Saturday, February 27, 2010

Short view on Bordeaux Right bank, Left bank & 2002 Chateau de Lussac Lussac-Saint-Emilion red Bordeaux France

Short view on Bordeaux Right bank, Left bank & 2002 Chateau de Lussac Lussac-Saint-Emilion red Bordeaux France

Often people ask me: What’s Bordeaux left bank and right bank? And what differentiate them? Well, it is an interesting question, especially for someone like me who grew up in the Cotes de Bourg on the right bank, which is a much different world than the left bank.

Basically, if you look at a map of France as if it was someone face, “Bretagne” or little Brittany represents the nose, and the estuary of the Gironde River going downwards represents the frowning mouth of France, and to a certain extent also reflects the moodiness and temper of the French, which somewhat also confirm the constant underlining probability of another revolution in the public mind.

However, politic and personal opinions aside, let’s go back to Bordeaux and the Gironde, the wide estuary narrows down to the “Bec d’Ambes” (Ambes’ beak in English), a beak-like piece of land called “Entre-deux-mers”, separating the Gironde river in two long arms, the “Garonne” river stretching down towards the Pyrenees mountains and the “Dordogne” river stretching east towards the massif central where it takes its source.

If you follow the course of those rivers from their respective sources and start your journey once in the Gironde department (or district), the left Bank of the Garonne River and the continuation of it along the Gironde, represents the “Left Bank”.

The Left Bank comprises some of the most sought after wine appellations in the world, like Pessac-Léognan and more especially in the Haut-Médoc, with prestigious names like Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Saint-Estephe. Due to the fact that this part of Bordeaux has been covered so many times and by so many people and magazines, I will just say that it is the land of the 1st Growth and the Graves which also have a common characteristic, the gravelly soils were the Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon and Semillon thrive.

In my opinion, the Médoc is also the most boring part of Bordeaux, especially the upper part of the Haut-Médoc. One may wonder how some of the most renowned and established Médoc Châteaux can produce some of the most expensive wines on the planet. Influenced by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the large Gironde River to the east, the Médoc is damp, flat and gray most part of the year. It is also planted with uninterrupted miles of vines, an ocean of vineyards stretching as far as your eyes can see, with spotted 18th and 19th century Châteaux scattered here and there, magnificent for some when under the sun, yet unfortunately sad and sober for most when raining, which is the case about 200+ days a year in this part of France.

On the opposite side, the right bank of the Dordogne and the continuation of it along the Gironde constitutes the “Right Bank”, including, from north to south, the following appellations:
  • Côtes de Blaye (now part of 1eres Cotes de Bordeaux for marketing reasons)
  • Côtes de Bourg
  • A large part of Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur
  • Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac
  • Pomerol and Lalande de Pomerol
  • Saint-Emilion and its satellites appellations
  • Côtes de Castillon
All these appellations of the right bank benefit from a common characteristic, which is that most vineyards are planted on gentle rolling hills atop a chalky-limestone plateau, roughly stretching down from the Côtes de Blaye to the north to the Côtes de Castillon in the south, where the Merlot and Cabernet Franc excel.

Offering many hilltop points of view, the landscape is beautiful, more colorful and inviting than the left bank, with quaint small villages scattered around, surrounded by vineyards and small patches of forests.

The chalky-limestone plateau homes quantities of deep, cavernous chalky-limestone carriers carved in the early 13th century, and mostly extended during the 18th century and still in use for some of them. The carved pale-yellow chalky-lime stones from these carriers are the cornerstones of most “échoppes” (the traditional name for the classic 15th – 18th century Bordeaux houses, intramural) and Châteaux in the town of Bordeaux and the whole department of Gironde.

Located on the Right bank of the Dordogne River about 40 kilometers east of the town of Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion is one of the most attractive examples of a Limestone entirely built village of the Bordeaux region, and more especially the right Bank. If you’ve never been to this stock-in-history medieval village, you will never understand the chemistry that occurs between the winemaker’s “savoir faire” and the old Terroir of Saint-Emilion. This town is like something out of a history book set back in the XIII century, where one may still encounter knights and brotherhood members of another time.

Dominating the nice Dordogne valley from the top edge of a little hill where it has been built many centuries ago, Saint-Emilion is a charming and quiet little village, the perfect image for a postcard. The Roman legions planted the first vineyards in the 2nd century AD. The village also became one of the resting points for weary travelers on the road to “Santiago de Compostela”, a town which has been a historical pilgrimage center for centuries too, in the far northwestern part of Spain. With a reputation dating back to the XIII century, Saint-Emilion has kept intact its magic and high quality as one of the most famous vineyards in the world.

The wines of Saint-Emilion are produced from nine communes, with vineyards planted on gentle slopes with three distinct types of soil. First, in the northern and the western parts of the main town, the soil is sandy and gravelly (Cheval Blanc and Figeac). Second, on the escarpment (or also called the “cotes” section of Saint-Emilion) to the south and east, the soil is mainly chalk, with mix of limestone and clay (Ausone). And finally, coming in third position in terms of quality and concentration, the sandy soils (with gravelly sub-soils) of the plain to the south of the appellation, where much lighter wines are made.

Overall, Saint-Emilion and the Right Bank are the preferred ground of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, where they play a more predominant role than Cabernet Sauvignon. It is worth to visit slowly over a few days to really embrace and discover all the treasures scattered along the 50+ kilometers of the right bank, between the fortified "Citadelle de Blaye" to the medieval hilltop village of Saint-Emilion, both jewel of history built between the 12th and 13th century for the most ancient parts.

Château de Lussac Lussac-Saint-Emilion Bordeaux France

The wine of today comes from one of Saint-Emilion’s satellites, Lussac Saint-Emilion, a small village located about 9 kilometers northeast of Saint-Emilion.

In the heart of the village, Château de Lussac is easily visible by its distinctive architecture. The Neo-Classical main building was built in 1876 by Gascon Montouroy. This vintner and vine grower transmitted the property to his son-in-law, Marquis de Sercey. The property remained in this family until the 1980s when Mr. Olivier Roussel repurchased it and produced wines for about 15 years. In 2000, Griet and Hervé Laviale fell in love with this property and bought it. They completely refurbished the estate in 2001, enhancing the interior with 18th and 19th century furniture. They also own of Château Franc Mayne.

Despite the beauty of the Château and its surrounding gardens, winemaking is emphasized by the quality of the technology used and other major recent investments made in the cellars: stainless steel truncated vats and the ‘Tribaie’ machine for sorting the grapes (a very clever machine that weighs the sugar levels in the grapes, to sort out the ones with the best density, therefore selecting the ones with full ripeness to make the best wine). Laurence Ters, one of the rare Bordeaux female winemaker, works in both properties, crafting smooth, elegant Merlot based wines aged for at least 12-14 months in new French oak barrels from various coopers.

The 30 hectares (74 acres) of average 30 years old vines are planted on the far northeast side of Saint-Emilion limestone plateau, on gentle slopes naturally well drained and exposed. The vineyards are planted with 77% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc. They produce two wines: "Château de Lussac", and the 2nd label "Le Libertin de Lussac".

2002 Château de Lussac Lussac-Saint-Emilion Bordeaux France
Suggested retail price $28-$31
Imported/Distributed by Madrose/Rosenthal in NYC

The 2002 Chateau de Lussac Lussac-Saint-Emilion is a nice, supple and well tamed wine, that had the time to settle down and now drinks beautifully. Predominantly Merlot with a touch of Cabernet Franc, this wine is soft and gentle with enjoyable red and dark berries, nicely integrated oaky notes with earthy nuances. Once a bit tight, the tannins are now framing the fruit and bringing structure to this wine. The acidity enhances and lifts nicely the overall profile and fruit of this wine. A enjoyable discovery to pair with braised baby lamb and grilled duck breast.

Of course, it won't be as harmonious as the 2000 vintage, or super ripe like the 2003 (or overriped and inharmonious like many other Bordeaux of this particular vintage) or even as opulent and complex as the 2005, yet it is in my opinion one of this wine that came together with a bit of bottle time from probably the best bargain vintage of the last decade (2002) in Bordeaux, which was booed by the press and critics but end up offering some beautiful hidden gems and in the same time surprised many skeptics.

Even if you’ve never been to Saint-Emilion, you can just close your eyes and drink a sip of this medium-bodied wine and may be the postcard image of Saint-Emilion will come to mind.


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