Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Discovering Bordeaux Wines

The release of the Bordeaux 2009 En Primeur has resulted in a few crazy weeks that have at times seemed like a feeding frenzy as wine merchants tried to acquire tiny – and sometimes non existent - allocations of wines at unprecedented prices. As Bordeaux wakes up an hour earlier than the UK there have been some very long days! The prices of the much hyped vintage have been shocking – for example the price of a case of the 2009 First Growths is now equivalent to a small car and Petrus 09 is around £2600 a bottle! If you are interested in the En Primeur Campaign you can follow Nick on Twitter or check out his blog.

Now that the furore has started to die down I thought it would be a good idea to have a look at some of the less well known wines from Bordeaux and the satellite AOCs around it.

There are about 8,650 winemakers in the Bordeaux according to the CIVB (the Interprofessional Council of Bordeaux Wine). These winemakers vary from family owned chateaux passed on from one generation to another, large corporations owned by national or multinational interests, and cooperatives.

Bordeaux is a blended wine and blending (assemblage) is a skill that has been built up over generations down the centuries. Blending was invented in Bordeaux long before any other region. Each Bordeaux wine has its own personality, intimately related to the special touch of the master winemaker or estate owner. Blending permits the specific elements from each variety to mix and bind together to create new elements. Blending is also a strategic act. It allows the major brands from Bordeaux to ensure a certain consistent flavour and overall quality of wines.

Only 14 grape varieties are permitted in the making of wine from Bordeaux. Red wines can be made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. The white wines of Bordeaux can be made from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle – which are the most used varieties, but can also be made from Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Mauzac, Ondenc and surprisingly Merlot Blanc.

Blending is not unique to Bordeaux - in the USA Meritage wines are Bordeaux style blends. Meritage red wines can be made from only 2 of the following grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Gros Verdot, Saint Macaire and Carménère with no varietal comprising more than 90% of the blend. White Meritage is a blend of at least two of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Sauvignon Vert.

However there is a change happening in Bordeaux - more and more chateaux have been bottling 100%, single varietal wines (mono cépage). This may have occurred as a way to compete with their New World cousins where wines are labelled by grape variety rather than place name. Certainly single varietal wines are popular nowadays.

Examples of single varietal red wines from Bordeaux are:

Château Tire Pé
Chateau Magdeleine Bouhou
Chateau d'Osmond

Petit Verdot
Bordeaux Domaine Papin

Cabernet Franc
Chateau Perayne, Cuvee Artemis

Cabernet Sauvignon
Le Coeur de Castenet

Chateau la Croix Taillefer
Château Tire Pé

As far as I know there is no single varietal wine made from the 6th Bordeaux red grape Carménère – probably as it is very rare there, having been wiped out by phylloxera in 1867. There are some vineyards with a small amount of Carménère vines left – notably the 5th Growth Chateau Clerc Milon has 1% Carménère amongst its vines.

The grape was “rediscovered” in Chile in 1994 when vines that had been imported by Chilean growers from Bordeaux in the 19th century were discovered to be Carménère and not Merlot as previously thought. We might see more plantings in Bordeaux from these vines that Chile inadvertently preserved over the past 150 years.


lostpastremembered said...

Oh Sue... I was just telling someone I remember when I first tasted it as a kid, an off year Petrus was less that $20 US, can you imagine? Now £2600... that is insane.

You really have my interest up about this Carménère grape.. I love these lost grapes... like the cognac grape... I would love to taste them... get a sense of what pre-phylloxera wine was like. Thanks for the great post.. fascinating as always. I am off to England today... so sorry we couldn't have a drink together!!

Sue said...

Thanks Deana! I love tracking down lost grapes too and agree that the wines of the past make me inquisitive.

Bon voyage and I hope you have a fantastic time in the UK. Travel safe :-)

tasteofbeirut said...

Bordeaux has a rich past as a wine-producing region; I have several friends who live there I should plan a visit and a wine tour, I think!

Sue said...

Thanks Joumana - I think a wine tour would be great!