Bordeaux Blends are usually taken to mean a red wine based on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, sometimes containing amounts of the other Bordeaux black grapes Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenère or Malbec .
Why this blend in Bordeaux? The maritime climate means that each vintage is unpredictable, so having grapes that ripen at different times and like slightly different amounts of sunshine gives producers a better chance of making good wine every year. Cabernet Sauvignon also benefits from being blended to fill in the mid palate (it’s a “doughnut grape” © Kevin Summons-Walsh).
Cabernet blends modelled on Bordeaux are popular throughout the wine producing world. However, many places have their own variant of the Cabernet blend, mixing it with Malbec in Argentina, Carmenère in Chile, Pinotage in South Africa, Shiraz in Australia and Sangiovese in Tuscany.
DNS Wine Club convened recently to explore some quality Cabernet Blends.
Many thanks to O’Brien’s for supplying two of the wines*
We are firmly in Fine Wine territory here folks!
Château Changyu Moser XV 2008 (Ningxia, China) (€65.00, 64 Wine, Glasthule) – 12.5% 90% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Merlot
First up was the most unusual wine of the night – a Chinese Bordeaux Blend! The production company is a joint venture between the giant Changyu wine company and Austrian Lenz Moser, 15th generation (XV) of a 1,000 year old wine heritage. This first vintage is no novelty, it’s a well-made, proper wine. The fairly low abv is reminiscent of Bordeaux in the early 90s when I first took an interest, and it tastes very like classic Claret. The price tag reflects rarity – what a talking point at dinner!
Reserve de la Comtesse AC Pauillac 2009 (Bordeaux, France) (€52.45 for 2010 at Le Caveau) – 13.0% 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, and the rest [9%] Cabernet Franc
This the Second Wine of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (what a mouthful!) in Pauillac, possibly the best village in Bordeaux. Second wines are a way of preserving the quality of the top wine, or “Grand Vin”. In the best vintages, especially when yields are quite high, second wines end up getting much more quality fruit than normal, so represent something of a “bargain” (if a €50 wine can be a bargain!) 2009 was an amazing vintage in Bordeaux, with lots of ripe rich fruit, and that shows in this wine. Very, very classy.
Te Mata Coleraine 2006 (Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand) (~ €68 ask your merchant) – 13.5% 49% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc
Te Mata Estate is New Zealand’s oldest winery, dating from vines planted in 1892 on three parcels of hillside land, still utilised to produce its most famous wines; Coleraine, Awatea and Elston. The first Coleraine named wine was made in the 1982 vintage and created an instant sensation within New Zealand for its quality. It has since gone on to be a hit internationally, beating more illustrious and expensive Bordeaux rivals in competition. I had been waiting for years to try this wine, and it didn’t disappoint – fruit, oak, tannin and acidity all perfectly balanced.
Ata Rangi Célèbre 2006 (Martinborough, New Zealand) (€34.49, O’Briens) – 13.5% 50% Merlot, 30% Syrah and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
Ata Rangi are one of the stars of Martinborough, east of Wellington on New Zealand’s North Island. More famous for their excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, they have made the Célèbre Cabernet blend since 1986. Plum, blueberry and cassis are intertwined on the nose, following through to the palate with some sweet spice and cedar notes. Several tasters liked this wine but would possibly have preferred it a few years younger.
Viña Chocalán Blend Gran Reserva 2011 (Maipo Valley, Chile) (€23.99 down to €19.99, O’Brien’s)* – 14.5% 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Syrah, 11% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec, 7% Carmenère, 6% Petit Verdot
In 1998 Chilean businessman Guillermo Toro Gonzalez established a new high quality winery, choosing an area of the Maipo Valley with alluvial soil over clay loam and an excellent microclimate. The winery was named Chocalán from the local term for “yellow blossoms”, and the first harvest was in 2001. This Gran Reserva is a Bordeaux-meets-Rhône blend, all fruit being hand-picked, and 100% of the wine matured for 16 months in (expensive) French oak. There’s no doubt that this is an ambitious wine, and although it’s already four years old it’s still a baby – decant to see it at its best.
Warwick Estate Trilogy 2009 (Stellenbosch, South Africa) (€ varies, Le Caveau, Kinnegar Wines, Stanley’s) – 14.5% 64% Cab Sauvignon, 18% Cab Franc, 18% Merlot [2010 vintage]
Warwick Estate was established by Stan Ratcliffe on existing farmland in 1964 and is now run by 3rd generation family member Michael Ratcliffe. Warwick Trilogy (made from three Bordeaux grape varieties) was first released in 1986 and has since become a flagship of the South African Wine Industry. After fermentation the wine spent 14 months in French Allier oak barrels. This was a real hit with the tasters for its rich but smooth body and delightful black fruit, framed by gentle tannins.
Man O’War Ironclad 2008 (Waiheke Island, New Zealand) (€34.49, O’Briens)* – 14.5% 52% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, 10.5% Malbec, 9.1% Petit Verdot, 1.4% Cabernet Sauvignon
Waiheke Island is east of Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf, with a warm and dry climate due to its northerly latitude. This tends to give bigger, fruitier red wines, but the calming effect of the ocean keeps things in check. From the nautically-themed Man O’War range, this is a Bordeaux blend reminiscent of St-Emilion or Pomerol. It has big bold plum and blackcurrant fruit flavours with spice and vanilla notes from time in oak barrels. One of my favourite NZ producers.
As well as evaluating each wine, the tasting panel were also asked (based on the selection tasted):
Do you prefer Bordeaux blends or other Cabernet blends?
What is the optimum alcohol level for Cabernet blends?
There was a marked preference for straight Bordeaux blends, and most tasters plumped for 13.5% as the best, yet the slightly stronger Warwick Estate Trilogy was narrowly the favourite wine of the tasting!
Frankie caught the wine bug living in France in the 90s and has been sharing his love of wine ever since. He also writes for his own blog Frankly Wines and Glass Of Bubbly magazine and runs private wine tasting events.