Tag Archives: bordeaux

Bordeaux: It’s for everyone

Innovative yet traditional, easy-drinking yet complex, delicious and approachable now but also able to sustain the long haul, that’s Bordeaux in a nutshell. It’s a rather large and diverse nutshell, but the point is that while Bordeaux is the quintessential region for wine aficionados and collectors, it is also the region for the everyday wine drinker. Once the basics are introduced, anyone can embrace and understand the wines of Bordeaux.

Located along the Atlantic Ocean in the Southwest area of France, Bordeaux is the largest major appellation of France. It has 65 sub-appellations within its borders, and boasts over 275,000 hectares (nearly 275,00 acres) of land under vine. Red wine dominates Bordeaux today, representing 85% of its total production, though the dry whites, sweet wines, and even harder-to-find sparkling and rosé, are top quality. While Bordeaux has a tough climate—its proximity to the ocean makes it a fairly wet place, prone to disease and pests—its winemakers are striving for sustainability. The push for sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has taken hold.

With so many wine regions of the world to choose from, and so many of them newer than Bordeaux, why would you choose it? The answer is its diversity and sustainability.

Diversity
From white, rosé, red, and world-class sweet wines, Bordeaux has many families of wine at all different price points. Over the past century, Bordeaux has continued to focus on its terroir, finding the right grape for the right soil and microclimate, and making sure those grapes are expertly nurtured. For the white wine lover, excellent value wines labeled as from Entre-Deux-Mers or AOB Bordeaux Blanc deliver zesty acidity and ripe citrus fruit flavors in its wines. For more complexity and ageability, try the whites from the Graves district—in particular its sub-region or enclave Pessac Léognan.

Red wines range from delightfully fresh to dense, sappy and ready-to-drink to cellar-worthy. If you are looking for something to drink now that is fruit driven yet dense, and want something fruit-driven yet dense, try values from Fronsac, Castillon—Côtes-de-Bordeaux, or Francs—Côtes-de-Bordeaux. Bright and fresh qualities can be found in recent vintages of wine labeled Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur. Most of these wines are based on the Merlot grape and are approachable now. For the cellar, we head to the left bank where the communes of the Haut Médoc offer structured Cabernet-based wines, which, in particularly in good vintages, can be cellared for a many years.

Sustainability
Bordeaux has a maritime climate, which means climatic challenges. Rain at flowering or harvest increases disease pressure (aka likelihood of rot). While Bordeaux might not be top of mind when you think of organic, the push toward sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has definitely taken hold. Sustainability and environmental responsibilities are high priorities across Bordeaux today, and start early in the vineyard. Diverse cover crops are found between the vines, creating biodiversity and encouraging natural predators to help manage pest control. In addition, cover crops create mild competition, managing vine vigor and forcing vine roots to go deeper. Canopy management techniques have become more sophisticated to foster healthier vines and prevent or manage common diseases. These practices lessen the need for any additional chemical spraying.

 

The Blanc Side of Bordeaux

Hailed as one of the top wine producing regions in the world, Bordeaux typically brings to mind bold red wines worthy of the cellar.

But the white wines of Bordeaux are not to be overlooked. These bottles should have a place on your dinner table and at parties all summer long! These wines offer a diverse selection, from bright and easy-drinking to complex, layered, and age-worthy.

If you’re hesitant to try whites from this dominantly red region, you should know that until relatively recently, up to 60% of Bordeaux vineyards were planted to white grapes—reds only came to dominate plantings after a devastating frost in 1956 wiped out most of the white grapevines. While frost destruction was the catalyst for change, the move to more red grape plantings was due to a combination of factors including market demand, better soil-grape matching expertise and the desire to move away form the production of high volume base wines for the spirits industry.

The good news here is that though white wine production may be limited, the attention to detail and dedication to selecting vineyard locations with suitable soil types and mesoclimate make the wines noteworthy. Furthermore, over the past decade or so, producers have been making productive changes to combat issues of oxidation and insufficient aromatics in their white wines. One important change has been improved canopy management, meaning each vine bears the appropriate number of grapes, and these grapes get to see the right amount of sun at the right time. What does that do? It creates healthier grapes, and as well all know, healthier grapes make better wine. Once these healthier grapes enter the cellar, producers focus on keeping fermentation temperatures low, which preserves the fresh aromatics and acidity of the grapes, which is particularly important for Sauvignon Blanc. In summary, the white wines of Bordeaux are thriving due to the use of healthier grapes and better winemaking techniques.

White Bordeaux wines are comprised of three primary grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. One may occasionally see small quantities of varieties such as Sauvignon Gris among blends, but this is fairly rare. Like the red wines of Bordeaux, many of the best white wines are blends, with a focus on creating a balanced wine with character and complexity. The range of varieties available for blending allows for a diverse selection of wine styles. A few styles and regions to look for include:

Bordeaux – the largest appellation of them all! Some of the prestigious red appellations cannot be used on the labels of white wine, so you may just see “Bordeaux.” Many Bordeaux-appellated whites are simple and easy drinking, while others are more complex and noteworthy. Be sure to read the descriptions for these wines, as they could be light and fresh or more mineral-driven and intense. While both are delicious, the appellation itself is so diverse, it’s important to educate yourself before you buy.

Entre-Deux-Mers – Fresh, easy drinking, and value-oriented, white wines of Entre-Deux-Mers (which means between two seas) are the style you want to sip as an aperitif on a hot summer day or with fresh ceviche. Typically dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, these white wines are all about refreshing acidity and lively fruit flavors.

Graves – Named for the gravelly soils of the region, Graves is ideal for producing complex, often age-worthy white wines. With mineral-tinged notes paired with complex fruit and floral notes, these wines are ideal for accompanying a meal and often benefit from a few years in the bottle so the flavors can integrate.

Pessac-Leognan – The cru-level white wines live here, in a small region within Graves. This is where you see higher prices and higher quality. You may call these cerebral wines—not always easy to define in their levels of nuance, but certainly worth sipping to try to find out! These are perfect for a special meal and can easily enjoy some time in the cellar.

 

 

Memoirs of a Malbec

malbecSometimes I feel like nobody really knows the real “me.” Ever since I moved to Argentina, I’ve been fitting in really well. In fact, I’m probably the most popular guy here. I’m having a great time laying out in the warm sun all day, enjoying the dry heat — I barely even have to worry about fungal disease these days! And at night, when it cools down, I can rest easy knowing that I’m ripening nice and evenly. When I’m at high altitude, it can be a bit of a challenge to get the nutrition that I need to thrive, but ultimately my hard work pays off as I develop more complexity. The laid-back, easygoing lifestyle here has made me soft and approachable, and I tend to get along with everyone I meet. But a part of me worries that I might soon forget where I came from.

You see, life wasn’t always so easy for me. I grew up in the drained swampland of Bordeaux, where I began life as a very small fish in a big pond. There, while constantly battling difficult weather conditions to avoid disease or death, I contributed color and tannin to local blends — but I was never the star of the show. It’s not so much that I need the attention — I’m just an outgoing guy. So after a devastating frost in 1956 during which I lost 75% of my crop, I decided to focus my energy on my second home in Cahors, just southwest of Bordeaux. There, I changed my name back to Côt, and alongside Merlot and Tannat, I began to shine, as I had been respectfully replanted by those who appreciated me. Meanwhile, back in Bordeaux, they decided they were better off without me, and these days you’ll rarely find me back in my former home town. I’m not bitter, I swear — really, I wish all the best to my old friends Petit Verdot, Merlot, and the brothers Cabernet. I know they talk behind my back about my susceptibility to coulure and downy mildew, and my lack of maturity in colder years — but if I have to be in a blend with them, I’ll be perfectly cordial.

I set down roots in Argentina back in 1868, when I was brought over by a French agricultural engineer who recognized my potential. Life was always comfortable there, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that I “went viral,” effectively becoming the national grape of my adopted homeland. I’m happiest living in Mendoza, but I’ve made my way throughout the entire country. Wherever I go, I am always well-received by locals and foreigners alike!

When I’m in my native France, my personality is rather different. I guess you could say I live a more “rustic” lifestyle there — I’m not afraid to get a little dirty, and my tannins are a bit tougher. Probably because of the thicker skin I tried (and failed) to develop amidst the bullying in Bordeaux. Sometimes I like to vacation in the Loire Valley, where I can relax and let my aromatic side come out. But nowadays most people never get to see that side of me. I don’t want to brag, but thanks to my success in Argentina, I’ve become a bit of a world traveler. Apart from France and Argentina, I’m now planted in Chile, California, Oregon, Washington, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and a few other countries. Everywhere I go, people ask, “hey, aren’t you that guy from Argentina?” I’m very proud of my recent success, so I smile and say yes, and occasionally I’ll pose for a picture. But with each encounter, I think back to my humble beginnings and consider saying, “if you like me in Argentina, you should see me in France.”

Food & Wine Friday: Beef & Bordeaux – it’s what’s for dinner

For many people Bordeaux is a collectible, a wine for old-fashioned wine drinkers. It wasn’t that long ago that Eric Azimov wrote in the New York Times, “Bordeaux, once the world’s most hallowed region and the standard-bearer for all fine wines, is now largely irrelevant.” This great red wine from the Atlantic coast of France is, however, more affordable and more accessible than ever. Whether it is a cheeseburger on a Tuesday night or the finest filet mignon, there is a Bordeaux for every occasion.beef

Wines with the general appellation of Bordeaux are famous for being great values. The 2010 Saint Sulpice represents one of the best wines this level of Bordeaux has to offer. Located near Saint Emilion, this winery has some prime vineyard land to make great red wine. This easy drinking red has aromas of tea and black currants with soft, round cranberry and currant flavors on the palate. Enjoy the St. Sulpice with a flat iron steak and mashed potatoes.

Looking to the North, we have the region of Saint-Estephe. Wines from the cooler zone have a brambly and earthy character, which make them a great accompaniment to any hearty meal. One of my favorite go-to wines over the years has been the Chateau de Pez. This 2008 is dark and brooding with aromas of cedar and cigar box. The cassis fruit is supported chunky tannins. The big, chewy de Pez would be great with a rib eye steak.

Pessac-Leognan is the most southern region of Bordeaux. The creative and innovative winemakers of this growing area are making great wines for a very fair price. Ch. Haut Bergey is a great example of this innovative spirit. Purchased in 1991 by Sylvaine Garcin-Cathiard, every effort is made to create a hand-crafted wine of high quality. All of the improvements and hard work have paid off in this amazing 2010. In a vintage full of great wines, the Haut Bergey is a shining example of high quality for a fair price. Aromas of roasted coffee, vanillin, and tobacco lead to ripe black currant fruit on the palate. The sumptuous flavors are supported by fine tannins and bright acidity to the finish. Keep this wine in the cellar for another 5-10 years. I would pair the Haut Bergey with a standing rib roast…now that’s a great Sunday supper!

makingbeefAll this talk of Bordeaux has me yearning for some beef. One of my favorite local places to shop (in the Bay Area) is Schaub’s Meat, Fish, & Poultry in the Stanford Mall. They are famous for their “Fred steak,” which is a special dry cured beef that is amazingly delicious. Don’t be alarmed by the dark and blackened exterior— it’s just covering the yummy, beefy inside. Below, is an example of a top sirloin roast that my friends and I shared with a bottle of 2000 Grand Mayne, St. Emilion.