January 6-Bordeaux Red Blend

Bordeaux seemed like a logical place to start this little excursion but also highly complicated so I’m going to attempt to simplify it as best as I can! A huge amount of the reason it is so complicated is due to the French Wine Laws. These laws regulate what grape varieties can be grown, how the vines are grown and kept, the yield of grapes per geographical space, how much alcohol/sugar/acid can be in the wine, how the wine is manipulated by the winemaker, and labelling. You may have noticed while shopping, the labels do not list the varieties of grapes they contain or the percentages. This is due to the fact that these are controlled by law so listing the geographic origin (region, district, or sometimes even the specific vineyard) should be indicative of the blend utilized and in some cases listing the grape varieties is actually forbidden. As much of a headache as all of this can be, it assures a consistent level of quality is passed on to consumers.

As evidenced by the map, even it is confusing, and this is less complicated version. The Bordeaux region is divided into 3 sections, Left Bank (green and red tones), Right Bank(yellow tones), and Entre-Deux-Mers (lavender tones). (Banks refers to which side of the river they are located on). The Left Bank is to the west of the Gironde River and continues on to be south of the Garonne River. The Right Bank is to the east of the Gironde River and north of the Dordogne River. The section between the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers before they combine to form the Gironde River, is known as the Entre-Deux-Mers. Why does all of this matter, you may ask? Well, understanding the basic geography of the region will tell you more about the wine. The Left Bank is known to produce more Cabernet Sauvignon prominent blends while the Right Bank and Entre-Deux-Mers are more Merlot heavy (This is all due to differences in soil types in each area, but I will save you from those dirty details). The famous Bordeaux reds typically come from the Left Bank (Medoc) area. This is because Cabernet has better aging potential compared to Merlot due to a higher level of a molecule called tannins. (Tannins cause that mouth drying, sandpaper type feel when you drink a glass of wine or cup of tea.) Wines from the Right Bank and Entre-Deux-Mers are intended to be consumed much sooner after they are produced.

The wine I selected for this week’s tasting was a bottle of 2016 Chateau Pierre de Montignac from the Medoc area of Bordeaux which I purchased at Total Wine. I was hoping for some glorious backstory on the wine but no such luck so this will just be about the wine. Upon pouring it into the glass, then subsequently on the counter and floor while trying to photograph it, I noticed it was a deep ruby color that went out to the rim of the glass (if the color of a red wine starts to go clear out towards the edge, it means it’s been aged a bit). While cleaning up my mess(es), it gave my wine time to ‘open up’, which I highly suggest with this style (or pour a glass immediately then leave the bottle uncorked and wait a couple hours to pour the second and see if you notice any differences). ‘Opening up’ just means some of the compounds in the wine can react with the air and make them more pronounced when you smell or taste the wine. As I kept moving the glass around to get the right picture, I noted light red staining on the sides of the glass. This is because the blend is a majority Cabernet (if you got a wine from the Right Bank, you may not notice this as Merlot is a lighter tinted grape). Upon smelling it, I had to get my nose pretty close to the glass to find subtle aromas of firewood, blackberry bramble, vanilla, black cherry, and green bell pepper (the pepper note started as a bit of black pepper but evolved to green pepper as it sat out). This Bordeaux blend has well balanced acid to tannin (neither overpowered the other but both were significant). If you are used to drinking Cabernet Sauvignon from the US but are new to trying Cab from Bordeaux, you will definitely notice it’s not like the bold blackfruit wines with higher alcohol contents that we have in the US. French wines are intended to drink with meals while US wines can be paired with food or stand alone. This isn’t a bad feature but a concept to understand. While tasting this wine, I just happened to be having a ribeye steak drizzled with a tiny bit of truffle olive oil. This was an excellent pairing as the fat doesn’t allow the sandpapery tannins to adhere to the tongue and makes the wine appear smoother. I also tried extra sharp cheddar cheese but the cheese overpowered the wine. I then attempted different cheese pairings with my overstocked cheese drawer and found this paired very nicely with a cheddar gruyere I got at Costco. As I continued tasting the wine, I found it I was tasting blackberry pie with dried chocolate covered cherries, vanilla, and coffee. This wine was interesting because it continued to evolve as I typed this. Initially, I wrote my tasting notes then I began to transcribe them while ‘confirming by findings’, and a couple glasses of wine later, I was getting new flavors in the wine. This is a very enjoyable bottle for $20. 

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