Please pass the Claret Carson!
If you’re a fan of the period piece Downtown Abbey as I am, you are no doubt experiencing withdrawal symptoms now that they are on hiatus for the rest of the year. Yet, I am always enthralled at the ritual involved when the wine is selected by Carson and Lord Grantham, and the elaborate pouring rituals begin.
This ritual is, of course, part and parcel for the Bordeaux wine trade in years past. British “Claret” increased in popularity in Britain when Eleanor of Aquitaine married in to the royal family, paving the way for Bordeaux exports. At that time, most wine was from Graves, and was called “clariet”, which is why the name still sticks today. Until relatively recently, the English would buy barrels of wine, import them across the channel, and bottle them themselves, translating the somewhat confusing French labeling system in to a more English friendly naming convention.
Today, we don’t have to go to such great lengths to get the delicious wines from the Bordeaux region. We are able to purchase, and taste, wines of wide variety and price point; In fact, we don’t have to go through quite the elaborate decanting rituals that Carson the Butler does in Downton Abbey, in thanks to modern bottling techniques and cleaner process.
This month, as I study for my CSW, we are meandering through France. I’ve already talked a bit about the Loire Valley region, but now we are delving in to serious, hard core, confusing, amazing, enthralling, Bordeaux. Bordeaux is located roughly halfway down the western coast of France, where the Girdone river meets the Atlantic Ocean, and moves inland to the southeast where there Gironde and the Dordogne meet to form the Garrone River.
Bordeaux is a challenge for me, with over 30 distinct subregions, Left Bank, Right Bank, middle bank (Entre-deux-Mars) and the uniqueness that comes with each of these. After tasting a beautiful array of Bordeaux a the Union des Grand Crus last month, I have come to discover that my heart lies on the Right Bank, with the silken elegance of the Merlot based wines, but there are several areas of the Cabernet driven Left Bank that call to me as well. The myth of Bordeaux as an old man’s luxury has been dispelled, and today, it is an accessible option to even the most budget friendly wine drinker.
First, some 411 on the basics. Yes, I know this is overly simplifying the details quite a bit, but going in to detail on the 37 distinct regions is just too overwhelming for most wine lovers, unless you are a Francophile. For a long time, I didn’t like the tannic, seemingly thin, overly astringent flavors in the Bordeaux that I had experienced. Fortunately, there is such a wide array of wine available, that there really is a wine for everyone, at every budget.
The primary regions of the Left Bank are Graves, Medoc, and Pauillac, and are Cabernet based blends. The Right Bank includes my favorite Saint Emilion and Pomerol, which are Merlot based. Smack dab in the middle of them both is the no man’s land of Entre Deux Mers, the No Man’s Land of Bordeaux. Thanks to the good folks at Planet Bordeaux, I have some great examples to share with you.
2005 Barons de Rothschild Reserve Special – Pauillac – A Left Bank powerhouse (this beauty was hiding in my cellar. At the time of purchase, it was $18, current vintage is about $30). This middle aged gentleman deserves some decanting, as he is a bit rough around the edges.
2010 Chateau de Landiras – Graves – another Left Bank powerhouse, Graves. So named due tot he intensely gravelly soil, this cabernet based wine is minerally with a graphite nose, rose petals, dried flowers, and a kiss of Brett. This is a wine that needs a steak, and an hour int he decanter but a lovely example of how complex Bordeaux can be, even at the $20 price point.
2010 Chateau La Grangere – Saint Emilion Grand Cru – this plush and velvety Right Bank beauty oozes dark chocolate and espresso, with ripe black plums and tobacco leaf and dried fig. This blend of 75% Merlot, 20% Cab Sav, and 5% Cab Franc speaks to all those Merlot haters and calls out, drink me! Love me! $25
Laffittte de Laujac – Medoc – the Medoc is at the very northern tip of the Left Bank, inching closer to the Atlantic Ocean. Full of savory herbal notes and stewed fruit, this elegant olive toned wine is bursting with blackberries, currents, and fig. Reminiscant of a class Napa Cab from teh 70s, there is great potential here for duck, Cassoulet, and other hearty dishes. $30
Special thanks to Planet Bordeaux for sending me these wines to experiement with.