Rusty Sly: Grape of the Night Bordeaux Wines


A Bordeaux wine is any wine that is produced in the Bordeaux region of France. For this tasting we concentrated on red Bordeaux wines. Bordeaux France produce red, whites (sweet and dry) and sparkling known as Cremant de Bordeaux. To be classified as a red Bordeaux the wine can contain a blend of up to the six varietals listed below. Generally there are three grapes blended in Bordeaux wines with one being dominant. I have added some details on the characteristics of the six grape varietals and their influence:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon – The Cabernet Sauvignon grape produces distinctive wines that are tannic and can have long-aging potential.
  • Merlot – Merlot grape is lower in tannins and makes wines that mature faster and are softer in texture. In Bordeaux wine Merlot is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon in order to soften the blend.
  • Cabernet Franc – Although similar in structure and flavor to cabernet sauvignon, this red wine grape is not quite as full-bodied, has fewer tannins and less acid. It is, however, more aromatic and herbaceous. In Bordeaux wine Cabernet Franc is most often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, though it’s usually not the dominant grape in these blends.
  • Malbec - has tannins and provides a plum flavor component to the wine adding complexity.
  • Petit Verdot - Ripens much later than the other varietals in Bordeaux, so it is not used as much as it has in the past. Petit Verdot adds a small amount of tannins, color and flavor to the blend. When the wine is young, it adds aromas of banana and pencil shavings. As the wine matures, aromas of violets and leather are produced.
  • Carmenere - This grape is rarely found in France and seldom in French Bordeaux wines based on its rarity. This grape is a member of the Cabernet family of grapes. It was used to help produce a very deep red wine.

Since true Bordeaux wines must come from the Bordeaux regions of France, what about blends of these six grapes in other countries? In the United States these Bordeaux style wines are called Meritages and in the United Kingdom they are called Clarets.

Many of you have heard the term in Bordeaux wines “Left and Right Bank”. This is in reference to the Gironde River. Two rivers feed the Gironde, the Garonne and the Dordogne, and once converged flows into the Atlantic. The terms “Left Bank” and “Right Bank” refer to the banks on each side of the Gironde where the Appellation is located. The Left Bank is predominately Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and the Right Bank is predominately Merlot grapes.

The terroir of the Bordeaux region is what allows these fabulous wines to be produced. This area is primarily limestone which provides a large amount of calcium in the soil. The soil structure is composed of gravel, sandstone and clay. The goal of the highly renowned estates is to produce wines that reflect the terroir where their vineyards are located. Many of the wines from these estates are produced from a single vineyard.

The Bordeaux wine region is divided into sub regions including Saint Emilion, Pomerol, Medoc and Graves. The 57 Bordeaux appellations these sub regions represent are categorized into six primary families (four red and two white). Listed below are these families:

  • Red Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur – These red basic Bordeaux wines are allowed to be produced all over the region and represent the cheapest Bordeaux wines. They tend to be fruity, with less oak influence than “classical” Bordeaux and are a drink now type wine. They are not made for long term cellaring.
  • Red Côtes de Bordeaux- These wines are produced by eight appellations where the blend is usually dominated by Merlot. These wines tend to be intermediate between basic red Bordeaux and the more famous appellations of the Left and Right Bank in both style and quality. Since none of Bordeaux’s top chateaus names appear in Côtes de Bordeaux they are less expensive. There is no official classification in Côtes de Bordeaux
  • “Right Bank” wine – 10 appellations from this area produce wines dominated by Merlot with very little Cabernet Sauvignon, the two most famous being Saint Emilion and Pomerol. These wines often have great fruit concentration, softer tannins and aging potential.
  • “Left Bank” wines – produce wines dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, but often with a significant portion of Merlot. These wines are concentrated, tannic, long-lived and most of them are meant to be cellared before drinking. The five “First Growths” are situated here.

So as you can see the French Bordeaux wines are very reliant on terroir to produce their magic. The one thing I would like to point out is that you do not need to search for the most expensive “First Growths”. Here is my strategy on finding and drinking fine Bordeaux wines. If you are over 50 years of age, you would need to buy 1995 or earlier examples to truly enjoy them in your retirement years. For the younger members of our group, you have the opportunity to buy these wines young and control how they are cellared for 25-30 years. I also believe in buying Bordeaux wine vintages that are not the greatest. If you buy a 1995, 2000, etc, the markup that results from Robert Parker (RP), Wine Spectator ( WS) and Wine Enthusiasts (WE) ratings is huge. For us average consumers, if I were to put a bottle of 1997 Chateau Leoville Las Cases next to a 1995 or 2000 vintage I would bet that most of us would not be able to taste or smell the difference. However, the difference in price is huge. My philosophy for buying wine is that great Bordeaux Houses are always going to produce great wines. The only exception would be if there has been an occurrence that has severely impacted the Bordeaux region or the House causing a bad year as opposed to an off year. Spectacular years will equal spectacular dollars, however, an off year from a great House will yield a great wine for a fraction of the cost.

Another way to taste the quality of the “First Growths” is to buy their second label. This is also true of the “Second Growths”. This is where the winery takes grapes from a vineyard on their property that was not high enough in quality to be sold under their primary label. Again, great Houses are still going to put their expertise into these second labels. Buy some and cellar them for 5-10 years I guarantee you will be surprised at how good most of them will become.

Wines Poured:

2008 Tertre de Launay – Entre-deux-Mers (means between the rivers)

Aromas:

Flavors:

Apple

Green Apple

Lemon Grass

Lemon Citrus

Floral Honey

Note: This was a bottle of White Bordeaux

Professional Notes:

Tasting Notes:

Pale to medium straw in color, this wine contains a high proportion of Muscadelle in the blend, which sets it apart from many other white Bordeaux. On the nose, it offers mineral, quince, under-ripe green apple and grapefruit in equal proportions, echoing and expanding on the palate with even more mineral. Medium to medium full bodied, with zippy acids and good depth and intensity, this is a great buy for so few dollars

2007 Chateau Douley

Aromas:

Flavors:

Bell pepper

Plums

Dusty

Tannins

Smokey

Note: Needs 5-7 years more cellaring

Professional Notes:

Tasting Notes:

A concentrated crimson tint to the eye and vibrant bouquet of strawberries and crushed coffee beans to the nose – Chateau Douley is carefully crafted with rich, layered fruit flavors under the guidance of world-renowned winemaker Michel Rolland. Chateay Douley’s flavors, matured from a year in oak barrels, originate from the east bank of the Gironde River, just 22 kilometers (13 miles) southeast of Bordeaux and surrounded by other prestigious regions such as Pomerol and St. Emilion.

2006 Chateau des Cordes – Saint Emilion

Aromas:

Flavors:

Redwood

Dirt

Subtle red fruits

Earthy

Plum

Currant

Vanilla

Earthy

Wet wood

Bakers Chocolate

Professional Notes:

Tasting Notes:

Typical of St. Emilion style, the wine is supple, generous, with lovely fruit flavors and a fine, and ripe tannic, composition. It is excellent with red meats, game and cheeses.

Winemaker’s notes:

Varietals: 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Sauvignon

Vineyard:
Located less than one kilometer to the south of the heart of St. Emilion, contiguous to the 1er Grand Cru Classé Classified, Chateau Angelus. The soil composition of this miniscule 3 hectares estate is brown sands. Average age of the vineyard: 35 years.

Harvest:
100% by hand

Vinification & Aging:
The grapes are harvested at perfect maturity, sorted, pressed then vinified according to simple and natural traditional methods. The cuvaison, carried out under controlled temperatures, lasts 2 to 3 weeks. Aged approximately 12 months in barrels of which 50% are new oak-barrels.

Bottling:
At the château

Production:
Approximately 18,000 Bottles

Specificity:
Its former owner the Count Leglay des Cordes, gave his name to Chateau.

2006 Closerie de Fourtet – Saint Emilion

Aromas:

Flavors:

Musty

Dusty Mocha (tannins)

Ripe blackberries

Cherries

Dusty Mocha (tannins)

Smooth Tannins

Note: Needs at least another 5 years of cellaring

Professional Notes:

Rating:

See tasting notes

Tasting Notes:

“Clos Fourtet (St Emilion) 2006: This has ripe damsons and plums on the nose, washed with the aromas of new oak. A supple entry, leaner and harder on the midpalate than this beginning suggests though. Quite ripe tannins, although with a little chalk, and plenty of grip. Quite an exotic edge to the fruit. This is an interesting, good wine. From a tasting of 2006 St Emilion & Pomerol. 16+/20 (October 2008),” Wine Doctor.

“Clos Fourtet (St Emilion) 2006: Good fresh fruit here, sweet, a touch smoky. Full and concentrated on the palate, quite broad, good typicité. Nicely appealing texture, lovely grip, firm, not a lot of flesh. This is attractive and has potential. A good wine for this vintage. From my 2006 Bordeaux assessment. 16-17/20 (April 2007),” Wine Doctor.

2006 Chateau de Bel-Air – Lalande Pomerol

Aromas:

Flavors:

Dried strawberries

Light Strawberries

Very light fruits almost neutral

Light tannins – very smooth

Light leafy green vege

Balanced

Note: Drink now or cellar

Professional Notes:

Tasting Notes:

“Now under full control of the Moueix family, with Christian Moueix’s son Edouard managing the estate, and their new technical director/winemaker Eric Murisasco, I expect this property to soar starting with the 2008 and beyond. This is a great terroir and there is no reason why it cannot perform close to the level of Ausone, its neighbor. In 2006 the Moueix family did not own the estate outright, but did have some influence, and the 2006 is certainly a good effort, with notes of kirsch liqueur, crushed rock, and some subtle herbs in a medium-bodied, finesse-styled wine that should be drunk over the next 10-12 years.” —Robert Parker

2005 Chateau de Canhaut – Medoc

Aromas:

Flavors:

Very green (young)

Tobacco

Decanted for 30 minutes

Fragrant

Dusty coffee

Perfume/Floral

No tannins

Note: Cellar for 5 years

Professional Notes:

Tasting Notes:

A full-bodied and modern style of Bordeaux exhibiting some spicy, new wood notes and an abundance of ripe, dark fruit. Despite its modern leanings, all the flavors here are very well-integrated.

2005 Chateau Franc Patarabet – Saint Emilion

Aromas:

Flavors:

Light red berries

Earthy

Light red berries

2005 Chateau Candale – Saint Emilion

Aromas:

Flavors:

Blackberries

Blackberries

Strawberries

Currant

Professional Notes:

Rating:

Wine Spectator: 92 pts

Tasting Notes:

Under the watchful eye of consultant Michel Rolland, Candale has produced an intense, powerful expression of super-ripe Merlot. The tannins are dense, powering through the dark berry fruit, rounded by the wood. It could do with 4-5 years aging. (Jun 2009),” (Wine Enthusiasts)

2005 Fleur de Fonplegade – Saint Emilion

Aromas:

Flavors:

Balanced

Balanced

Nothing distinct

Light smooth tannins

Red fruit

nutmeg

Professional Notes:

Tasting Notes:

Chateau Fonplegade Grand Cru St. Emilion…this is a true gem! Merlot based allowing the bright blue fruit to shine through and a deep concentration of blackberries, espresso and a hint of chocolate in the back end. Perfect with porterhouses smothered with grilled portabellas and caramelized onion strips.

2004 Reserve de Leoville Barton – Saint Julian

Aromas:

Flavors:

Blueberries

Light tannins

tobacco

Professional Notes:

Rating:

See tasting notes

Tasting Notes:

“Chateau Léoville-Barton (St Julien) 2004: There is a toasted edge to the bramble fruit here, with a chalky, rather bright but reserved, restrained nose. Soft on the palate, as restrained as the nose suggested, elegant but of substance. A very old-school composition, a firm core of tannin surrounded by gently polished fruit, firm acidity, and plenty of stone, mineral and pepper in the mouth. It terminates in a ripe, gritty, meaty finish. Plenty of grip here, really very good indeed. From a 2004 Bordeaux at four years of age. 17.5+/20 (November 2008),” Wine Doctor

“Chateau Léoville-Barton (St Julien) 2004: A firm nose, with fine fruit, presented in a reserved style, already quite unmistakable despite this wine’s young age. Some good flesh on the palate, but here reserved and stylish also. Very appealing, fresh, lively, with some delicious dark fruit. Very good indeed. Another elevation in score here I see. From a tasting of 2004 Bordeaux. 17.5+/20 (April 2007),” Wine Doctor

“Chateau Léoville-Barton (St Julien) 2004: A good colour, with moderate depth. Really rather classic claretty fruit on the nose, perhaps just a little note of cherry that is a little incongruous, with a little oak-derived nutty character too. Elegant style on entry, quite apparent and attractive balance, with a lovely weight set against fresh acidity and a ripe structure. It is a little reticent but gives some good flavours when worked hard. This has very good potential, and simply needs time, probably 8-12 years. 17+/20 (April 2006),” Wine Doctor

Winemaker’s notes:

Chateau Leoville Barton is a Second Growth Grand Cru of Bordeaux but frequently referred to as a ‘Super Second‘ owing to its exciting and scintillating nature. By offering a combination of remarkably good quality and great value; the property has earned its place in the hearts of many claret drinkers throughout the world. The wines of the Barton family are held in extremely high regard by the press, the trade and consumers alike, and the wines include those of sister property Chateau Langoa-Barton, however Chateau Leoville-Barton specifically, exists in a unique place.

Anthony Barton took over the family business in 1986 and has since been producing exquisite wines in perfect St-Julien style; Cabernet Sauvignon dominated (72%) with the rest Merlot (20%) and Cabernet Franc (8%). Leoville-Barton is tannic and austere in youth, but with time develops cedary character with intense blackcurrant and cassis fruit notes. 10-15yrs bottle ageing is the optimum period in order for these wines to show their best.

Conclusion:

I really enjoyed spending time with all of you at the Grape of the Night Bordeaux meeting. We tasted a lot of various Bordeaux wines. I hope that you do not judge all Bordeaux wines by these. I say that in the context that they were all very young. Tasting these Bordeaux wines at this age would be no different than barrel tasting a Cabernet in Napa Valley. Be sure to always look for the qualities and potential. If you like it, cellar it for 5-10 years, the changes will astonish you. A good friend of mine opened a very inexpensive Bordeaux that we used to drink at Valencia Wine Company (VWC). It was cellared for about five years and was unbelievable. So find those gems and start a collection if you like this style of wine.

I want to thank Eve Bushman for her promotional skills that had me questioning how to accommodate the increasing group. We had 20-25 in attendance with only a couple being from the original group. I am also so thankful to have friends like Guy Lelarge and Jeff Prange of VWC, not only hosting our group but for providing support and taking care of all our needs. If you need to buy a wine for a special occasion or just for yourself, I highly recommend the folks at VWC. They are extremely knowledgeable and will not steer you wrong. Most of my wine knowledge is the result of attending classes and tastings at VWC. Be sure to check out their website at http://www.valenciawine.com. I love spending Saturday nights there with friends, sharing and learning about wines while listening to live music in the background.

Our next meeting will be January 11, 2009. The grape will be Pinot Noir. This means French (Burgundy), California, Oregon, Santa Ynez, New Zealand, etc, etc, etc. Our motto is to try the unique, don’t go for the old stand-by that you know so well. So until next time remember, “When in doubt drink more WINE!”

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

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