This week, we’re going to continue with the theme of Bordeaux, not least because we are still in the grip of winter. (Though I have to say I have been outside a few mornings with the dog and smelled just the first hint of spring in the air. Not that I want to stand out there in the dark very long, mind you.)
This week, we are going to the Saint-Estephe region on the left bank of the Gironde, which is the northernmost of the major wine regions in the Haut-Madoc.
Last week, we saw that Merlot tended to dominate on the right bank. But on the left bank, where Saint-Estephe is located, Cabernet Sauvignon has a strong presence. The three most common grapes grown in the region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Now France has been a great wine-producing region for centuries, and there are some common characteristics of the wider region, but things differ from place to place.
Vines in Bordeaux tend to be planted pretty densely and also pruned to be low to the ground to reap benefit both from the sun above, and ground heat below. What is going between these two heat sources is Cabernet Sauvignon, really regarded as the classic grape of Bordeaux, and often a dominant feature in Bordeaux blends, sometimes as much as 75% of the given wine.
The contribution from Cabernet Sauvignon is rich black fruit, predominantly black currant, and very strong tannins. In this region the Merlot grape provides some moderate tannin but adds a certain softness and richness to the wine’s body, tempering the Cabernet Sauvignon tannins, which can sometimes be quite harsh. The third common grape, Cabernet Franc, is grown in different amounts in different regions. It has higher yields than Cabernet Sauvignon, which is always attracted winemakers, but less body, and sometimes it adds some herbaceous earthy flavors to a wine.
The great Bordeaux wines are blends of various grapes, and each year, the blend is a bit different, as the winemakers seek to produce the best possible wine from the grapes they have available to them that season. In the Saint-Estephe region, these wines are grown in gravelly soil that also contains clay, and the typically produces higher-acidity grapes than are found further south in Bordeaux.
Let’s look at two Bordeaux reds available at the New Hampshire state liquor stores:
• Chateau Lilian Ladouys, 2009 Saint-Estephe Grand Vin, 14% alcohol by volume ($36.99, product no. 90085): Dark purple, with a light purple rim going out to just about clear at the edge. And with a deep, inky core. The nose is black fruit with a hint of earthiness.
It’s a dry red from Bordeaux, with medium acidity, medium tannin that is well-integrated, sinewy, and rounded at the same time. It’s a bit warm on opening, showing its 14% abv. It has a medium body and a medium-plus flavor intensity of black currant, blackberry, and some plum, some black cherry in the background and just a wee bit of red currant toward the finish. There is some spice in the background giving a little bit of a bite, just a small hint of the herbaceousness.
The finish is long, the flavor profile develops while maintaining its main black fruit components. It is ready for drinking now, harvested in 2009. Lastly, once it gets a bit of air (swirl it around your glass for a minute or two), the tannins and alcohol began to fall into place.
Pairings include roasted red meats, steaks on the grill and hard cheeses.
• Lapointe, 2011, Pomerol, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, 13% abv ($31.99, product no. 20507): Ahhh, it’s a little barnyardy on opening (my wife is imitating sheep and other barnyard sounds as I write this — did you know this column comes with sound effects?).
The wine is purple, a little lighter than the St.-Estephe we look at last week, with a medium core, light purple to pink at the rim. Don’t worry, the barnyard goes away fairly quickly, and remember, for a Bordeaux wine, that is often a sign that there are good things happening beneath what one might consider an unpleasant surface.
Swirl this one a bit too and then beautiful things began to happen. The barnyard gives way to a soft black fruit, brought to you by the predominance of Merlot that I mentioned earlier. The palate is quite soft, reflecting the dominant Merlot makeup (a grape not known for its intense tannins), with plum flavors, blackberry, some hints of fig working in the background, and a herbaceous tone you can feel at the back of your mouth.
The acidity is medium, the tannins very soft, the alcohol well balanced in this presentation, with medium body and medium-plus flavor intensity. The complements remain balanced through a long, pleasing finish.
This is a much softer wine than the St. Estephe we looked at last week, and would pair with lighter red meats such as filet mignon, lamb, and even a veal or chicken Parmesan, or chicken cacciatore. Very good balance of components, good length, medium intensity in some complexity.
Contact beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at firstname.lastname@example.org.