The Skinny on Grapes, Part II: Bordeaux

By Kate Thomson
Photo source

Last time I talked about Burgundy grapes in the hopes of helping people understand wine a little better.  This time I want to talk generally about Bordeaux.

The Centre of the Wine Universe—France 

As I said last time, the French consider themselves to be the inventors of fine cuisine and lovemaking. Same goes for wine. They aren’t, but it just so happens that the international varietals—or grapes—that most winemaking regions in the world use were either developed by the French or were first used by the French.

There are three major wine regions in France whose grapes, if you can recall them while shopping, will form the basis for the bulk of your wine knowledge: Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone Valley (yes, quibblers, I know there are others, but let’s start here, shall we?)

So let’s talk Bordeaux.

The Grapes

Here’s a breakdown of the most common of the red and white grapes from Bordeaux:

Red Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carmènere

White Bordeaux: Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon (Muscadelle, too, but forget it for now)

The Flavour Differences—Bordeaux

French Red Bordeaux grapes are typically blended—they’re called Claret by the British and Meritage by Californians—and are usually big, bold wines with cedar box and tobacco notes, a tannic (or slightly bitter, drying) mouth-feel, and long drawn-out finish. 

They age well and can be paired with big, bold foods, like game, venison, porterhouse steaks—cutting through rich sauces like Béarnaise.  They don’t complement delicate foods and flavours, like Dover Sole, but instead overwhelm them.

White Bordeaux wines are similarly big and strong—probably better described as having strong and unique flavour characteristics.  Sauvignon Blanc is particularly mouth-puckering with refreshing grassy and citrus notes.  Some say it smells like cat’s pee (in a good way.)  Sauv blanc pairs particularly well with mussels in a white wine garlic sauce (with lots of fresh crusty bread).

New World Bordeaux

Once you’ve discovered the core flavours of Bordeaux grapes—and can remember their names—then you’ll be better equipped for buying new world wines, like cabernet-merlot blends from Australia or Niagara.  Then you can compare the differences in winemaking styles and how these very same grapes taste from around the world.  You’ll discover unique things like how our climate and vineyard terroir are reflected in our wines’ flavours. 

Kate Thomson likes to enjoy a glass of wine while reading about wine and talking about wine and—oh sure, why not?—opening another bottle.


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