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A few years ago, I attended an intimate Bordeaux tasting event with a group of wine enthusiasts at one of my favorite Seattle restaurants. After we had sampled a few wines, the sommelier hosting the event opened the floor to questions. One woman in our group asked, “Do you prefer wines from the Left Bank or the Right Bank?” The sommelier responded, “I love both of them too much to choose. It really depends on my mood and what kind of food I’m drinking them with.”
Our sommelier went on to explain that each of these areas brings something different to the table; the Right Bank is known for well-balanced, softer wines, while the Left Bank’s wines are famous for their powerful, tannic character. Some see Left Bank vs. Right Bank Bordeaux as a competition between the areas, but both Left Bank and Right Bank wines can be collectible and worth investing in; it’s not an either/or proposition. You’ll simply need to consider factors like ageability, vintage, and producer in order to make the best investment decision.
Left Bank vs. Right Bank: The Basics
Before you invest in Left Bank or Right Bank wines, you’ll want to understand their key differences. For example, while both banks make age-worthy, collectible wines, the Left Bank tends to make wines with better aging potential overall compared to most wines from the Right Bank. This is why many collectors perceive the Left Bank to be more collectible; the Left Bank is also home to all five of Bordeaux’s First Growth producers. However, when it comes to Left Bank vs. Right Bank Bordeaux, the differences go beyond collectibility. The two banks also craft wines that differ significantly in style. The following are some of the primary differences between Left Bank and Right Bank wines in terms of flavor profile, climate, and winemaking style:
Right Bank Wines
- Grape Varieties: Merlot is the primary variety in the Right Bank, and most red blends contain a smaller percentage of Cabernet Franc, sometimes supported by Cabernet Sauvignon and, less commonly, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
- Soil: The soil in the Right Bank is rich in clay and limestone. The rocky limestone topsoil drains water from the surface quickly while the heavier clay beneath helps retain some of this water deep underground, providing moisture for the vine during hot summer months or periods of little rain.
- Climate: Because the Right Bank is sheltered from oceanic winds, it’s typically warmer than the Left Bank during the summer. This produces grapes that taste very ripe and are lower in acidity than Left Bank grapes. However, the Right Bank is also more prone to frost in the early spring, and this can have an impact on yields.
- Flavor Profile: The wines of the Right Bank are generally smooth, rich, and easy to drink when they’re young. The grapes usually ripen fully under the warm summer conditions and some of these wines are fairly fruit-forward as a result. However, that doesn’t mean that they lack complexity; while some Right Bank blends are simple in structure, many others are very aromatic and develop complex, mature flavors as they age. Producers who craft the most complex Right Bank wines include Pétrus, Cheval Blanc, and Le Pin.
Left Bank Wines
- Grape Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon dominates this bank. Most blends are made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon, with a smaller percentage of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Some producers also include a touch of Petit Verdot, Malbec, or Carménère Producers like Haut-Brion, Margaux, Palmer, Lynch-Bages, and Mouton-Rothschild also craft white wine blends, although these are less common compared to red blends.
- Soil: Gravel in the soil means that the vine roots are well-drained and must extend farther into the ground to access the water table. This puts a fair amount of stress on the vines. However, this stress results in smaller, more concentrated, and more complex-tasting grapes.
- Climate: The Left Bank is slightly cooler than the Right Bank, allowing the grapes to develop a great deal of acidity. This also improves the wine’s aging potential.
- Flavor Profile: Because the grapes are concentrated and high in both acidity and tannin, wines from the Left Bank taste complex and powerful. Due to their tannic nature, they can be unapproachable in their youth, but after a few years of cellaring, the wines’ tannins relax and become rounder in character.
Put simply, the warmer, clay-rich Right Bank produces approachable wines that in some cases can be aged for decades, but in many cases are best enjoyed within just a few years of release. Meanwhile, the colder climate and granitic soils of the Left Bank result in wines that can be acidic, aggressively tannic, and somewhat difficult in their youth, but that mature beautifully over a long period of time. The bank you invest in most heavily will depend on whether you intend to drink or sell your wines, which style you prefer, and how long you are willing–or wish–to age the wines.
Investing in Left Bank vs. Right Bank Bordeaux
I’ve had a few animated discussions with my friends over which of Bordeaux’s banks produces the most collectible wine. In the end, though, as you might imagine, neither is objectively better than the other. The bank you choose to invest in most heavily should depend on personal preference and the goals that you have for your collection. For example, one of my friends loves to drink New-World wines, which is why he tends to enjoy the Right Bank more than the Left. The smooth, rich flavors remind him of some of his favorite California cult wines, like Harlan. As a result, his Bordeaux collection consists mostly of wines from Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, and he owns just a handful of Left Bank wines from top producers like Pichon Lalande and Margaux. Because he has strong preferences and intends to drink his wines, he doesn’t simply buy the highest-rated bottles on the market, but carefully chooses his Bordeaux purchases based on the blend and vintage.
As a general rule, though, buying Right Bank wines can give you more options for your collection. Many of these wines are delicious within the first few years of release, and while aging them is a rewarding experience, it’s not always necessary. If you’re just getting started with a Bordeaux collection and want to try some Bordeaux wines without first cellaring them for many years, the Right Bank can be a good choice. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for wines that are more savory and will only improve with time, choose wines from a Left Bank producer. For those investing in Bordeaux with a view to reselling for a profit, wines from the Left Bank (particularly from first- or second-growth producers) will also be a wise bet, though there are some very collectible Right Bank producers as well, such as Pétrus.
How to Store Left Bank and Right Bank Wine
While it can be helpful to compare Left Bank vs. Right Bank Bordeaux to get a sense of their differences, collecting and investing in Bordeaux isn’t an either/or proposition. Most collectors invest in top-rated wines from both banks to great success. However, one of the challenges of owning a variety of wine styles all over Bordeaux is that it can be difficult to store these bottles properly and for the right amount of time–you certainly don’t want to uncork a bottle of Latour too early. For this reason, it’s important to use a safe, reliable, professional storage method coupled with a wine management app to keep your bottles organized.
With the right wine app, you can see when your Left Bank bottles are approaching maturity and pull them out of storage when you’re ready to drink them or when their value is high on the secondary market. And using a full-service storage warehouse, you can keep your ageable Right Bank wines safe for a decade or more to build value and complexity without being tempted to drink them. Reliable storage and management tools save you time and hassle as you build and maintain a collection of the best wines from both banks, allowing you to fully appreciate the diversity, versatility, and investment potential of fine Bordeaux.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.