‘Bordeaux blend’ is a phrase sometimes used by winemakers and consumers to refer to certain wines, but what is its official definition? On hearing the term, most people probably imagine a red wine. That’s likely to be because nine out of ten bottles of Bordeaux wine are red and so too are the majority of non-French wines that copy or pay homage to the wines of this most prestigious region.

There is, however, such a thing as a white Bordeaux blend. Just over 10% of Bordeaux wine is white with just under one quarter of that being sweet, such as the world famous sweet wines of the Sauternes appellation. Whether sweet or dry, a white Bordeaux blend would consist primarily of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

However, when it comes to ‘Bordeaux Blends Abroad’, the number of red Bordeaux copies far outweigh the whites and are produced in a far wider range of the world’s wine producing regions. For this reason, I’ve chosen to concentrate solely on red blends for this tasting.

So, what is a red ‘Bordeaux blend’? To be correctly labelled thus, the wine would need to consist of two or more of the following grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and possibly Malbec and Carménère. ‘Bordeaux blend’ is not a legal or technical term and solely refers to the grapes used so there are no rules on the percentages, yields, planting regulations or winemaking practices.

In the USA, ‘meritage’ is a more official term that was coined in the 1980s for American wines made exclusively from two or more of the Bordeaux grape varieties. This trade-marked name is legally available only for use by winemakers who have joined the Meritage Alliance but it is a term used less commonly in its home of California now than it used to be.

So, why are almost all Bordeaux reds made from a blend of grape varieties and why is this style copied the world over?

The moderate maritime climate of Bordeaux with its variable weather and risk of high rainfall mean that to rely on one grape variety would be very risky. With the different varieties flowering and ripening at different times, there is less likelihood of an entire crop being ruined by adverse weather.

In addition, the soils of the Bordeaux region are also very varied and their different drainage and heat retaining properties determine which grape varieties can be successfully grown. The damper, cooler soils of the region’s ‘Right Bank’ (north of the Dordogne River) are suited to Merlot, whereas the ‘Left Bank’, with its gravelly, heat-retaining soil is the only area of Bordeaux where Cabernet Sauvignon can reliably ripen. Hence, ‘Right Bank’ blends tend to be dominated by Merlot (with Cabernet Franc in a supporting role) and ‘Left Bank’ blends have a higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bordeaux-BlendsBut it is not solely through necessity that almost all ‘claret’ is produced from a blend of grape varieties. Blending is a great skill which is of the utmost importance in producing premium Bordeaux reds. The percentage of each grape variety that ends up in the final blend will depend not only on the vintage but will also be the result of much deliberation, tasting, scrutiny and careful consideration of what each component will add to the blend. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon can be said to give tannin and a core of blackcurrant fruit; Merlot adds softness, richness and body; Cabernet Franc can contribute marked fragrance and Petit Verdot can add tannin, colour and exotic spice.

The ‘Bordeaux blend’ can create a very fine, structured wine that is built to last, so it’s no wonder that this style has been copied the world over, from the Super-Tuscans of the Bolgheri coast to the famed Bordeaux style blends of Gimblett Gravels in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. But of course, it’s not just the blend of grapes that makes the wine, and with greatly varying climates, terroirs and vineyard and winemaking techniques throughout the world’s different wine producing regions, ‘Bordeaux Blends Abroad’ should all have something unique to offer, making them more than simply ‘Bordeaux copies’.

Hopefully the wines we taste on Thursday evening will offer interesting comparisons in terms of the components of the blend, but will also demonstrate a sense of place and offer a range of different characteristics and some interesting contrasts.

See you on Thursday,

Brigitte Bordeaux

Advertisements