Pessac Leognan comes to London

At a tasting organized by Decanter magazine, over 25 producers displayed their white and red wines to the press today. This is the boring part. The interesting bit is that it was a fantastic opportunity to explore the similarities and differences in wines from a specific region, namely, Pessac Leognan, a subregion of Bordeaux. While I haven’t come away feeling that from now on I’ll easily recognize a Pessac Leognan wine from a mile away, I got a much better idea of what makes this region unique.

Pessac Leognan is the name of the zone as well as of the appellation that you’ll find on the wine label. The area lies just outside the famed French wine capital, in a south, south-westerly direction. The wines made here are those known elsewhere in Bordeaux: dry red blends and dry whites, also mainly blends. In more detail: red wines from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes, and whites mainly from Sauvignon Blanc, with the aid, to a varying extent, of Semillon, and sometimes Sauvignon Gris.

Wines on the so-called Left Bank (meaning the area lying west of the river Garonne, which cuts the Bordeaux region in half in a North-South direction) are typically dominated by the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Since Pessac Leognan lies on the Left Bank, I assumed its wines would have the same constitution. But I learnt that what makes this subregion unique is its extremely varied soil. Depending on what soil your plot has, you will choose which grape to grow – because grapes, believe it or not, can be quite fussy about soil. And so people who own gravelly vineyards will mostly grow Cabernet Sauvignon. Those whose land is clay will go for Merlot, and vineyards with sandy clay are ideal for Cabernet Franc. Just as plots differ, so do the proportions in the blends produced: some reds from Pessac Leognan are dominated by Merlot, some by Cabernet – unlike in the other subregions of Bordeaux, where each zone tends to have its dominant soil type and grape variety.

The wines were all very young – none older than 5 years, but generally from 2010 and up. A sort of en primeur. I was impressed to see how wines so young can already be so drinkable. Some producers claimed it had to do with old vines, but my suspicion is that we have here an example of vinification methods changing in Bordeaux. Much has been said about how Old World wines are today made in a way so as to make them ready for drinking at a younger age. Bordeaux is no exception, and harsh tannins, unripe flavours and other symptoms of untamed youth seem to be a thing of the past. I suppose that’s not such a bad thing…

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