A wine purchase may be about price – from $1.99 at Trader Joe’s (over 800 million bottles have been sold since 2002 according to CNBC) to the 1985 Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France $24,607.44. A wine selection could also be influenced by grape geography – preferring the grapes from Moldova over the vines of California.
However, with wine production around the world improving and increasing over the years, it is becoming both easier and more complex to determine the best wine to buy at the best price. According to Sommelier Michael Madrigale, “The rising tide of better farming, coupled with cleaner and less manipulative winemaking, have proverbially raised all boats.”
Many wine consumers are becoming brand aware and while the Bordeaux “brand” is frequently associated with quality – it is also linked to high prices. To break the connection between high price and Bordeaux quality – a recent event organized by Planet Bordeaux clearly demonstrates that we can have our brand (i.e., Bordeaux) and drink it too (prices range from under $12 – $36).
From oenophile to gourmet, Bordeaux appears at (or near) the top of every bon vivant list. It is the capital of the Aquitance region and its dining delights range from foie gras (Landes) to oysters (Arcachon Bay), and, located in the heart of the largest wine producing region on the planet, the destination is a contender for global tourism.
Right Time. Right Place
Wine making in Bordeaux has been ongoing for over two thousand years starting in AD 35 when the Latin poet Ausonius recorded wine production in the region.
While other parts of France can thank monks and religious orders for developing and maintaining the industry, in Bordeaux the vineyards were cultivated by merchants. Early in the second millennium, when the region was dominated by the English, hundreds of boats with Claret (a light red wine adored by Englishmen) sailed to England. By the 15th century, 50 percent of wine production was sent to England by sea. In the 17th – 18th centuries the English, Netherland and German merchants controlled the Bordeaux wine production selling wines in barrels and casks immediately after they were made. Merchants bought them in the barrels and casks and sometimes bottled and matured the production.
By the 19th century the merchants were creating a ranking to distinguish the finest of the wines from Bordeaux; this classification continues and today is known as Grands Crus Classes (Great Growths).
At the end of WWII Baron de Rothschild was the first wine maker to bottle his wines and mature them in a cellar. Most recently the trend has been to put a brand name of the bottle with grapes coming from all over the region (i.e., Mouton Cadet).
It’s the Grapes
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon call Bordeaux “home.” When considering Red Bordeaux, it is the blending of Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot that produces its unique sophistication. White Bordeaux combines Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc (fresh with delightful acidity) that is blended with Semillon (richness and body) producing a wine that easily competes in the global marketplace. White wine making in Bordeaux accounts for only 11 percent of production; however, over 7 million cases are available to consumers. Experts consider that the best dry white wines come from the Graves region and are lightly oak aged. They are paired brilliantly with scallops, salads with fennel and chicken with tarragon.
Sweet White Bordeaux’s from Semillon grapes are blended with Sauvignon Blanc or Muscadelle producing an elegant dessert wine that is honey-rich and delicious. The Sauternes receive their depth and concentration from Botrytis cinerea (Noble Rot – an infection that causes grapes to shrivel). Pair Sauternes with foie gras, soft-ripened cheese and crème brulee.
Think and Sip Bordeaux
1. Chateau La Mouliniere 2014. Bordeaux Blanc. 80 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 20 percent Semillon
Chateau La Mouliniere was built at the end of the 16th century and is located on the right bank of the Dordogne River.
Crystal clear to the eye (think gossamer wings), this wine offers hints of herbs and young flowers, lemons, limes and grapefruit linked with suggestions of bananas and apricots to please the nose. To the palate a welcome touch of minerality and acidity softens the sweetness on the tongue (think sunshine and soft balmy summer breezes). The finish is as lush as soft velvet and brings with it a wish for another sip. Pair with oysters, steamed Nova Scotia cod.
2. Cheval Quancard Reserve 2014. Bordeaux Blanc. 80 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 20 percent Semillon
Started in 1844 this family owned winery develops vines that are grown in gravelly limestone terroir and aged six months in oak barrels.
Palest of platinum blonde to the eye and offers a unique green peppermint, grapefruit, white peaches and blackcurrants aroma to the nose. Soft and seductive to the palate with suggestions of woods and florals. Soft and creamy finish. Serve chilled with roast chicken and lobster.
3. Chateau Chaubinet 2013. Bordeaux Blanc. 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc
A generational affair, Chateau Chaubinet is under the direction of the Fossat family with Pierre and Jean-Michel Fossat managing the estate.
The eye is delighted with the palest of yellow leading to chiffon white that gracefully floats in a summer breeze. Delicious grapefruit, lemon, limes, peaches and green apples to the nose leading to a pleasant surprise of minerality and a touch of sour that is delightfully refreshing. Serve as an aperitif with oysters and will also work with roast turkey.
4. Augey 2012. Bordeaux Blanc. 75 percent Sauvignon, 25 percent Semillon
The grapes are cultivated in a combination of clay and limestone soils and the estate is located in Entre-Deux-Mers (between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers). The Augey delivers the palest of white to the eye -like an early morning sun shimmering on a calm sea. To the palate it offers a hint of lemon tart and lemon grass blending in with fresh fall apples. Crisp and fruity finish pairs well with oysters and roast chicken.
5. Dourthe Grande Cuvee 2014. Bordeaux Blanc. 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc
The grapes are selected from terroirs that are located to the north and east of the appellation creating a Sauvignon Blanc blend. The aromatic experience is enhanced by a vinification process that has been developed over 20 years; the process includes maceration on the skins and low-temperature fermentation. The wine is aged on the fine lees with batonnage for 6 months to enhance the wine structure and delivers a delightful experience to the nose and the palate.
To the eye the palest of yellow sunlight reflecting off a clear glass. To the nose, hints of fresh grapefruit and oranges with hints of lemons and apricots. The touch of acidity offers a zing to the palate. A clean and refreshing finish makes it perfect for sipping at the end of a late summer day after kayaking and before dinner. Pairs well with Caribbean cod fritters or paella.
6. Chateau Tassin 2014. Bordeaux Blanc. 40 percent Semillon, 30 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 20 percent Sauvignon Gris, 10 percent Muscadelle
This estate is owned by the Gonfrier family from Rions, an old medieval town. Grapes are cultivated on steep slopes above the town and on plains bordering the Garonne River.
Clear and transparent to the eye, fruity to the nose it offers a slight hint of very expensive perfume – like a scent of a fashion model quickly passing on Madison Avenue; to the palate a complex mix of grapefruit with a hint of sweetness and spice from the Muscadelle. Full and lush with a tiny hint of a sour tart that is both a surprise and a delight. Pair with cold poached salmon and Blueberry Tart.
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