All about Bordeaux Blends
The word Bordeaux is synonymous with luxury, elegance and complexity. The word is powerful enough to capture, honor and hold the history and heritage of winemaking that dates back over 20 centuries. Bordeaux identifies the most extensive fine wine region in the world producing some of the most sought-after, age worthy wines. It also names a desired, and often collected, varietal in both a red and a white blend. The word itself stems from the French au bord de ľeau which means ‘along the water’ – a linguistic illustration of the region’s topography. A red Bordeaux is made from a blend of two or more classic grape varieties – primarily cabernet sauvignon or merlot, depending on which side of Bordeaux you are drinking. While a white Bordeaux is vinified from blending native sauvignon blanc and sémillon along with smaller percentages of sauvignon gris or muscadelle grapes. It is the red blends; however, that dominate the varietal making up 90% of all Bordeaux wines. A red Bordeaux blend is going to boast complexity and be the characteristic that creates lifelong admirers and collectors. The aesthetic labels, branded corks and stoic green bottles work together to distinguish some of the world’s best wines.
Each bottle of red Bordeaux is going to deliver a different tasting experience. The age of the wine, the time in oak barrels, the climate characteristics and even which grape made up the predominate variety in the blend all will have influence. Most notably, Bordeaux is celebrated and prized as a wine of terroir. Our Bordeaux and California wine specialist Shayne Hebert adds that Bordeaux wines, “…come with a sense of place, speaking their climate and soil to become earth in a glass.” The romance of Bordeaux’s vintage variation contributes to its demand, and its taste. Bordeaux producing vineyards will often keep hundreds of bottles of their best blends and, Hebert reveals, “…that acts as a vintage library capturing the storied history of that year.”
Generally, a red Bordeaux blend will bring bold flavors and aromas - backed by structure with a medium to full body. You will detect deep, black fruits like plum, currant and cherry. On the tongue minerality will follow and linger on the palate with flavors of graphite and pencil lead. It is the wine’s high tannins, however, that beg for aging – more mature Bordeaux wines will have a softer mouthfeel and resolved tannins. While people do drink more youthful Bordeaux wines - they can be rigid and Herbert admits, “It may miss the mark.” Bordeaux blends will be a ruby red which will turn tawny with age. For serving, red Bordeaux is best with air and should be decanted for at least thirty minutes. Serve 55 – 60 degrees Fahrenheit in a red wine glass.
White Bordeaux blends are often overlooked and underappreciated among white wines. These wines are a beautiful tapestry of each grape’s prized qualities whether they are oaked or unoaked. You will enjoy the familiar and desirable acidity and grassy citrus that characterizes a sauvignon blanc while the sémillon folds in fuller honeyed flavors. These fresh, medium to light bodied wines should be enjoyed chilled in a white wine glass.
Ready to taste? Browse our red Bordeaux labels on sale.
These wines, of course, are only made in Bordeaux, France. Bordeaux is cradled in a maritime climate – hugging the Atlantic Ocean and nurtured by the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, that once merged, form the Gironde River. Therefore, you will often hear reference to Bordeaux’s Right and Left Bank as it is segmented by the Gironde Estuary. The peninsular Medoc and Graves sub-regions sit in the Left Bank and often produce cabernet-forward blends while Right Bank blends are merlot dominated. Smaller streams and tributaries traverse Bordeaux as well to shape the region, and ultimately, the winemaking. To the south and west the region is dutifully protected from harsh weather by dense forests. The region’s well-draining, gravely soil also supports the success of the grapes.
Napa Valley, in California, is also well recognized for Bordeaux style red blends. The grapes ripen easily in the Golden State which Herbert admires as a “…function of the sunshine.” However, California Bordeaux blends may not label or market using the protected word. France’s Appellation d’Origine Contrǒlée (AOC) has created and monitors compliance to strict winemaking standards and regulations which have helped to increase the appeal of French wines. One of these regulations includes varietal labeling which states that only blends made in Bordeaux can wear the word on their label. Many other winemaking countries and regions are, stylistically, making Bordeaux wines; however, they have devised language in hopes of capturing the allure and tradition of Bordeaux. If you come across claret, super Tuscan, meritage – all are labeling that indicate a red, Bordeaux blend style wine. Today, this style has spread to almost all wine making countries who have hoped to capitalize on Bordeaux’s commercial success and appeal.
Shayne Herbert, shares a personal and well-practiced food paring strategy for red Bordeaux. He suggests planning backwards – meaning first, know the wine and then pair the food as opposed to matching the wine to the food. He also believes, “The better the quality of Bordeaux, or older – the less intricate or complicated the food preparations should be.” He advocates to, “…allow the wine to speak.” With those considerations - think meat, umami and fat. Those elements will create a palate ballet with a Bordeaux. Braised lamb, grilled filet or even a juicy burger will make perfect pairings. For a cheese plate you will want sharp and aged cheeses that will complement a bold Bordeaux.
If you find yourself already besotted by Bordeaux, Shayne shares two recommendations. First, continue to try within the varietal, but move up and down in price points to experience other vintages. Secondly, search for other North American blends - a meritage or claret from California would be fantastic.
From Our Guests
“One of the great things about Bordeaux wine is that it will pair with any meal you are having. I love drinking a white Bordeaux with its tropical fruit flavors when eating oysters on the half shell or chicken piccata. When I am eating a meal such as a ribeye with truffle mashed potatoes, a red Bordeaux pairs nicely. My favorites are the Rothschild Bordeaux Reserve and Chateau Acker-Pereau Bordeaux.” – Sandra Poreda, ABC Customer