Easy reach from the city of Bordeaux - and truly excellent wines
By Jane Anson
This Guide was last updated on 12 May 2010
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Château Haut-Brion: the complete visitor experience, but make an appointment well in advance. © Mick Rock/Cephas
Pessac Léognan is today the site of some of the most innovative and exciting winemaking in Bordeaux. Plenty of outside investment and young winemakers all contribute to a real feeling of dynamism. Even the appellation itself is young – it was only created in 1987, when a group of owners led by the irascible André Lurton (of Château La Louviere) decided there needed to be some way of marking out the northern section of Graves, where a high number of big name châteaux are located. Today, many of the same people are squabbling over the name, wondering if it does anything but add a further layer of confusion. You can see this on the labels of the best wines, which say Pessac-Léognan, but still need to write Cru Classé de Graves.
Whatever the outcome, this is one of the most rewarding areas to explore – the historical centre of Bordeaux wines, it’s not overly touristy, very easily reached from the centre of town, and has plenty of historical monuments and interesting villages, plus some good hotels and restaurants. The wines are also often truly excellent – a happy mix of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that makes them more approachable young than many of their Médoc brothers, and as a gross generalisation vinified in a style that favours flattering fruit and round tannins. Apart from Entre-Deux-Mers, the area also has a far higher proportion of quality white wines than anywhere else in Bordeaux and they are the only whites in the region to have their own classification, so your tooth enamel gets a ‘break’ as well.
Situated at the northern end of the Graves, Pessac-Léognan stretches from the left bank of the Garonne River around the southern outskirts of Bordeaux. The northern part of the appellation is surrounded by urban Bordeaux. Originally part of the Graves AC it is now identified separately due to its distinctive soil that produces wines showing great originality. Here is found a hilly terrain that comprises well-drained gravelly slopes from different eras created by the erosion of the Pyrenees Mountains. Due to the excellent drainage the region has more consistency in problematic vintages than other Bordeaux regions.
It has a mild Maritime climate influenced by the Gulf Stream and the Garonne River, with average annual temperatures of 7.5°C minimum and 17°C maximum with winter frosts being rare, although there can be serious spring frosts. There is however plenty of rainfall coming in from the Atlantic with 900mm of rain per year, mainly in the spring. The summers are usually dry and hot with the good weather often extending into autumn, although rain can be a threat to the harvest.
The fastest route from Paris, by car, is to take the A10 which takes you straight to Bordeaux. To reach Pessac-Léognan continue on the ring-road heading south and circle around the city centre. From the ring-road take either exit 13 and continue along the N250 in the direction of Pessac, or continue along the ring road further until exit 18 direction Léognan on the D651. By train, the TGV Atlantique service reaches Bordeaux in less than three hours from Paris, five hours from Lille and seven from Brussels. Also the local bus company Citram Aquitaine services this area. The closest major airport is found at Bordeaux-Mérignac.
Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB),
1 Cours du XXX Juillet, 33000 Bordeaux
Tel: 05 56 00 22 66
Syndicat Viticole de Pessac-Léognan
1 Cours du XXX juillet
Office de Tourisme de Montesquieu
3 Place Marcel Vayssière
Bordeaux Tourist Office,
12 Cours du XXX Juillet, 33000 Bordeaux
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