The Bordeaux style
|Sampler wines from each of the five regions. Photo by Wayne Crawford|
Wayne on Wine
By Wayne Crawford
This article is a return to Bordeaux— a mecca for fine wines in Europe—to explore the 2014 buying options.
The city of Bordeaux is the center of the Gironde department. The Bordeaux wine region has almost 300,000 acres under vine.
Three rivers dominate the landscape and serve as points of demarcation for the region. The Gironde estuary links to the Atlantic Ocean and is supported by the Dordogne River, which passes Libourne on the Right Bank. The Garonne River passes the city of Bordeaux on the Left Bank; Entre-Deux-Mers is the land between the two rivers in the center below Bordeaux.
The challenge in selecting and drinking Bordeaux wine is the 8,700-plus wineries in the region producing 89 percent red wines and some fantastic white wines. The famous five first-growth chateaux, located on the Left Bank, are dominated by the cabernet sauvignon grape. But in Libourne, 23 miles east and north on the Right Bank, the wines are predominantly merlot, with Petrus the exceptional winery.
The keys to great wine are soil, climate and environmental conditions—a combination the French call terroir (ter-wahr). It gives each grape a unique aroma and flavor drawn from the growing site.
Limestone is the foundation for the soil in the Gironde estuary, and the Romans were instrumental in establishing these first vineyards.
Given the reputation of the region and the exceptional diversity in wineries, how does a wine buyer approach selecting affordable wines?
The first step is understanding the focus on terroir means all farmers are at the mercy of Mother Nature, so vintages are important along with winemaker skills and using the right grapes. Buying first-growth wines can be cost-prohibitive. Another choice is selecting the winemaker’s “second wine,” available from almost all the great chateaux at a considerable cost reduction over the top wine—but often still pricey. A third option is enjoying wines from any of the six wine regions at competitive pricing, with a dominant grape you enjoy.
Let’s see how this might work. One helpful online site is bordeaux.com/us/wines.
Bordeaux has six wines styles. On the Left Bank, Medoc and Pessac-Leognan grow mostly the cabernet sauvignon grape, the king of grapes. It is equally strong in tannins and acidity with its small berries providing dark tones with blackberry and plum aromas. When aged in oak, it delivers spicy black currant, vanilla and tobacco on the palate. With great grapes and a master winemaker, the result is a complex wine with great potential to age.
The Left Bank’s best vintage years are 2010, 2009, 2005 and 2003. These wines typically are blended with 70 percent cabernet, 15 percent merlot and 15 percent cabernet franc or with elements of these other recognized Bordeaux grapes: petit verdot; malbec; and carmenere, on winemaker preference.
On the Right Bank, in Pomerol and St. Emilion, merlot is the dominant grape. Merlot has more acidity than tannin and is considered the queen of grapes, with medium-size berries providing a dark bluish-purple hue in young wines. Aromas are fruity, mixed with plums, raisins and black currants. On the palate, the wine is softer and sweeter, with warm expressions.
The Right Bank’s best vintage years are 2010, 2009, 2005 and 2003. These wines are blended with 70 percent merlot, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent cabernet franc and, occasionally, with the other three Bordeaux grapes, as needed, to balance the blend. The softer merlot grape is often the preferred red grape for new wine drinkers.
The one wine not highlighted yet is made with cabernet franc. An essential grape in Bordeaux, it is higher in acidity than tannins and is mostly a great blending wine. With larger berries than cabernet sauvignon and thick skins with a deep blue-black color, on the nose this grape exhibits blackberries, plum and violet aromas. On the palate, there is a good balance with notes of raspberries, black currants, violets and graphite. The grape has less tannin than cabernet sauvignon and tends to produce a wine with an even mouthfeel.
The third wine region is the Red Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur on the Right Bank and Entre-Deux-Mers areas. Here merlot is the dominant grape. These wines represent 55 percent of all wine sold in Bordeaux and tend to be fruitier, with less oak influence. Small chateaux dominate the area, producing wines, which are meant to be drunk young, at excellent price points.
The fourth region is Cotes de Bordeaux, which starts south of the city of Bordeaux and runs down to Cadillac, about 30 miles long and 3 miles wide. The soil is limestone, gravel and clay with cabernet sauvignon dominating across 8,000-plus acres. The wines of the region offer exceptional prices and are meant to be enjoyed while they are young.
The two remaining regions are dry whites and sweet wines. The dry wines are Bordeaux Blanc AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) made only in the red wine regions.
The sweet wines include Sauterne, Loupiac, Cadillac and Sainte Croix du Mont grown in regions south of Cadillac below the Left Bank, where morning mist and fog form a unique microclimate. This region produces exceptional Barsac and Sauterne wines using 80 percent semillon and 20 percent sauvignon blanc and muscadelle grapes. The exceptional vintages are 2011, 2009, 2005 and 2003.
Pair Bordeaux red wines with most red meats—braised, grilled or roasted—particularly lamb. Avoid white meats. White wines set off barbecued and grilled fish, lobster and shellfish. The Sauternes are exceptional complements to almonds, apples, blue Roquefort cheese, custard desserts, foie gras, fruit and fruit desserts.
My recommendation is to seek out Bordeaux wines from each of these regions at competitive prices and enjoy. I have included a sampler wine for your consideration from each region.
‘Wines drinking well now’
Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2001, Appellation Sauternes Controlee, $90: Pale yellow-gold in color, the wine has flavors of orange-citrus, honey with hints of vanilla and spice. Chewy and powerful in the mouth, it finishes long. Highly Recommended and a wonderful collector wine.
Chateau Carbonnieux 2011 Pessac-Leognan Grand Cru Classe De Graves, Appellation Pressax-Leognan, $37: This wine is a brilliant yellow hay color, with lemon and peach flavors supporting a lingering finish. Highly Recommended.
Hortevie 2008 Saint- Julien, Left Bank, Bordeaux, $37: The vineyard of Hortevie is one of the smaller vineyards in the St. Julien area. The Left Bank vineyard of Hortevie is planted with 70 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot and 5 percent petit verdot, with many vines 40 years old. The wine of Hortevie is made by the same team that produces the wine for Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. In fact, the wine is produced in the same cellars as Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. No winemaking cellars exist at Chateau Hortevie. This is a Left Bank wine to watch. Recommended.
Chateau Puy-Blanquet 2008, St. Emilion Grand Cru, $24: Made at a Moueix property, this wine has dense fruit on the nose and a firm finish. It has a sharp, peppery, tannic structure with lean fruit and acidity. Best Buy.
Chateau La Grange Clinet 2010 Grande Reserve, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, $18: This is a Cotes de Bordeaux wine made from 60 percent merlot, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent cabernet franc. This wine is grown using sustainable farming techniques. The wine is smooth with enough ripe tannins and acidity to age. Best Buy.
Chateau Le Conseille 2010, Bordeaux Superieur, $21.99: Another wine from Jean-Philippe Janoueix, it is dominated by lots of merlot, giving it mocha, espresso, sweet black cherry and plum notes. It has gorgeous texture, terrific purity and a full-bodied, hedonistic, fleshy appeal. This is a sleeper of the vintage and a great value, best drunk in its first 7-8 years of life. Best Buy.
‘Drink What You Like’
In my next article, I will review the increasing high performance of Washington state wines.
Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.