To the uninitiated, the word Bordeaux might suggest a single region producing a single wine. Of course, you and I and anyone else who has explored this rich and diverse world knows that it is not the case.
Bordeaux has a long — in fact, ancient — history and is a geographic area containing over 30 distinct regions on both sides of the river Gironde, in the Gironde department of southwestern France. Despite widespread and extraordinary winemaking developments in the New World, Bordeaux is still recognized as a gold standard, with over 300,000 acres under vine in the first decade of this century.
The region is famed both for its red and white wines, as well as for its dessert wines. That is what made it the goal for the California winemakers of the 1960s and '70s. They felt that if they could make wines comparable to those of France, they would have arrived on the international wine scene, a fact that made front-page news at the 1976 Paris tasting, when an American red and an American white (Stag's Leap and Chateau Montelena) held their own against some of the great wines of France.
The historical record attests to wine production in Bordeaux dating back some 1700 years. The Roman poet Ausonius, himself a native of Bordeaux, was both a wine grower and a singer of its praises. Many of the grapes that are now grown worldwide were brought to other regions from Bordeaux, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadel, and others.
Some of Bordeaux's grapes have become famous as a single varietals in other parts of the world, Malbec being a prime example in South America. Historically, the region was famed for its blended red wines, called Claret by the British, the term now appearing on a Francis Coppola wine that is locally available.
For the most famed wines of Bordeaux, the so-called first growths, the blending process is crucial to the wine that is produced. At the same time, the top wines in the region make up only a small fragment of the overall production, and after the 2005 vintage, the prices of those wines shot out of sight, making them inaccessible to most of us.
Fortunately, there is still a great deal of high quality wine coming out of the region. Today and next week, we are going to take a look at some of them. So, join me for a short Bordeaux excursion:
Chateau de Paillet-Quancard, Cadillac, Cotes de Bordeaux, 2009, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, $13.99, 13% alcohol by volume.
The blend is 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc, placing it in the ballpark of the traditional Bordeaux blend. The nose is all dark fruit, plum, some currant, and an earthy background indicating that it has begun to develop. The palate is a good reflection of the nose, though with a stronger herbal/earthy profile. It is dry, with fine-grained, talc-like tannin, but a bit warm in terms of the alcohol when it first opens; medium body and medium flavor intensity of black fruit including blackberry, some hints of black currant and plum, the last of these being from the Merlot. There are some oak notes along the way to the finish as well. Good quality, clearly a food wine meant to be paired with red meats and heavier dishes. Ideal for the Fall. 88 points
Château de Cruzeau, Pessac-Leognan, Grand vin de Bordeaux, 2009, 13% ABV, $29.99. Same grapes as above, though in different measure: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. There is more Cabernet Sauvignon in this blend, making it a darker red than the one above. It is a deep purple in color, moving out to a lighter purple rim. The core is almost black. The nose is also rich in black fruit and earthiness.
The grapes for this wine were picked in late 2009 and then vinified, so what's in the bottle is now just about four years old. Upon opening, there is a little barnyard scent, but this is nothing to be concerned about, many of the great wines of France begin that way because the so much going on the bottle, but once they get a little air that passes and you can find what you've been waiting for.
Slow, thin legs with fat tears, the wine is very dry, with good acidity, balanced and well integrated tannins, medium alcohol, medium body and medium plus flavor intensity including the black fruit and mentioned above, current and some bramble notes, some forest for hints, as well as some resinous hints from the oak.
This is also a food wine, and, by the way, that is not a bad thing: There are some wines made to be drunk on their own that are more fruit forward, and others of the made to be paired with food where the fruit is a bit less insistent so it does not overwhelm the meal. Someone call this the primary distinction between Hold World and New World wines, those of Europe leading more toward the earthy food pairing type, while the wines of the New World tend to be more fruit driven. There are of course exceptions in both. This one falls into the food wine category as a great compliment to read, roasted, braised meats and herbed grilled meats. Long finish that maintains the earthiness. 89 points.
Next Week: Our Bordeaux tour continues with Château la Grave and Saint Glinglin (red and white).
Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh.com.