Browsing the archives for the Bordeaux tag

Meritage – America’s Bordeaux Blends

No Comments
News and Events

Earlier this evening a friend of ours asked a good question about what a “Meritage” wine is and how the term came about.  I thought it would be nice to share a bit of our discussion.

Cheers!

“Meritage” (rhymes with heritage) is purely an American word that is a combination of the words “merit” and “heritage.”  In 1988, a group of American winemakers got together to find a way to identify and market red and white wines made from the traditional Bordeaux grapes.  Through a contest they later chose the term “Meritage” to represent their style of wines, and thus the Meritage Alliance was born.

Why did they have to do this?  In the United States we prefer to see the grape variety on the label because it makes it easier for the consumer to identify and select a wine.  America’s complex labeling laws say that if you want to label the wine with the grape’s variety at least 75% of that grape needs to be in the bottle.  For a long time, winemakers knew that in many cases they could make better wines if they blended in some other varieties.  For instance, a wine with 100% cabernet sauvignon may be good, but if they blended in some merlot or cabernet franc it might be great!  The problem was that if the blend contained less than 75% of any one grape they were forced to label the wines as red or white “table wine” – not a very appealing marketing strategy.  Many producers turned to creating proprietary names to get around the legal obstacles.  Opus One, Dominus, and Aeros are just a few examples.  The Meritage Alliance exists to assist the producers in marketing their wines and helping to educate the industry and consumers about America’s Bordeaux-style blends.

It is important to note that not just any grapes can be blended together and be called a Meritage wine.  The blend must be a combination of the “nobel” Bordeaux varieties.  The red wines can contain: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, merlot, petit verdot, and on the rare occasion St. Macaire, gros verdot and carmenère. The whites can contain: sauvignon blanc, sémillon or muscadelle. No single wine can make up more than 90% of the blend.  In addition to using the right grapes, the producers must also join the Meritage Alliance for a small licensing fee.

Varietal Voyage No.17 – 2005 Chateau Grand Destieu

No Comments
Varietal Voyage

The second merlot (in this case a merlot blend) on our journey comes from Saint Émilion on Bordeaux’s “right bank.” Château Grand Destieu is made by Jonathan Maltus, who also owns Château Teyssier, another highly regarded estate in Saint Emilion.  Maltus also has wineries and vineyards in Australia (Colonial Estate, Barossa Valley) and the U.S. (World’s End, Napa Valley) making a number of other top-rated wines.

This is the first time we have ventured into this part of France.  Saint Émilion, north of the Dordogne River, is roughly twenty-five miles (as the crow flies) from the city of Bordeaux.  Château Grand Destieu was established near the town of Saint Sulpice de Faleyrens over a century ago.  Jonathan Maltus acquired the property shortly after he took over the aging Château Teyssier in 1993.  This part of Saint Émilion is known for its gravelly, iron-rich soils known as crasse de fer.  The unique terroir and Maltus’ unique methods in the vineyards and in the winery have come together to create many highly rated and award winning wines, including Château Grand Destieu.

Click here to listen to a GrapeRadio.com interview with Jonathan Maltus.

Unlike “left bank” wines where cabernet sauvignon is the primary grape in the blend with a handful of other grape varieties (merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot), “right bank” wines, like those from Saint Émilion are made mostly from merlot. Merlot based wines tend to be softer and rounder with more emphasis on fruit flavors, than their hard-edged cousins made from cabernet sauvignon. Château Grand Destieu is no exception with a blend of 75% merlot and 25% cabernet franc.

The 2005 vintage of Château Grand Destieu is beautiful example of what the “right bank” has to offer.  This young Bordeaux blend has jewel tones of ruby and amethyst with aromas that remind you of  ripe blackberries and raspberries interlaced with fresh herbs.  It’s medium body is packed with ripe black fruit and spicy minerality.  Lively acidity keeps the flavor alive and dancing on the palate and well-rounded tannins with hints of licorice and bell pepper carry on through a medium length finish.  If you get a chance to pick up a bottle, do so.  But let it lay down for a few years to truly enjoy its full potential.

 

2005 Château Grand Destieu ($42)

  • Approx. 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc
  • Saint Émilion, France

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Varietal Voyage No.15 – 2005 Château Bernadotte

No Comments
Varietal Voyage

The fifteenth wine on our journey and the last cabernet sauvignon comes from the Haut-Medoc, on Bordeaux’s “Left Bank.”  Château Bernadotte is in the commune of Saint Sauveur, close to the western edge of the Pauillac appellation.  Even though Château Bernadotte lies within the borders of the Haut-Medoc (map) , it is only a few miles from prestigious neighbors like Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Latour, in the region of Pauillac.

Like the majority of producers in Bordeaux, Château Bernadotte has a long history, going back as far as 1645.  In the early 1800′s, The château recieved the name, Bernadotte, in honor of  Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a field marshal under Napolean I.  Attracted by the favorable climate and soils and its proximity to other classified growths in Pauillac, Château Bernadotte was acquired by Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in 1997.   In 2007, May Eliane de Lencquesaing, the owner of  Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande sold the majority interest of both properties to the Champagne house of Louis Roederer.

The vineyards of Château Bernadotte are blessed with similar soils to the classified properties closer to the Gironde River.  The sandy gravel promotes good drainage and a layer of clay helps the vines resist draught while the grapes mature.  Like most producers in Bordeaux, they have planted cabernet sauvigon, merlot, with smaller amounts of cabernet franc and petit verdot which are blended together create the final wine.  Because weather conditions in Bordeaux can vary dramatically from year to year, the proportion of grapes in the blend can change to adapt to the variations of each growing season.  The 2005 vintage is a blend of 49% cabernet sauvignon, 48% merlot, and 3% cabernet france.  Petit verdot was omitted from the blend in 2005.

The 2005 Château Bernadotte is well crafted with many of the qualities expected from a good Bordeaux.  This medium-bodied wine has a deep red color with fragrant aromas of plums, black currants and layers of earthy green herbs. Flavors of  juicy black currants and raspberries dominate the palate with overtones of mint and woody spice.  Bright acidity balances the ripe fruit as the aggressive grip of young tannins builds thoughout a long toasty, vanilla laced finish.  Unless you like dry, tannic wines, I recommend using a decanter or just letting is rest a few more years in order to soften the young tannins.  This will be great one to revisit in five or ten years.

2005 Château Bernadotte ($33)

  • 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc
  • Haut-Medoc, France

This was the last cabernet sauvignon on the voyage.  Merlot is the next variety we’ll explore, which will bring us back to Bordeaux sometime in the next few weeks.

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

2004 Chateau Siran

No Comments
Tasting Note

I originally intended to drink this bottle of Chateau Siran for Varietal Voyage No.15, but a funny thing happen on the way to the cellar…

Bordeaux is the source for some of the best cabernet sauvignon in the world, so this seemed the logical place to go for the last wine in this series.  With the exception of a few chateaux, red Bordeaux from the “left bank” (west side of the Gironde River) is typically a blend of several grapes with cabernet sauvignon being the dominant grape in the blend.  Chateau Siran just happens to be one of those exceptions, with merlot being the predominant grape (50%) and the rest being cabernet sauvignon (35%), and petite verdot (15%).  Of course, I didn’t realize this until I did a little more research about the chateau.  The Varietal Voyage was intended to explore the the subtle differences between many different grape varieties from all over the world.  Since this wine has more merlot that cabernet sauvignon, we felt that it didn’t fit into this flight.  With that said, we’ll defer the final wine in this series until next week.  C’est la vie!

Chateau Siran has been in existence since the 1420′s when the feudal lord, Guilhem de Siran was given control over the surrounding lands. For the next 430 years ownership of the lands changed hands several times over.  By the end of the 17th century Chateau Siran had developed a reputation for creating quality wines.  In 1859, four years after the famed 1855 Classification, the Miailhe family took ownership of Chateau Siran.  One hundred fifty years and five generations later the Miailhe family still owns Chateau Siran and continues to make top quality wines.

The vineyards of Chateau Siran lie in the gravely river beds of the Margaux appellation, just north of the city of Bordeaux.  Sharing much of the same soil and terroir of its first growth cousin, Chateau Margaux, it’s speculated that the quality of Siran’s wines are equal to, if not better than many of chateaux listed in the 1855 Classification. The soil, composed mostly of sand and gravel, has excellent drainage forcing the vines to grow deep to find water and nutrients.  The flat terrain and quality of the soil, combined with the time honored techniques of the winemakers create wines with the famed character and age worthiness found only in Bordeaux.

Tasting Notes:

Sue and I are relatively new to Bordeaux wines so this was a fun learning experience.  I found the ’04 Siran ($50) to be thoroughly enjoyable, but Sue was a little less impressed. One thing that Sue noticed was a faint odor of burnt rubber, a smell sometimes found in young wines due to the sulphur compounds created during in the wine making process.  Good thing is that this is almost always temporary and blows off quickly.  Thankfully the aromas of black raspberries and currants quickly took over, revealing themselves amongst flavors reminiscent of Chambord (minus the syrupy sweetness) with well-balanced acidity.  Throughout each sip was an underlying backbone of minerals and silky tannins, a classic trait of  Bordeaux wines.  Notes of vanilla and cinnamon carried over into a pleasant finish.

Root:1 Carménère 2007

No Comments
Tasting Note

I read about this grape variety just recently and the history was fascinating. Considered to be “lost Bordeaux” grape, it was thought to be extinct after the phylloxera plague that decimated European vineyards in the 1860′s. Fortunately cuttings of the vine made their way to Chile in the 19th century and have thrived there ever since. Up until the 20th century it was thought to be Merlot. Just recently was it’s true identity rediscovered.

This Carménère blend has a strong, clean red color (the root of the French word Carménère is “carmin” or “crimson”) with juicy aromas and flavors of black fruit (blackberries, plum?) and spice. Good acidity with very light tannins. Short, clean finish that reminded me a little of green, bell peppers.

Root:1 Carménère 2007 ($16)