Have you ever stumbled onto a Bordeaux Blend in your local wine shop and wondered what it means?
Short answer: it’s kind of complicated.
However, I’ve got your back. Let me share my knowledge on what a Bordeaux blend is, exactly (especially when you are not in Bordeaux), and make some suggestions on wines to be on the lookout for on your next wine shopping trip.
What is a Bordeaux Blend, Exactly?
I’m so glad you asked that question – the definition has become, shall we say, fuzzy. Technically, a Bordeaux blend is a wine blend make with the only the red wine grapes that are authorized for use in the Bordeaux region of France. These are primarily:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cabernet Franc
Two other grapes that are allowed, but traditionally used in very little amounts, are Petit Verdot and Malbec. Here in the United States, they are more popular in American-made Bordeaux blends, particularly the Malbec, which is very unpopular in France and very popular in the US.
We could go into the details about geographic and percentages with these blends, but let me simplify: generally, there’s a “lead” grape – 70% Cabernet Sauvignon or 70% Merlot, for example – and you’ll probably find you like blends that have the same “lead” grape. Or sometimes there are two lead grapes. That’s the easiest way to compare Bordeaux blends, but since Bordeaux is such a bold style, it’s always a good policy to try the wine if you can.
Isn’t blended wine a bad thing?
It’s an interesting question, as most regions in France are obsessed about making fantastic single varietal wine. In recent decades, we’ve developed a perception that single varietal wines are better than blends. I think that’s mostly because there are a lot of crappy blends out there – don’t assume that a winemaker made a blend to hide poor grapes; try it and see for yourself. Blends can help winemakers produce a consistent flavor each year, and in some cases, making a good blend is just as difficult as single varietal.
What about white Bordeaux blends?
White Bordeaux blends do exist, but they’re far less common. These are almost always a combination of Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle.
Wines of Another Name are All the Same: Claret and Meritage
To complicate matters further, Bordeaux blends can come under different names that are even harder to pronounce than Bordeaux. The most common:
- Claret: This looks like a fancy-pants French term, but in fact it is an old British word used to designate Bordeaux wines. That means you pronounce the “t” – claire et – rhymes with baguette. These days the word is used with wild abandon, but when you see it, it means a Bordeaux blend.
- Meritage: If you see a wine that is labeled Meritage, this means that is a Bordeaux blend made by a winemaker who is a member of the Meritage Alliance. As the alliance was founded in California, the bulk of Meritage wines are from California, but membership and popularity of these wines is growing, and many of these wines are very high quality. Also note that, while there is much disagreement, I am told by the association that this word rhymes with ‘heritage.’
Some winemakers have given up trying to decipher the code and simply label their wines “Bordeaux Style.” Same thing.
Bordeaux Blends to Try
Looking for a few Plum Deluxe tried and tested Bordeaux Blends? Here are some you’ll love.
Côte Bonneville – Carriage House ($50, Yakima Valley WA)
Washington state winemakers love Bordeaux style wines, and leading the pack is Côte Bonneville’s Carriage House wine. This particular vineyard in the Yakima Valley is a very interesting spot – the “terroir” lends a wonderful flavor to the wine. The 2008 Carriage House is perfect right out of the bottle and will delight dinner guests, should you decide to share.
Hip Chicks Do Wine – Drop Dead Red ($24, Portland OR)
One of the Portland Urban Wineries, Hip Chicks’ Drop Dead Red is a fun wine brand that is fun to drink. The blend here is about half Merlot and half Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes it smooth and bright, and this is a great wine for cheese/chocolate tastings and pairings.
Calluna Vineyards – Cuvee ($33, Sonoma County CA)
Want to have a truly excellent wine that’s still good value that will wow your friends with your wine expertise? Check out Calluna Vineyards Cuvee from one of my favorite California wine regions, Sonoma County. Our resident wine expert Elizabeth called this wine “refined, balanced” with lots of hints and berries.
Chateau Corbin – Grand Cru ($42, St. Émilion France)
I guess we should include a Bordeaux blend that is actually from Bordeaux, eh? Reader/contributor Kathryn Schipper suggests you get yourself a few bottles of Chateau Corbin straightaway. Her tasting notes: “a rich, round taste; Makes you want to swirl your glass by a roaring fire between bites of steak & red-velvet cake. Saving up to buy a case.” Sounds good to me.
Bordeaux Blend Wine and Food Pairings
It’s hard to generalize wine pairings because even in a narrow theme like Bordeaux blends, flavor profiles can vary. However, in general, there are three things that tend go well with a Bordeaux style wine:
- protein: steak is always good, or how about a pasta with Bolognese sauce?
- rich cheese: Brie or Camembert are good choices – French cheese and French-style wine, what could go wrong?
- chocolate: whip up a chocolate dessert, or why not get some chocolate bars from your local chocolatier and have a chocolate tasting?