Pessac-Léognan is an ancient and reputable French wine-growing region that lies along the left bank of the Garonne River, just outside of the city of Bordeaux. The region, known for its diverse and high quality red and white wines, was delimited during the creation of a local winemaker’s union in 1905 but did not receive its own AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) designation until almost a century later 1987.
As with all great wines, the excellence of Pessac-Léognan is inextricably linked with its unique terroir and the climate that shapes it. All wines under the Pessac-Léognan designation emanate from a strictly defined geographical region just south of the city of Bordeaux referred to as the “Graves de Bordeaux” (The gravely banks of Bordeaux). This, the oldest wine region in Bordeaux, is characterized by its temperate, calm micro-climate produced by its unique positioning between both the sea and the forest. The soil content of these gravely banks is poor, but the hilly landscape lends itself beautifully to a natural and highly effective draining system that, thanks to the regular rain flow, brings ample water to the vines without risk of oversaturation. Even in periods of light rainfall the Garonne River and its tributaries provide the backup hydration necessary to keep the vineyards optimally quenched. The pebbly soil then captures the rays of the sun, emitting heat on the vines well after dark through a process conducive to the maturation of the grapes. The heterogeneity if the soil’s composition and depth allows for a remarkable diversity of expression in the resulting grapes, which in concert with the ideal aforementioned growing conditions results in a wonderful variety of high caliber wines.
What to expect from a Pessac-Léognan Red Wine:
Pessac-Léognan red wines are made from Cabernet-Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. The Cabernet-Sauvignon vine matures exquisitely in the gravely soils and later constitutes the powerful and complex body of the tannin-forward wine that improves elegantly with age. The Merlot, on the other hand, softens the vigor of the Cabernet-Sauvignon, rounding the wine’s flavor with its smooth texture and fruity taste. Even at its youngest stage, a bottle of red Pessac-Léognan will commonly smell of ripened berries with hints of vanilla and smoked almond. As the wine ages, these aromas intensify harmoniously. An older red will be best enjoyed, after careful decanting around room temperature, with all meats, game and cheeses.
What to expect from a Pessac-Léognan White Wine:
These dry white wines are unique in their ability to combine complexity and freshness. This rare harmony is attributed to the Sauvignon and Sémillion grape varieties used in the white wines of Pessac-Léognan. The Sauvignon usually constitutes the majority of the mixture and brings the structure, freshness and fruitiness to the wine, whereas the Sémillion provides the seductive flavors and aromas of crystalized fruits. In addition to its fruitiness, the wine blends scents of lime tree broom, with notes of honey. For wines under 4 or 5 years, serve at 50° F; anything older should not reach temperatures lower than 55° F. These dry wines are usually served as apéritifs before or at the beginning of meals with shellfish. The older wines can also make fantastic partners with white fish, meats and dry cheeses.
All photography credit goes to the Syndicat Viticole de Pessac-Léognan