From our Hang time tasting on October 1, 2015…
Bordeaux, in southwest France, comprises the Gironde estuary and its tributary rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne. Its approximately 900 million bottles a year are mostly about blended red wines—a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon (the bones), Merlot (the flesh), Cabernet Franc (the seasoning) and Petit Verdot and Malbec (the correctors). Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the left bank of the Garonne; its blackcurrant flavors provide 60-70% of most red blends. The most famous regions are the Médoc/Haut Médoc, St.-Estephe, Pauillac, Pessac-Leognan, and Graves. The right bank of the Gironde and Dodogne is home to Merlot’s plum notes, and to a lesser degree, Cabernet Franc’s spice. Here, the most well-known areas are Pomerol, St-Emilion, and Fronsac. Between the two rivers lies Entre-Deux-Mers, an AOC known for white wines based on Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle. Bordeaux is also home to the Sauternes and Barsac districts, which produce sweet white wines of incomparable quality.
Bordeaux has a maritime climate, tempered by the Atlantic, the rivers, and numerous streams; to the south and west, pine forests protect from the wind. The soil is gravel over limestone, with clay mixed in on the right bank. Drainage is important, since the region is rather flat. It has been a source of grapes since Roman times. In 1152, Eleanor of Aquitaine (including Bordeaux) married Henry II of England, and for three centuries, Bordeaux wines were exported there; later, the Dutch and cities in the Hanseatic League were favored buyers. Today, the world is its market, with Asia a major consumer. The wines are known for their elegance, structure, and intense flavors, rather than sheer, massive power, and the wines age well. Alcohol levels are comparatively low.
Not until the 19th century did Bordeaux start to become the modern entity we know today. In 1855, 61 left-bank red-wine-producing chateaux (60 in the Médoc and one in Graves) were classified into five different quality levels, ranging from Premier cru (First growth) to Fifth growth. This classification has been revised and expanded a few times; while useful, it is not completely reliable. Some right bank areas (notably St-Emilion) have also been classified, using a different system, but many properties are grouped into other categories—Bordeaux superior and cru bourgeois—while others have never been classified (including all of Pomerol, one of the best regions). Quality improved massively in the 1950s, when many vineyards were very densely replanted and modern equipment was introduced, especially in the cellar.
The success of the dominant blends—Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc—has attracted producers worldwide. In the US, red blends are sometimes called Meritage®, a proprietary name derived from “merit” + “heritage.”
Today, we have one white, Fleur du Roi 2014, crisp and food friendly. We also have a local offering, Treleaven Meritage 2012, well made with room to grow. Argentina chimes in with Kallune Mendoza Blend 2011, with warm-climate richness. Two classic French wines from lesser-known regions offer great values: Ch de Musset Lalande de Pomerol 2011, from a satellite appellation or Pomerol, and L’Eglise Saint-Hilaire 2011 from Entre-Deux-Mers. Both are Merlot dominated, classic Right Bank wines. All the reds are firmly structured and taste better at the table than alone.