Pessac-Léognan is an AOP wine growing area in the northern part of the Graves region of Bordeaux-France. Unlike most appellations in Bordeaux, Pessac-Léognan is equally famous for both red and dry-white wines, though red wines are dominant. The area has the only red-wine producer outside the Haut-Médoc classified in the Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855, the premier cru Château Haut-Brion, and also includes all of the Châteaux listed in the 1953 & 1959 classification of Graves. These classed growths account for a third of the wine produced in Pessac-Léognan - located on the left bank of the Garonne River - and directly south of the city of Bordeaux, some of the northern vineyards are completely surrounded by the housing estates of Bordeaux, as a result of the city's expansion.
Records show that the Romans first planted grapes to produce Bordeaux wine close to 2,000 years ago. Staggering to consider that two thousand years ago, the Romans knew about the unique terroir in the region that would later become Pessac Leognan.
The wine area consists of 8 communes: Mérignac, Talence, Pessac, Gradignan, Villenave-d'Ornon, Cadaujac, Léognan and Martillac. Red wines from this region (including those of Graves) were the wines originally loved by the English as claret, during the 300 years that Aquitaine was under English rule from 1152 to 1453. The area includes the oldest named property in Bordeaux, Château Pape Clément, founded by Pope Clement V in 1306. In the mid-seventeenth century, Château Haut-Brion became the first château of international renown, being praised by Samuel Pepys in 1663, while the Médoc was still swamp.
The appellation of Pessac-Léognan is relatively recent, dating to September 1987. Before then, the area was part of the Graves AOC, and known informally as Haut-Graves. Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant varietal, but a somewhat greater proportion of Merlot is typically used in blends. Cabernet Franc is also used, with small amounts of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère as well. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon are the varietal used and usually blended, and typically fermented in barrels at a low temperature.
The Pessac-Léognan appellation takes its name from the unique soils that consist of deep layers of gravel and stone. Below the gravel and pebble laden surface, layers of sand, hard-pan and clay. But much of the quality from this Bordeaux wine appellation is also shaped by the pine tree forests that occupy the region. The trees aid in creating the unique, micro climate of the commune by protecting the vines from the winds and local humidity.
Today Pessac-Léognan has 1,199 hectares under vine. Approximately 967 hectares are planted with red wine varietals and 267 hectares are reserved for making white varietals. In total, the area becomes considerably larger when you include Graves - which covers an additional 3,098 hectares. Graves is planted with approx. 2,296 hectares for red varietals and 802 hectares of white Bordeaux varietals. The Pessac-Léognan appellation produces close to 8 million bottles of Bordeaux wine per year, consisting of 6.7 million bottles of red wines, the remaining 1.2 million bottles being made of white wines.
Pessac-Léognan has the hottest, micro-climate of any of the major Bordeaux appellations and is usually the first to start harvesting. With increasing global and local temperatures, some vineyard owners have been adding more Cabernet Sauvignon at the expense of Merlot over the past several years. The red wines from Pessac-Léognan and Graves are produced in a myriad of styles ranging from simple wines meant to be enjoyed in their youth, to full-bodied, rich, elegant wines reminiscent of smoke, tobacco, cassis, dark cherry, leather, tar, and truffle flavours with a silky palate texture. The best red wines of the appellation can age for decades, and in some cases over 100 years.
The Pessac-Léognan white wines are rich, fresh, and lively, often displaying pronounced citrus, lemon, grapefruit, lime, green apple, floral notes, stone-fruits, white honey and mineral characteristics. They range in levels of quality and the ability to age, with several meant to be enjoyed in their youth. However the top white wines from the likes of Château Haut-Brion and Domaine de Chevalier can age and evolve for 50 years or more.