When the word Bordeaux is mentioned, most people think of expensive red wine. But Bordeaux is also the name of a port city in southwestern France and the wines that come from that area aren’t all expensive and, in fact, they’re not all red. Wine specialists from Jacques Scott recently discussed Bordeaux wines over a lunch at Guy Harvey’s Restaurant & Bar.
Like Burgundy, Bordeaux is the name of a place, not the name of a grape. However, while Burgundy’s best wines focus on single grape varietals made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, almost all of Bordeaux’s wines – whether they are red or white – are blends of two or more grapes.
Bordeaux’s dry white wines are primarily blends of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc and, to a lesser extent, Muscadelle. Those three grapes are also used to produce Sauternes and similar sweet dessert wines.
Red Bordeaux is generally a blend of three main grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc – and to a lesser extent, Petit Verdot. Red Bordeaux can also contain Malbec and Carménère, but they are rarely used these days.
The blend ratios of red Bordeaux wines are generally determined by which side of the Gironde Estuary the vineyard is located, with the Left Bank generally producing Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends and the Right Bank producing Merlot-dominated blends.
Although Bordeaux produces some of the most expensive red wines in the world, not all Bordeaux is expensive.
Jacques Scott wine sales professional Sarah Howard said there were a number of good Bordeaux wines, both white and red, that were affordable.
“A lot of people are intimidated when they see Bordeaux,” she said. “They think, ‘I don’t have $500’, or ‘I don’t have $100 to spend on a bottle of wine’. But there are a lot of great bottles out there under $50; under $30; and even under $20.”
The lunch at Guy Harvey’s Restaurant & Bar was started with two white wines from Bordeaux – Château Lamothe de Haux (Retail: CI$14.99) and Château Talbot Caillou Blanc ($39.99).
Three different white wine friendly appetizers were sampled with the wines – fresh, raw Blue Point oysters, escargot ‘Maison’ and smoked wahoo pâté.
The Talbot, which is a blend of predominantly Sauvignon Blanc with a hint of Semillon, paired well with all of the appetizers. Since Sauvignon Blanc and raw oysters is a classic food pairing, it was not surprising that the citrusy flavours of the wine complemented the oysters perfectly.
Château Talbot is in the Left Bank region of Bordeaux called the Médoc, where many of the most famous and expensive red Bordeaux wines are produced. Because it produces such good red wines, for a period, the Médoc region was used to grow red grape varieties exclusively. The grandfather of the current owners of Château Talbot was the first person to replant white wine grapes in the Médoc.
Caillou Blanc is very aromatic wine that became even more so as the wine warmed up a bit, giving aromas of ripe peaches and lemon cream. On the palate it had a very long finish that ended with a hint of salinity – a perfect accompaniment for oysters and seafood in general.
“That’s your white wine alternative to Chardonnay if you’re looking at Bordeaux,” Howard said, noting that Caillou Blanc was a wine that could carry through an entire meal, evolving and showing its personality with time.
Lee Royle, Jacques Scott’s wine marketing manager, agreed that the wine got better as it warmed up a bit and was exposed to air.
“If you have the patience to have this wine open up, you’re going to be rewarded,” he said. “I think this is an example of a white wine you can decant.”
The Château Lamothe was a lighter-styled wine made of 40 per cent Sauvignon Blanc, 40 per cent Semillon and 20 per cent Muscadelle. It exhibited floral and grapefruit aromas and crisp acidity on the palate. It was perfect with the oysters and also with the escargot.
“There’s something about garlic and butter and white wine that is just a classic pairing,” said Royle.
At a retail price point of around $15, Howard was impressed.
“It think the Lamothe is a whole lot of wine for the money,” she said. “It’s delicious, fresh and clean.”
Although both the Château Talbot and the Château Lamothe wines would be fine with food or just on their own, Lamothe’s price makes it what Howard called “a porch pounder”.
“You can drink it outside on the porch or take it to the beach,” she said. “At 15 bucks a bottle, you can buy it by the case and take it to the beach.”
Three different red Bordeaux wines were tasted – 2002 Château Coufran from the Haut-Médoc appellation (Retail: $25.99); 2008 Château Trapaud from the Saint-Émilion appellation ($27.99); and 2009 Château Haut-Beausejour from the Saint-Estèphe appellation ($30.99).
The wines were sampled with four red-wine friendly dishes, including pasta Bolognaise; five-spices marinated duck breast; a New York strip steak with mushroom and red wine sauce; and a filet mignon with Roquefort cheese.
Although the Château Coufran comes from the Left Bank Haut-Médoc appellation where Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends are the norm, this wine was 85 per cent Merlot and only 15 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. Its aromas were a bit closed at first, but then opened up to display aromas of berry and cherry with a little exposure to the air. Ideally, it’s a wine that should be decanted for at least 20 minutes or so.
All three of the wines paired well with all four of the dishes brought to the table. However, the pairing of the well-balanced and powerful Coufran with the Roquefort cheese-topped filet mignon soared.
“It has the quintessential Bordeaux chalkiness to it that makes it great with meats,” said Royle.
On the nose initially, Howard liked the Château Haut-Beausejour – a blend of 60 per cent Merlot and 40 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon – best.
“It’s lively and fresh and has young fruit aromas,” she said.
Although very young by Bordeaux standards, Howard thought the 2009 Haut-Beausejour was enjoyable right now.
“A lot of people would see [the vintage] ‘09 and think it’s not ready,” she said. “But I think this is fine right out of the bottle.”
Howard did concede, however, that the wine would improve with age.
“If you buy that today and hold on to it for 10 years, it will be money,” she said. “If you buy that now and give it to yourself 10 years from now, you’ll say ‘I can’t believe I gave this to myself. I’m awesome’.”
The 2008 Château Trapaud from Saint-Émilion is a classic Right Bank blend of 80 per cent Merlot, and 10 per cent each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Like all of the red wines, there was nice, but not overpowering, fruit aromas and flavours.
“That’s the thing about French and Italian wine makers,” said Howard. “They don’t make jammy goo-balls. These wines are supposed to complement the foods of the region.”
Because it is dominated by Merlot – which becomes approachable at a younger age than Cabernet Sauvignon – the 2008 Trapaud is already drinking fabulously.
“On the palate, the Trapaud, for those who want to open a young Bordeaux and drink it right now, this is it.”
Howard said all three of the red wines tasted were examples of affordable Bordeaux for those on a budget.
“If you spend about $30 for a bottle of wine, you can go home with something you’ll be comfortable with,” she said.