Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bordeaux Blend

In France, where wines are labeled not by their grape type but by recognized geographical origin (appellation), the various grapes grown in that area are conveniently grouped by “family” or “blend.” Thus, a “Rhone blend” is made up of the typical grapes grown in that area. The Bordeaux blend family members are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. As in other parts of France, the weather throughout the year and especially at harvest time is so unpredictable that it is only one in three or four years that Cabernet Sauvignon, considered the leader of the pack, gets fully ripe. What does a winemaker do? They look to Cabernet Franc for bright, juicy flavor, Merlot for flesh and suppleness, Malbec for dark berry and earthy flavors and Petit Verdot for color and structure. Cabernet Sauvignon is king on the left bank, or Medoc area, of Bordeaux, and, as in other parts of the world, it thrives on warm, sunny days and a long growing season. In Margaux, the southernmost appellation in the Medoc, Cabernet Sauvignon does not thrive. The wines tend to rely more heavily on Merlot, which explains why those wines as compared to the more northerly St. Julien, Pauillac, or St. Estephe are considered softer and more feminine. On the right bank, Merlot and Cabernet Franc dominate in Pomerol and St. Emilion. Cabernet Sauvignon (and Franc) that are not fully ripe show their relation to Sauvignon Blanc by expressing herbal, grassy characters. In a world full of brambly, ripe Australian Shiraz this style is no longer acceptable.

Just as Bordeaux is the benchmark for Cabernet Sauvignon and the other varietals, it is also the role model for the Bordeaux blend. The first Super Tuscan wine, Sassicaia, was a Bordeaux blend. Bordeaux varietals were planted in Italy’s Veneto long before they were in Bordeaux, and the wines now have a category in which to earn better market recognition. In the new world, varietal-centric labels leave no room for such blends so proprietary names are used, or, as in the USA, a name for the category is created - in this case, the name “meritage” (rhymes with heritage). The early contenders in this catergory were Opus One and Dominus. Now, fantasy or proprietary names are used and the category is growing by leaps and bounds. In South America, the most expensive wines of Chile and Argentina are Bordeaux blends. As with the Rhone blend, white blends are a part of the equation as well. The white grapes of Bordeaux are Semillon and Sauvignon blanc.

Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux (France)
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, St. Julien, Bordeaux (France)
Château Ausone St. Emilion, Bordeaux (France)
Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux (France)
Vignalta Gemola Merlot/Cabernet 2002, Colli Euganei, Veneto (Italy)
Quintessa, Napa Valley, California (USA)
Cheval des Andes Bordeaux Blend, Mendoza (Argentina)
Mapema Primera Zona Bordeaux Blend, Mendoza (Argentina)
Tikal Jubilo Bordeaux Blend, Mendoza (Argentina)
Baron Philippe de Rothschild/ Viña Concha y Toro Almaviva, Puente Alto-Maipo Valley (Chile)
Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta, Rapel Valley (Chile)

Best Value
Covey Run Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Washington State (USA)

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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