!% is Pessac-Leognan?

OK, so you know you know you like Bordeaux wines, you understand that they're blended wines that are not going to taste like New World cabs or merlots, and you actually managed to find a cupboard/closet/unused fireplace where you can put several dozen bottles. You've got a merchant in mind, and now you want some Bordeaux.

Then you read the labels. Confusion sets in and your resolve to try Bordeaux begins to crumble.It's like having a bad flashback to 9th grade geography. Where exactly is Pessac-Leognan, you wonder? How does this wine from Pessac-Leognan differ from the wine advertised beneath it, that is from Haut-Medoc?

Every Bordeaux lover discovers that they need to brush up their French geography if they are going to buy wines that they like at a good price, and they have to come to grips with French appellations, too. And we're not even talking about classifications yet (tune in next week). Adding to the confusion, the Bordeaux region is dominated by the Gironde river, which runs through the area. So we have appellations, classifications, and even "Left Bank" (Medoc, Haut-Medoc, and Graves) and "Right Bank" designations (Pomerol and St. Emilion)

It's really nothing that can't be sorted out with a map and a chart (map right, chart below). The French appellation system (AOC) is strictly controlled and covers not only the geographical origins for grapes used in a wine, it also covers what grape varietals can be grown, how they can be grown, how wine is to be produced, and alcohol levels. There are over 40 AOCs in the Bordeaux region (map from Terroir-France, click to enlarge), each specializing in a handful of wines made in a handful of ways. Of course, the genius of the place and the talents of the winemaker make these wines taste different, despite all the precision and regulation.

Most of the AOCs that produce red Bordeaux, and the most popular white Bordeaux like Sauternes, have varietal guidelines that can help you to make the best wine choices for your palate. Like the pencil lead and cassis of Old World cabernet? Head for wines from the Medoc, from St. Julien, or any of the other AOC that produce red wines made predominantly with that varietal. Prefer the softer, fleshier merlot blends? The Right Bank AOCs of Pomerol and St Emilion are for you. And if you like a balance between cabernet and merlot, the Pessac-Leognan, Entre-Deux-Mers, and Graves AOCs all produce wines that should suit your harmonious palate.



Médoc and
Haut Médoc

Cabernet Sauvignon


Cabernet Sauvignon


Cabernet Sauvignon

Saint Estèphe

Cabernet Sauvignon

Saint Julien

Cabernet Sauvignon



Saint Émilion



Cab/Merlot 50/50


Cab/Merlot 50/50


Cab/Merlot 50/50


Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc

Next week: professional tasting notes, how to read them, and how to use the classification system to help you sort through them in search of bargains.


Anonymous said...

Can I just say THANKYOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for this series? It's so informative to those of us who are just starting out. I've been listening to they hype of the 2005 Bordeaux futures, and you are really helping me understand what I'm looking for.

winehiker said...

It's been good to follow along here, Doc. Great series - keep up the steady drinking! (Um, I mean the good work.) And Happy Valentines Day!

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks, to both of you, and happy Valentine's Day! I'm glad it's turned out to be helpful. This is what I needed 2 years ago and had to piece it together from 3 magazine subscriptions and several reference books. It's even helping me to stay focused and not get off track (or go hog wild). We've all got to be ready when the 2005 bottle reports get released next month--followed very shortly thereafter by the 2006 barrel reports, and so on and so on.