When I think of Bordeaux, I think of rich food, moody shoreline views, manicured Château lawns and wine. But not just any wine. Royalty wine. The kind that is older than I am and best served decanted from an old, dusty bottle. From a wine perspective, it’s a region that encompasses a number of adjectives: Strong, iconic, historic, monumental, bold, robust. But “intimidating” also falls into that list--in all caps.
By way of background, Bordeaux is located on the Southwest corner of France along the Atlantic coast. Among its many claims to fame, it is the largest growing region in all of France (more than 275,000 acres of vines) and is known for some of the most heralded wines--namely those that fall under the First Growth category of the world’s most famous classification system established in 1855.
I once had the good fortune of living in Alsace for a spell, and took the opportunity to travel all over France (from Èze to Etrétat, Marsaille to Montpellier, Avignon, Aix and Auvers-sur-Oise). But there’s one place I didn’t go: Bordeaux. Sure, as a wine enthusiast, I’ve had a hankering to put a trip together, just to see some of the grandeur historically attributed to the region. But honestly, I’ve heard far too many tales of how hard it was to really slip into the community of Bordeaux (unless you know someone who knows someone, or better yet, know someone directly). But after reading an October 2016 Food & Wine magazine article by Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle, I got the impression that Bordeaux has loosened its grip on its tightly locked gates.
Isle spotlighted a handful of historic Château in which visitors--and not just those with connections in the wine industry--could stay. He even reported that the mood for Bordeaux-curious newcomers was not only warm, but welcoming. And the wines were just as inviting as well.
As it turns out, as wine drinking has become less formal for most consumers across the globe, Bordeaux winemakers have expanded their approach with wines that are ready to drink earlier and are better suited to how we live and eat today. That means there’s a trend towards less tannic, less extracted wines. The result is a wider range of foods suitable for enjoyment with the wines, as well as a shift away from the perception of Bordeaux as being only for special occasions and fine dining. There’s also a focus on broadening the styles of wine produced, expanding from age-worthy reds to include a growing number of dry white wines, rosés, sparklers and dessert wines.
As luck would have it, I was recently provided a mixed case of Bordeaux press samples by the Bordeaux Wines trade association. The case was intended to exemplify the diversity of wines currently produced in the region, as well as some of the innovative approaches being taken by contemporary winemakers.
For New Year’s Eve, I invited a few friends to join me in tasting all of them. It turned out to be a fun little exercise--especially for those who weren’t familiar with Bordeaux at all. In fact, a few of them thought Bordeaux was an actual grape. When half the bottles opened turned out to be white wines, they were a little confused, which offered me a pleasant opportunity to provide some new experiences. Of the 12 wines, the majority of the wines were quite good. A couple of them were missing a certain luster, and sadly, one was corked.
Included in the lineup:
Clos De Lunes Lune Blanche Bordeaux Blanc 2014
Château Marjosse Entre-Deux Mers 2014
Château Les Charmes Godard Francs Côtes de Bordeaux 2014
Château du Champs des Treilles “Vin Passion” Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux 2014
Château de Cérons Blanc Sec Graves 2013 (dessert wine)
Château Tire Pé “Diem” Bordeaux 2014
Château De Regina Bordeaux Supérieur 2010
Château Mauvesin Barton Moulis-en-Médoc 2012
Clos Puy Arnaud La Cuvée Bistrot de Puy Arnaud Castillan Côtes de Bordeaux 2013
Château La Grave Fronsac 2011
Clos de Jaugueyron Haut Médoc 2012
A few of my favorites:
Clos De Lunes Lune Blanche Bordeaux Blanc 2014, $20:
Hailing from a region famous for its sweet wines, this dry white from Sauternes was a show-stopper. With Sémillon leading the blend at 70%, this wine has all of the feminine elegance you could desire, with notes of ripe pear, honeysuckle, lime leaf, and ginger and yellow apple. With a broad palate from 6 months of lees stirring giving the mid-palate a supple texture, this wine has a crisp and alluring finish, like biting in to the perfect pear.
Châteaus Marjosse Entre-Deux Mers 2014, $16:
A wine from a producer whose name is acclaimed for the iconic Cheval Blanc and Yquem, Pierre Lurton, this white Bordeaux from Entre-Deux-Mers is a beautiful expression of Sauvignon Blanc backed by the honeysuckle aromatics of Sémillon and a little support from Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle. A lovely wine for grilled shellfish and chimichurri.
Château Tire Pé “Diem” Bordeaux 2014, $12:
Fresh, ripe, and light aren’t typically words used to describe Bordeaux red wine, but this little number was all of that, plus a touch of dark earth and cocoa. A Merlot grown in in rich clay and limestone with southern exposure, this organically grown wine was vinified with an 8-12 day cool maceration for a lighter extraction and then aged for up to 10 months in concrete tanks. Notes of ripe blackberry and strawberry lead the nose followed by cassis and fresh summer herbs. A beautiful wine and a great value!
Château De Reignac Bordeaux Supérieur 2010, $31:
Bordering on the old school Bordeaux style, this Merlot-dominant blend with 25 percent Cabernet Sauvignon offers powerful structure with a velvety delivery. Dried fig and cassis, mocha, and a lot of wet forest floor best describe its aromas. (Seriously, it’s like someone is walking through a forest of Sequoias in a dew-covered parka on the hunt for dried figs with a thermos of dark chocolate hot cocoa in their hand.) And it’s delicious. A great value wine that packs punch.
Château Mauvesin Barton Moulis-en-Médoc 2012, $21:
From a small family vineyard in Moulis-en-Médoc, this wine is a Merlot dominant blend backed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. A bright and clean wine with fresh notes of strawberry, blackberry, and violet, the palate offers a touch of cocoa dust and damp earth framed with soft tannins and a depth of structure. A solid red wine that has a little something for everyone, this was the crowd favorite in our little tasting.
I can’t say that my “Case for Bordeaux” gave be a full picture of what this historically cherished region holds, but it certainly proved that Bordeaux has a lot more to offer than tradition and reputation might suggest. I haven’t yet booked my trip, but then, the New Year has only just begun….