Thursday, March 26, 2015

Let’s start by saying that in Bordeaux, Practically all Wines are Blended. Many do not Consider the Fact and would be Surprised...

There are many great books and websites with great research and information, but a lot of people ask me about Bordeaux and what makes it so well-regarded while comparing to Napa Valley wines. I just hosted a varied, full-on Bordeaux tasting(which I'll cover on a later date) and there was a lot of blather abound. So here are some thoughts on it.

Let’s start by saying that in Bordeaux, practically all wines are blended. Those who know…know that. Many do not and would be surprised.

Only a few producers make single-variety or varietal wines, which is a lot different than many in Napa Valley, California.

So the French labels actually mask that fact. There’s no naming of the varietals on the labels; but for a few…

So let's talk a little French Bordeaux...

The classic blend consists of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc, with small embellishments of Petit Verdot and Malbec and very occasionally Carmenere. Malbec has become the signature grape of Argentina and Carmenere is becoming the signature grape of Chile…but that’s another story.

Merlot is favored on the right bank of the Gironde River system (the main river that divides both sides of Bordeaux), and Cabernet Sauvignon on the left, though Merlot plantings have been increasing on the left bank over the past twenty years. It’s hard to tell what effect that will have.

Bordeaux wines are done in is a highly controlled process, with prevalent use of stainless steel vats for fermentation, cooling devices, mechanisms, procedures and a lot of hygienic self-control and restraint. Let’s face it. This where the whole shebang sort of comes from... more or less.

Just so you know in the early 1950’s, adding sugar became legal in Bordeaux. The sugar is not to sweeten the wine. It is to help it along so it ripens to a better potential along with the alcohol. The use of sugar (chaptalization) is common in Bordeaux, except in the warmest of years, and on the left bank, where Cabernet Sauvignon leads the way and ripens well ahead of the Merlot.

Also, the left bank is the place where the original ‘Classified Growths’ are…so they want to optimize the area, to say the least.

Let’s get to the wine!

Once the producer decides the wine has aged for the right amount of time, the selection begins for the right blend for the vintage. This is released as the château's grand vin. Sometimes there is leftovers from the blending and this may be released as a second-wine (or in even a third-wine). It’s not inferior wine. Some are very expensive which can be superior to a lot of great wines. Some get so popular that they have a conundrum as to whether they need to put aside for the second wine.

…Well after the blending, the wine will be bottled, and will then typically goes through a further ageing process before being released.

In Bordeaux the oenologists and their science of winemaking plays a huge role. Many of these folks work as consultants to different châteaux and carry a whole lot of weight these days in major decisions regarding the wine. The Chateaux contract these wine scientists/wine process experts/visionaries to help them make the best wine they can.

Some of the most famous oenologists are Stéphane Derenoncourt, Emile Peynaud, Jacques Boissenot, Pascal Chantonnet, Olivier Dauga, Denis Dubourdieu, Jean-Philippe Fort, and Michel Rolland.

Likewise, In Bordeaux, hand picking grapes is now common among the more prestigious châteaux. Hand- picking is the traditional way. But while hand-picking is the main way of doing things, some classified châteaux still want to harvest by machine.

Here’s the thing on hand picking grapes in Bordeaux…The delicate and careful process of gathering by hand is still the best way to secure a maximum quality harvest ….The one problem with manual harvesting is the sheer size of vineyards in Bordeaux. 

On the other hand; mechanical harvesting also has a big benefit. It is very flexible: it makes possible harvesting at night, which is very desirable and effective during hot weather ….

What is also important is that the flatter geography of Bordeaux also allows for mechanical harvesting, it is not like the Rhone where the steep slopes of wine-producing areas such as Côte-Rôtie makes machine harvesting practically impossible.

It goes without saying that Quality and Profit are always very significant factors on all of this. 

The other big decision these days while on the subject of the blended wines of Bordeaux is that there has been this rise in the use of ‘green harvesting’, where unripe bunches are cut off in the summer in order to be this conduit for more of the plant's strength to the remaining bunches.

‘Green Harvesting’ is really controversial and some big wine making names such as Jean Gautreau of Château Sociando-Mallet, Gonzague Lurton of Château Durfort-Vivens and Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier, who assert that the remaining berries just get fleshier and grow bigger and are not better. Their camp basically says; It may be a cheaper way of harvesting but will the quality of the blended wines of Bordeaux suffer.

Bordeaux is definitely not the only wine area with blended wines and certainly not the only area with process challenges. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that all these things mentioned previously occur in the place where arguably the world’s greatest blended wine is located.  

By the way did you know Bordeaux is a blended wine?  J/K.


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