When one thinks of Bordeaux wines, they often think of expensive auctions for heavy reds that need to age forever. This reflects the tradition of the Bordeaux region, and the traditional names like Chateau Margaux, Petrus, or Lafite-Rothschild. But there is much more to Bordeaux than these expensive stalwarts. More recently vintners in the region have been using the classic merlot, cabernet-sauvignon, cabernet franc , sauvignon blanc, semillion, and muscadelle grapes to produce more approachable, and eminently drinkable wines.
The Advice Sisters recently attended an event hosted by the Bordeaux Wine Council, high atop the 61st floor of the Empire State Building, called “Bordeaux Under One Roof.” At the event, The Advice Sisters had the chance to taste not just good wine, but affordable Bordeaux selections from local American Importers. In fact, there were more than 100 Bordeaux wines under $35 .00 and available in the United States. The breath-taking view from the 61st floor were a reminder, perhaps, that when it comes to wine, and French wines in particular, the sky’s the limit for wine lovers in terms of choice for every budget and taste.
The Bordeaux region of France is particularly known for its hearty red wines made primarily from the cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes. Traditionally, these wines were made for aging, so they can have a tannic taste when opened young (and by young one generally means under 10 years old). Some people enjoy the tannins on a wine, but some believe that they take away from the more complex fruit and earth tastes that one would like – particularly when pairing their wine with foods. You’ll know when you’re tasting a wine that is very tannic, because it tends to dry out your mouth, with a bit of bitterness at the back of your tongue. The taste and sensation is a bit like biting into an under-ripe banana.
The wines being showcased at this event were constructed differently. Most were only 3 or 4 years old, and they were ready to drink. They all tended to be more fruit forward – featuring cherries, plums and other ripe fruit tastes with just enough tannin to add structure. While less complex than a Margaux or Petrus, they featured the spicy notes and black pepper tastes that one would expect from a good Bordeaux wine. In fact, at Bordeaux Under One Roof one could taste literally hundreds of Bordeaux blends that were ready to drink and priced for less lofty budgets. These wines were designed more for American tastes, much like the California and Pacific Northwest selections made from these same Bordeaux grapes. Many of the wines would make exceptional holiday or housewarming gifts that both the giver and recipient could enjoy.
For example, the White wine called Chateau Puy-Blanquet, a 2009 St. Emilion Grand Cru. [more ote about buying Bordeaux wines and how they are labeled can be found at http://www.bordeaux.com/us] This wine, which retails for $25.99 was very approachable and clean on the palate. It featured the types of red fruit tastes that one would expect from a good Bordeaux and just a bit of spice. While a bit too tannic for some of our testers, those who like a more structured wine will find it to be very pleasing.
Another white wine that is also from Bordeaux, dispels the popular notion in America that Bordeaux is known only for red wines. There were plenty of nicely priced whites, as well. While most Americans are familiar with the red wines of Bordeaux I was pleased to find a good selection of popularly priced whites. These wines which pair well with pasta, fish and fruit feature the sauvignon blanc grape. For example, a Chateau Bonnet 2011 Entre-Deux-Mers (between two seas) makes an excellent house wine. This young wine, at just $12.99, was vibrantly fruity with just enough acid to provide balance. Green and golden, this wine would pair very well with fruits and cheese and make an nice addition to a desert table.
For a more traditional white Bordeaux, a 2011 Dourthe La Grande Cuvee is a good choice. This wine had more of the forest-y, woodsy tastes that one would expect from a Bordeaux with a touch of citrus on the front of the palate. Priced at just $14.99 this wine makes a terrific and approachable party wine.
While Bordeaux is the home of merlot and cabernet, Americans have been doing amazing things with these grapes for years. Sampling another bottle, this one a table wine from Washington state, showed that American vintners are doing great things with the fruit of the vine, using the same Bordeaux flavors. But the Americans have taken a different approach to these grapes for years, making much more fruit forward blends that are perfect for picnics, barbeques or for just drinking around the fire.
At just $24.99 a Sauternes 2010 bottle by Barton & Guestier featuring Semillon Sauvignon blanc grapes, is tailor-made for dessert, and for those who like a sweeter wine. With notes of peaches, apricots and oranges, you might also serve this chilled as an aperitif instead of desert. It would also make a nice hostess gift or a good wine for the office party.
If you’re bored with beer, and your other beverages, now is the time to try Bordeaux. These wines are easily accessible at your local wine store or online. Happy new year!
*thanks to John R. Dunham (and friends) for his assistance in putting this article together