The most famous wine producing region of the right bank is the Libournais. This region alone encompasses much of what is referred to as the Right Bank. Named after its historical capital, Libourne, this area sits on the right bank of the Dordogne river and expands west past the convergence of the Isle river. The expression Right Bank typically refers to wines from the Pomerol and St-Emilion areas of Libournais.
Saint Emilion centres on the commune of the same name. There are several villages around the region that share the Saint-Émilion name, such as Montagne-Saint-Émilion and St-Georges-Saint-Émilion, and are permitted to label their wines under the same name. Merlot is the dominant grape in this area, followed by Cabernet Franc. The climate and damper, cool soils of the area makes it difficult for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to fully ripen and as such is less often used. The wines take a little longer to mature than the ones in Pomerol but are still able to be drunk relatively young for a Bordeaux (4–8 years). In favorable vintages the wines have a good aging potential.
Pomerol was first cultivated by the Romans during their occupation of the area. Up until the early 20th century the area was known mostly for its white wine production. This area within Libournais doesn't have a distinct city center with several villages spread across an area about the same size as St.-Julien. The area overall has gravel-based soil that is typical of Bordeaux, with western and southern sections having more sandy soil while the northern and eastern sections toward St.-Emilion have more clay composition. The wines of Pomerol have a high composition of Merlot in their blends and are considered the gentlest and least tannic and acidic of Bordeaux wines. Cabernet Franc, known in this area as Bouchet is the second leading grape and helps to contribute to the dark, deep coloring that is typical of Pomerol wines. Due to the reduced tannins found in these wines, they can typically be drunk much younger than other red Bordeaux. The chateaus in the area are not classified, with the winemakers seemingly disinclined to devise one, although Château Pétrus is often unofficially grouped with the First Growths of Bordeaux.
Other Important AOC’s or the Right Banks:
Fronsac and Canon Fronsac are two of the strongest Bordeaux satellite appellations. The regions are located just west of Libourne and not far from Pomerol or Saint Emilion, and about 25 kilometers from Bordeaux. The wines are delicious, rich, ripe and affordable. They drink well young, and offer some of the best value Bordeaux wines. The regions were not always inexpensive. Of the two appellations, Fronsac produces the finer, more elegant wine.
From the mid 18th century to the start of the 19th century, the top Right Bank estates in Fronsac and Canon Fronsac were better known and often sold for more money than many wines from Pomerol and St. Emilion. Wines from Fronsac and Canon Fronsac remained in high demand until the late 1800’s. The devastating effect of phylloxera was the final straw, as both appellations were decimated. Fronsac and Canon Fronsac enjoy a long and extensive history as vines were planted in both regions by the ancient Romans. In fact, in Fronsac, the Romans created the famous Gauls market, where the ancient Romans also constructed a massive altar.
Fronsac has 834 hectares under vine. Close to 106 growers are currently producing wine in the region. On average, close to 385,000 cases of wine are produced in Fronsac each year. Fronsac is located close to the Dordogne river and includes seven communes, Fronsac, La Riviere, Saint Germain de la Riviere, St. Michel de Fronsac, St. Aignan, Saillans and Galgon.
Canon Fronsac is the smaller of the two appellations with about 299 hectares under vine. Close to 150 growers currently work in the appellations. As many as 50 growers prefer selling their harvest, or at least a portion of their harvest to local cooperatives. In Canon Fronsac, the average annual production is close to 140,000 cases of wine per vintage.
Cotes de Bordeaux is the youngest AOC appellation in Bordeaux. Cotes de Bordeaux was created in 2009, when the INAO declared the merging of four, previously recognized communes, Cotes de Blaye, Cotes de Bordeaux, Cotes de Castillon, and Cotes de Francs. The appellation consists of more than 11,000 hectares cultivated with vines. Over 1,000 growers are active in the region.
The following changes took place for wines labeled Cotes de Bordeaux starting with the 2009 vintage. Wines from Cotes de Castillon became Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux. Although wines from Cotes de Castillon retained the rights to be listed as Cotes de Castillon on their label as well. Cotes de Francs became Francs Cotes de Bordeaux. Premieres Cotes de Blaye became Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux. Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux Rouge became Cadillac Cotes de Bordeaux.
While the Cotes de Bordeaux appellation was officially created in 2009, the genesis of the idea was planted in 1985 when the separate, but distinctive regions banded together to create the Association de Cotes de Bordeaux. The named eventually changed to Les Cinq Cites de Bordeaux, to include additional appellations.
Things started coming together by 2003, and in 2009, the new Cotes de Bordeaux appellation was created with the purpose of helping to promote the wines from the previously separate appellations as a united group. The specific appellations were chosen because they shared similar terroirs of gravel, clay and limestone soils.
Another consideration was the fact that the vast majority of the wines produced in those soils were dominated by the Merlot grape. One problem, or virtue, (Depending on your point of view) found in the new appellation is the ability for producers from any terroir in the now, very large Cotes de Bordeaux appellation to incorporate grapes from any of the previously, separate appellations; Cotes de Castillon, Cotes de Blaye, Cotes de Bordeaux and Cotes de Francs into their wine.
The new, 12,653 hectare, Cotes de Bordeaux appellation produces close to 14% of all Bordeaux wine! 1,500 growers are actively making wine in the Cotes de Bordeaux appellation. The largest commune in the Cotes de Bordeaux appellation is Cotes de Blaye, with 7,729 hectares under vine.
If you’re interested in learning more about the wines of St.-Emilion and the Right Bank, please visit The Wine Cellar Insider