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Mouton Cadet Rouge 2009
One of the most important wine regions of the world, Bordeaux is a powerhouse producer of wines of all colors, sweetness levels, and price points. Separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a coastal pine forest, this relatively flat region has a mild maritime climate, marked by cool wet winters and warm summers. Annual weather differences create significant vintage variations, making Bordeaux an exciting region to follow.
The Gironde estuary, a defining feature of Bordeaux, separates most of the region into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. Farther inland, where the Gironde splits into the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, the bucolic, rolling hills of the area in between, called Entre-Deux-Mers, is a source of great quality, approachable reds and whites.
The Left Bank, dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, contains the Médoc, Graves, and Sauternes, as well as the region’s most famous chateaux. Merlot is important here as the perfect blending grape for Cabernet Sauvignon adding plush fruit and softening Cabernet's sometimes hefty tannins. Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec may also be used in the Left Bank blends.
Merlot is the principal variety of the Right Bank; Cabernet Franc adds structure and complexity to Merlot, creating wines that are concentrated, supple, and more imminently ready for drinking, compared with their Left Bank counterparts. Key appellations of the Right Bank include St. Emilion and Pomerol.
Dry and sweet white wines are produced throughout the region from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and sometimes Muscadelle or Sauvignon Gris. Some of the finest dry whites can be found in the the Graves sub-appellation of Pessac-Léognan, while Sauternes is undisputedly the gold standard for sweet wines. Small amounts of rosé and sparkling wine are made in Bordeaux as well.
One of the world’s most classic and popular styles of red wine, Bordeaux-inspired blends have spread from their homeland in France to nearly every corner of the New World, especially in California, Washington and Australia. Typically based on either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and supported by Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, these are sometimes referred to in the US as “Meritage” blends. In Bordeaux itself, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates in wines from the Left Bank of the Gironde River, while the Right Bank focuses on Merlot. Often, blends from outside the region are classified as being inspired by one or the other.
In the Glass
Cabernet-based, Left-Bank-styled wines are typically more tannic and structured, while Merlot-based wines modeled after the Right Bank are softer and suppler. Cabernet Franc can add herbal notes, while Malbec and Petit Verdot contribute color and structure. Wines from Bordeaux lean towards a highly structured and earthy style whereas New World areas (as in the ones named above) tend to produce bold and fruit-forward blends. Either way, Bordeaux red blends generally have aromas and flavors of black currant, cedar, plum, graphite, and violet, with more red fruit flavors when Merlot makes up a high proportion of the blend.
Since Bordeaux red blends are often quite structured and tannic, they pair best with hearty, flavorful and fatty meat dishes. Any type of steak makes for a classic pairing. Equally welcome with these wines would be beef brisket, pot roast, braised lamb or smoked duck.
While the region of Bordeaux is limited to a select few approved grape varieties in specified percentages, the New World is free to experiment. Bordeaux blends in California may include equal amounts of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, for example. Occassionally a winemaker might add a small percentage of a non-Bordeaux variety, such as Syrah or Petite Sirah for a desired result.