Pessac-Léognan is a prestigious appellation for red wine in the Bordeaux region of south-western France. It was carved out of the Graves sub-region in 1987 as recognition for its high quality red and white wines. Many of the estates in what is now Pessac-Léognan were the best performers in the Graves Classification of 1959.
The regions wines tend to be based on the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grape varieties. They best suit the terroir of Pessac-Léognan. The dominant soil type is the same gravel (and sand) which gave Graves its name.
Pessac-Léognan's white wines are made predominantly from Sauvignon Blanc (a required minimum of 25 percent) and Semillon grapes. This duo thrive on the sandier soils of the appellation and produce extremely long-lived wines. In other regions and countries, blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are usually best consumed within a few years of harvest. The wines are often matured in oak for greater complexity.
The northern vineyards of the appellation are intermingled with the southern fringes of Bordeaux city. Those in the south are surrounded by the forests which produce the other main export of Graves: timber. Orchards and fields dominate the landscape of the Entre-Deux-Mers region just across the Garonne river, but pine forests and housing are predominant in Pessac-Léognan.
Among many top chateaux, the four most prestigious are Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Laville Haut-Brion and Pape Clément. The latter is named after Pope Clément V, who ordered its original vineyards to be planted in the 14th Century. Each of these is located within the southern city limits of Bordeaux. The soils here are deep, with a high proportion of gravel, and are considered the best of the appellation. Their superior drainage helps to maintain the high quality of the vineyards.
The commune (or Bordeaux suburb) of Pessac lies just to the south of these chateaux. Léognan lies 10 kilometres (six miles) further on. The latter is also home to several other quality members of the Bordeaux elite. These include Domaine de Chevalier, and Chateaux Haut-Bailly, Malartic-Lagravière, Larrivet Haut-Brion and de Fieuzal. Léognan is surrounded almost entirely by pine forests and vineyards, and benefits from the same superior drainage as Pessac.
Southeast of Léognan lies the commune of Martillac. Smith Haut Lafitte has made massive improvements since the 1990s, and boasts an impressive hotel and spa. Latour-Martillac, in the very south of the Pessac-Léognan zone is another chateau on the upgrade.