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.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons


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

I could go on for days at the variety of Bordeaux available, but these are just some value priced examples of what you can find.  There are so many options out there, from so many smaller regions in the Bordeaux area, at all price points.  So what are you waiting for?  Go out and experiment!  And remember, Lefty Loosy (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc), Righty Tighty (Merlot).  I love the velvety softness of the Right Bank, but if you let the Left sit and stew for a while in a decanter, it is the perfect accompaniment for heartier meals.Enjoy!

Special thanks to Planet Bordeaux for sending me these wines to experiement with.

To Bordeaux or not to Bordeaux, that is the question

I used to think I hated French wine.  And then came my blog, and the opportunity to taste things that I wouldn’t necessarily buy for myself.  First, it started with Robert Skalli and Fortant, which opened my eyes to the world of French wine beyond Rhone (which I have always enjoyed), and the snobbery of Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Now, I was off to the races to taste some 25 Bordeaux wines, which were from Graves, Haut-Medoc, St. Emillion, Pomeral and beyond.

France, and Bordeaux in particular has always confused me.  Being the American that I am, I like having the region and the grape clearly visible on my bottle.  At least I can make some assumptions about how it SHOULD taste.  But Bordeaux is different.  Given that there are 10,000 producers of Bordeaux wine, and 13,000 growers, the way they make their mark on the bottle of wine can be downright consternating.

There are currently 57 appellations for Bordeaux wine.  Are there even 57 appellations in California?  When you’re speaking of a region roughly the size of Sonoma county, that’s a lot of micro AVAs to differentiate.

Adding to the complexity, the wines MST be made from some combination of and ONLY from some combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Malbec, as well as the older Malbec and Carmenere bits.  Now let’s add in this left bank, right bank layer, where those on right are primarily Merlot, and those on the left are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon.  Well mostly.  Maybe.  Sometimes.  How one knows left from right is fairly simple in theory, as Gironde River divides the region.  I need a secret decoder ring but at least it’s fairly well documented.


Here is what I found out after tasting my way left right and sideways.

I tend to prefer those wines from the right bank region, which include those from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.  While I did not take detailed tasting notes, I do know that my two favorite wines of the night were the 2005 Chateau Jean Faux, a Bordeaux Superieur, and the 2004 Bolaire Bordeaux Superieur.  These wines were $18.99 and $10.99 respectively, and at that price can and should be enjoyed frequently.  The Bolaire with a Truffled Beef slider was simply divine!

The lesson here is that even a California girl with a very New World palate can enjoy those finer things from other parts of the world.  I have been trying to drink my way around the world lately to open my eyes to new tastes and new experiences.  Another lesson learned is that while many European wines, and particularly French wines, are made to be enjoyed with food, many of them can be enjoyed on their own.  to my mind, this is a more American way to enjoy wine, as we have a glass for the cocktail hour, or when out in friends, even if you are not having a meal.  Finally, I learned that you can enjoy Bordeaux and not go broke.  If you know you regions and know your tastes, you can find some amazing values out there.  The wonderful examples of Bordeaux provided by JJ Buckley proved that there are extreme values out there, and even someone on a budget can afford the better things in life.

I’ve included the list of what I tasted, along with my most memorable (enjoyed) examples marked with an astricks.

Left Bank

  • **2007 Chateaufort de Blanc Roquetaillade Bordeaux Blanc (Graves)
  • 2008 Festival Rose (Chateau Le Gay) (Bordeaux)
  • 2006 La Bernadotte (Haut-Medoc)
  • 2006 Potensac (Medoc)
  • 2006 Lalande Borie (St. Julien) 2006 Meyney (St. Estephe)
  • **2005 Chateau Le Thil Rouge (Comte Clary)
  • 2006 Fougeres La Folie Graves (Graves)

Right Bank

  • 2002 La Vieille Cure (Fronsac)
  • 2006 La Cour d’Argent (Bordeaux)
  • **2005 Chateau Jean Faux (Bordeaux Superieur)
  • 2005 Chateau Roque Le Mayne (Cotes de Castillon)
  • 2005 La Tentation de Richelieu (Fronsac)
  • **2004 Bolaire Bordeaux Superieur (Bordeaux Superieur)
  • 2006 La Fleur de Bouard (Lalande de Pomerol)
  • 2005 Reignac (Bordeaux Superieur)+
  • 2006 Vraye-Croix-de-Gay (Pomerol) Vraye-Croix-de- 2006 Fonbel (St. Emilion)
  • 2006 Chateau Monte Cristo (St. Emilion) 2006 Chateau Vieux Taillefer Pavillon (St. Emilion)
  • 2006 Chateau Bourgneuf (Pomerol)
  • 2005 La Vieux Pourret (St. Emilion)
  • 2005 Haut Brisson La Grave (St. Emilion)
  • 2006 Haut Brisson (St. Emilion)

Happy drinking!  For current pricing please visit JJ Buckley Fine Wines online!