Monday, August 29, 2022

10 Facts You May Not Know About Bordeaux

                                     Wine is an integral part of Bordeaux's every fiber

Every wine lover most likely knows many things about Bordeaux wines, however, some may not know the following ten tidbits:

1.  Unlike Burgundy which names its wines based upon the actual plot of earth on which the grapes are grown, Bordeaux wine names are based upon the chateau that owns the land. 

                       Conspicuously absent from all Bordeaux front labels is the grape variety

2.  Grape varietals never appear on the front label of Bordeaux wine.  Often times, however, grape varieties are displayed on the back label.  

3.  Bordeaux law dictates which grapes can be grown in the region.

4.  Before  the 1960’s Bordeaux was known for white wine production.  In 1956 one of the worst frosts ever recorded killed many vines.  The region was replanted with red grapes because they were more frost resistant, and also red wine commanded a higher price.

The auditorium in Frank Gehry's "City of Wine" in Bordeaux is named after Thomas Jefferson

5.  Thomas Jefferson was particularly fond of Bordeaux wine.  As the American Ambassador to France he visited the region on several occasions and bought beaucoup cases of its wines for himself & colleague George Washington.

Botrytis not only dehydrates grapes but changes the chemical structure creating new flavor profiles

6.  Russia's Czar was also a devotee of Bordeaux wine.  In 1859 he dispatched his brother to to buy wine at Chateau Yquem.  By accident the brother was served an 1847 Sauternes, a vintage so terrible that it was not sold as the vintage had been attached by a fungus.  Thus began the Czar's love affair with sweet wine attacked by botrytis.  The wine was immediately rebranded to "Noble Rot."

7.  The most famous vineyards currently in Bordeaux's Medoc used to be swamps.  It was only after the area was drained by Dutch engineers in the 17th century that the Rothschild banking family purchased land in the Medoc.  The rest is history.

8.  Bordeaux is one of the few regions in France that does not produce commercial cheese.

                     Bordeaux is a huge wine region that is divided into several sub-regions

9.   Bordeaux is the world's largest fine wine district.  (It is 8 times larger than Napa.) 

10.  Bordeaux is located on the same latitude as Oregon, Piedmont (Italy), and the southern hemisphere's New Zealand.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

In Bordeaux It's All About Blending


This is the third article in a four part series on Bordeaux.  Last week we touched upon the fact that due to global warming the wine laws of Bordeaux have been expanded to include six new grape varietals.   Legally, however, these new varietals can only be a maximum of 10% of the blend.    The question is, did you know that most  all Bordeaux wines are blends?

Blending is used to enhance the complexity and texture of wine.   Blending is an art, and the winemaker’s goal is to ensure that each component builds a complimentary profile of fruit, texture and mouth-feel.  Different grape varieties contribute differing attributes to the blend.  Like a great chef, the winemaker must have an excellent palate.

        Cab Sauv's thick skins contain lots of tannin &  pigments that impact structure & color
Let’s examine the five historical red grape varietals of Bordeaux for what they add to the blend:
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is a powerhouse grape that contributes structure via its solid backbone of tannins and acids.  Cab’s broad range of flavors include black fruits (berries & cherries), black pepper, tobacco, licorice & violets.
  • Merlot is a far softer grape than Cab.   If Cabernet is King, Merlot is the more feminine Queen.  Merlot is responsible for a sensual texture and mellowness.  It adds flesh to Cab’s tannic backbone and dampens its harsh acidity.  Merlot flavors are often red-fruits (plums & berries) and chocolate.

When blended together, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are two varieties that complement each other to produce a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts.

               Cab Franc has fathered many grapes, the most famous of which is Cab Sauvignon                                                                          

  •   Cabernet Franc is one of the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon (the other is Sauvignon Blanc).  Cab Franc is lighter in color than its offspring and contributes flavors such as raspberry, cassis and violets.  Cab Franc is the third most prevalent grape in Bordeaux blends after Cab Sauv and Merlot.  While its presence in blends may be small in terms of percentage, its impact can be significant.

  •  Malbec is an inky dark grape that adds structure to the blend.   The grape’s flavor profile is plum-like.  Malbec is often only a percent or two of a Bordeaux blend.  In some Bordeaux blends, however, Malbec is not even present.
  •  Petite Verdot is usually a very small amount of the blend.  The grape is fickle so it has fallen out of favor with many winemakers.  When it is used it is often added as a final nuance for its floral (violet, lilac, lavender) and savory (sage and dried herbs) notes.

         Wine-Knows coming to Bordeaux this September will participate in a blending seminar

Friday, August 5, 2022

Important Changes in Bordeaux

                           Old world Bordeaux chateaux are preparing for global warming 

This is the second article in a four-part series on Bordeaux.  Today's article addresses what’s new in Bordeaux?   In many ways that’s an oxymoron as typically there is nothing new in this tradition-centric wine district.   For example, there’s only been one change in the Classification System of the Left Bank in the last 167 years, and that was when Mouton Rothschild was elevated to a First Growth in 1973.   But, there’s been a mammoth change recently.

French law has always dictated which exact grapes can be grown in Bordeaux---if it’s not on the approved list it’s against the law.  Up until last year, the only red grapes that were allowed to be grown for >100 years were the following five:

1.     Cabernet Sauvignon

2.     Merlot

3.     Cabernet Franc

4.     Malbec

5.     Petite Verdot

Similarly, white grapes grown in Bordeaux have legally been restricted for over a century to the following three:

1.     Sauvignon Blanc

2.     Semillon

3.     Muscadelle

                 Bordeaux's grapes are now ripening weeks earlier than they did a few decades ago

Bordeaux has long been worried about global warming’s effect on grapes.  For the past ten years, the wine industry has invested beaucoup Euros in research to investigate potential new varietals that will fare better in higher temperatures.  Based upon this research, Bordeaux’s wine laws were recently changed to include the following grapes---all of these reds and whites have demonstrated to be more heat tolerant.


  • Touriga Nacional:  (Red)  native to the Iberian peninsula where summer temperatures often soar beyond 100 degrees
  • Arinarnoa: (Red) a Bordeaux hybrid created from crossing Petite Verdot & Merlot
  • Marselan:  (Red) another Bordeaux lab grape created by crossing Cabernet Sauv with Grenache
  • Castets: (Red)  almost extinct varietal grown in France’s Southwest
  • Alvarinho:  (White) Portugueese / Spanish varietal
  • Liliorila:   (White) a crossing between Chardonnay and obscure French grape called Baroque

Currently, Bordeaux laws limit the above varietals to a maximum of 10% of the blend.  Those coming to Bordeaux for September's harvest tour may have a chance to barrel taste these new varietals.