I had a couple of friends over for a little wine evening, setting off on a liquid journey of the Bordeaux region of France. The only requirement was to come with a bottle of red Bordeaux, and ready to have a relaxing girls night. Since Bordeaux pairs well with pork and cured meats, I made us a dinner of bacon wrapped pork tenderloin with apples and red onion!
At any rate, French wines have not been too high on my personal wine menu, so this was an evening I was looking forward to. How France’s regions are broken down, into all these little appellations, is amazing – and overwhelming! There’s so much to learn and explore, but for now I’m comfortable acknowledging that France has greatly contributed to wine’s history, and we can thank this country for bringing us some of the grapes that have become so widely known/drunk today (malbec anyone?).
So what is a red Bordeaux? Usually, these are blends made up of a combination of any of the following: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and malbec. If you find a wine which is largely merlot, you’ll probably pick up on a lot of red fruits on the nose and palate, along with smoother tannins. Those Bordeaux blends with a higher percentage of cabernet sauvignon will tend to have grippy tannins, giving that puckering/drying sensation in your mouth. Bordeaux blends range from medium to full-bodied, and usually offer medium acidity with high tannins, along with some big fruit on the palate and a medium (13-15%) alcohol level. Either way, some of the dominant flavors of Bordeaux blends are blackberry, blueberry, plum, black currant, violet, and even graphite and cedar. As with many wines, you can expect some major taste differences among regions. French blends tend to have black cherry, violet & bay leaf, and you might also find tart black and red fruit flavors, which may taste lighter due to higher acidity. And just to clear up any confusion, yes, there are Bordeaux blends coming out of other countries (like the US and South Africa), but these wines might be referred to as ‘meritage’ instead.
Typical Bordeaux blends come from a very large region in France, where the wine’s beautiful labels include different distinctions. If you find ‘Grand Vin de Bordeaux’ on the table, that usually indicates it’s the producer’s best wine. I also learned that the Bordeaux region has nearly twice as many acres of vineyards than Burgundy! Here’s a beautiful map of the region, which I found online:
For a few more cool details about Bordeaux wines, check out Wine Folly.
Onto the pièce de résistance: the wine tasting….drumroll, please:
- 2014 Château Roquevieille, Grand Vin de Bordeaux. Saint-Émilion (Right Bank). Merlot (70%), Cabernet Franc (15%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%). 13% ABV.
- 2015 Château de Camarsac, Bordeaux Supérieur. Entre-Deux-Mers. Merlot (90%), Cabernet Sauvignon (5%), Cabernet Franc (5%). 14% ABV.
- 2014 Château de Ribebon, Bordeaux Supérieur. Pessac-Sur-Dordogne. Merlot (70%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Cabernet Franc (10%). 13% ABV.
We gave them little nicknames because we didn’t want to continue to butcher the French language, so meet: Roque, Cam, and Rib, respectively. We tasted them in that order, and to be honest, it actually seemed like a nice progression….let me explain:
- Roque was a pale garnet in the glass, with a nose of cherry pie, raspberry and perhaps a little slate/chalk. It had a very light mouthfeel, and was loads more tart than any of us expected. That sweeter cherry pie we smelled turned into a tart cherry on taste. Way more acidity with this one, and if I had to equate it to another wine, I’d almost venture to characterize it similarly with my beaujolais nouveau!
- Cam was a great next pour! It was ruby colored, with a medium body. I definitely picked up on some of the darker fruit aromas, and found that blueberry/blackberry shone through on the taste. This wine was waaaay smoother than the Roque, which we can probably thank the 90% merlot for!
- Rib rounded out our tasting. This took us back to the garnet hue, but it was definitely more opaque, and had a medium-to-full body. It was also pretty smooth with low/medium acidity, but what this one added were undertones of spice – perhaps some peppercorn.
You can see that our wines had aged about 3-4 years, but Bordeaux can easily be aged for more than a decade! Remember, aging a wine can help mellow out the tannins. The Roque and Rib were served around room temperature, but the Cam was served a bit cooler.
For me, I’d say the Cam was the winner of the three, and I’d probably pass on the one I contributed – the Roque – on account of it being a brighter wine that I wasn’t anticipating. For me, the Roque is not a wine you’d drink if you’re just sitting at home or with friends for a casual drink. I think food would be needed in order to pour the Roque again. The Rib’s spice would definitely be a good match for food as well, but in a different way – complementing the spice with a creamier cheese and cured meat (we ate some crackers with a creamy bleu cheese and slice of soppressata which paired nicely). Overall though, I was really expecting fuller bodied wines, and none of these seemed to get up there in terms of really coating the mouth and feeling heavy. The Cam probably got the closest to that, and the softer tannins were probably to thank.
Maybe one day I’ll find my way to Bordeaux itself to navigate the sub-regions and various châteaux. While I don’t have that planned for anytime soon, I finally booked a trip to Sonoma and Napa with my mom for July! I honestly can’t wait for my first experience in Napa to be with her – it’ll be an awesome four days. Right now, it’s so hard to not attempt to plan every detail. Must…curb…excitement!
Until then, it’s happy drinking from the comfort of my own home!