Although vineyards have been planted in Bordeaux’s sub-region of Pessac-Léognan since the days of ancient Rome, it wasn’t until 1987 that these adjacent villages were tapped from the Graves appellation and given their own. Pessac-Léognan can now proudly claim some of the most highly regarded properties as its own, most notably the respected Premier Cru Château Haut-Brion, the only red wine producer outside the Haut-Médoc that was included in the Classification of 1855, and Château Pape Clément, believed to be the oldest named Bordeaux property.
Pessac-Léognan has enjoyed a history as rich and celebrated as its wines. Claret from the Graves region was a favorite of the British during their three-century rule of Aquitaine that began in the mid-1100s. Two hundred years later, Château Pape Clément, which was founded by Pope Clement V in 1306, became the first international superstar among the Bordeaux
Pessac-Léognan rests on the Left Bank of the Garonne River, just south of the actual city of Bordeaux. It includes eight communes – Mérignac, Talence, Pessac, Gradignan, Villenave-d’Ornon, Cadaujac, Léognan and Martillac – and is one of the few Bordeaux sub-regions known to produce both red and white wines. While the north is somewhat crowded due to the development and expansion of Bordeaux proper, much of the south is covered with forests. Overall, the terroir is composed of sand and high amounts of gravel (hence the name Graves), making it ideal for the cultivation of the hearty Cabernet Sauvignon grape. This is particularly true for the tracts located in the southern section of the city of Bordeaux, where gravel is found in the largest proportions, yielding the finest quality of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes. It is no coincidence that the four key Pessac-Léognan producers – Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Laville Haut-Brion and Pape Clément – are located there. But the magic doesn’t stop there; farther south, several other well-known producers, including Domaine de Chevalier, Haut-Bailly, Malartic-Lagraviere, Larrivet Haut-Brion and de Fieuzal, produce outstanding wines that also rank among Bordeaux’s finest.
Like most Bordeaux sub-regions, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the land, accounting for an exceptionally high percentage of the vineyards. Merlot is grown for blending, as are Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, while Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillion are at the heart of the region’s highly regarded whites. The reds are characteristically elegant and earthy, ranging from medium to full-bodied with notes of blackcurrant, cedar and tobacco notes typically found. The whites, which are exclusively dry and carry a required 25% or more of Sauvignon Blanc, are crisp and citrusy, with notes of honey, custard and nuts. The region’s practice of aging them in oak barrels adds to their richness, making them what many consider the ultimate French whites.
History and nature have both been kind to Pessac-Léognan, and with the sub-region’s newly acquired recognition, the future appears to hold more of the same.