Cru Classé de Graves, 2014

It is true to say that, in the Bordeaux universe, of all the grander regions it is Pessac-Léognan that tends to suffer most from being overlooked. Consider, for a moment, how we carve up Bordeaux vintages. First, we have the ‘left bank’ vintages, in which the communes of St Estèphe, Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux fared best; a classic example would be 1996. And then we have the ‘right bank’ vintages, in which we should look for wines from St Emilion and Pomerol and the surrounding appellations for the most drinking pleasure; we only have to look to 1998 for a prime example, although the dominance of the earlier-ripening Merlot here means there is often a slight advantage in many other more challenging years, with 2012 and 2008 being the first vintages that spring to mind. And then we have those years where we accept that there has been universal success; submit your own favourite here, although I would plump for 2005 above all others (by which I mean 2010, 2009 and 2000, of course).

Cru Classé de Graves Tasting, 2014

What then of Pessac-Léognan? It is not entirely appropriate to consider this region as simply a southerly extension of the aforementioned left bank communes. The soils are different, the position south of Bordeaux confers a different climate, especially for those domaines secreted among the city’s suburbs, and although the typical vineyard is planted with the classic Bordeaux grape varieties, they are usually present in very different proportions. Further north, on the great gravel croupes of the Haut-Médoc, Cabernet Sauvignon rules, but here in Pessac-Léognan there are large plantings of Merlot; in some wines, in some vintages, Merlot dominates the blend. Pessac-Léognan therefore tends to follow its own path; the wines of 1996 were very successful, although I have long felt that they are not quite at the same level as those from further north. And then in 1998 the wines were superb, at a quality level similar to that seen in St Emilion and Pomerol, in what we still call a ‘right bank’ vintage. I saw a similar parallel performance, when tasting during the primeurs, between Pessac-Léognan, St Emilion and Pomerol in the 2012 vintage. Then, of course, we have the white wine, a major attraction in the Pessac-Léognan appellation, and this follows yet another path. It is not at all unusual for the white wines to excel in those vintages which otherwise have a very poor reputation which is, of course, too often based on the quality of only the red wines. Examples here include both 2002 and 2007.

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