When we hear "Bordeaux" we always think about good wines, wines that are luxurious, wines that are expensive, perhaps difficult to understand the label, but wines that will impress others if you bring or order in a restaurant. But did you know there are about 10,000 wine producers in the whole of Bordeaux and not all produce luxurious and expensive wines, in fact most of them are affordable and not at all luxurious! But yes, they are wines of excellent quality thanks to the exceptional terroir of Bordeaux.
Terroir is the whole environment that influences the vines: the soil, the climate, the latitude and altitude, the surrounding influences; the warm or cool breeze from the ocean, the rivers’ influence on the land, all the conditions that influence a particular plot of vineyards that are unique and suit well with the grape variance growing on that plot, bringing out the best characteristics of the grapes. In other words, the soils and the weather conditions of a particular plot of vineyards can be unique and produce wines with the best characteristics.
But what is so special about Bordeaux terroir? It has a moderate maritime climate, and the warming ocean current especially helps during the spring frosts to extend the growing season. The vineyards are protected by Landes forest and the coastal sand which lies to the west of the region from the worst of the Atlantic storms. Every region is specific on different soil that is perfect for its excellent grapes type to grow in. You must know which region is the famous grape variety to be able to understand Bordeaux. The simple way to do this is to divide Bordeaux into 3 sections: left bank, right bank (refered to as the riverside), and the area between two rivers that split Bordeaux: the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers known as “Entre-deux-Mers”. The left bank soil is gravel and fossil-rich limestone and is hot and dry soil which is perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon. While the right bank with more clay soil with gravel, limestone, and sand is perfect to retain rainwater so is perfect for Merlot. The soil in the “Entre-deux-Mers” here has great diversity, with limestone (particularly towards the Dordogne), clay-rich areas (to the north-west of the region), and gravelly areas, on the north side, so you can have red, white or even sweet wine from this area.
You must have heard about the famous blend from Bordeaux: the Bordeaux Blend, which is a blend from the majority of two grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but it is not only these two grapes that influence, the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot also add complexity. What do both of the grapes give to the wine? Let’s talk about Cabernet Sauvignon first: a dark grape that is deeply coloured, creating high tannin, a very pronounced aroma of black fruit character, and green bell pepper & mint, with medium to high acidity. Due to the high tannin, aging in oak is very common to soften the tannin level in the wines. An impressive layer of aroma and flavour could be present due to the oak barrel aging. While the other grape is Merlot: a combination of red and black fruit character with medium acidity, less intense in flavour as well as in tannin compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. The type of the grape depends on the climate and terroir, the flavour and aroma character might change accordingly to the influences. The strong character of black fruit in hot climate means even fruitcake and chocolate flavours develop in very ripe Merlot. So how do they compliment each other? Merlot provides the Cabernet Sauvignon with fruity flavour and aroma, and softens the very strong Cabernet Sauvignon grape that gives acidity, tannin, and aromatic black fruit to the blend.
I am super excited on my tasting review: I start with the left bank with Grand Vin De Bordeaux Silver Bell Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2012 (an ode to the famous bell adorning Angelus bottles by Hubert de Bouard) which is a Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet blend with the very expressive aroma of a beautiful violet, rose, truffle, earthy, coffee, leather, tobacco, berry, flower, black currant, blackberry, cherry, cedar, and cigar box and almost what you smell is what you taste with medium acidity, medium body, excellent long and complex tasting. It is real value for money with the quality of the Grand Cru Classe wines.
My second wine from the left bank is Thomas Barton Reserve Saint Emilion 2019 Appellation Saint Emilion Controlee. The blend is Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Deep ruby colour with a purple hue on the side, very aromatic with floral, mint with blackcurrant, black and red cherry, vanilla, and I smell a hint of green tea aroma. Medium acidity and medium tannin have a good balance and round structure on the acidity, tannin with the fruit making the wine very easy to drink.
Let move to the right bank with Chateau Cissac Hout Medoc 2017. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdo. Impressive fresh fruit aroma of the black currant and raspberry and cherries, a lot of oak influence of the aroma of vanilla, cedar, tobacco, earthy and nice velvety tannin in the palate. High but round tannin, a good balance with high acidity and fruitiness in the wine make the wine easy to enjoy with just the right spiciness in the wine just make it perfect. I might say this is my number one ranking wine in this tasting flight.
My last review is Thomas Barton Reserve Margaux 2017 Appellation Margaux Controlee. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot based wine. Excellent in the aroma of very complex leather, earthy, dusty, toasty, a lot of baking spice and vanilla, a bit meaty, with lots of black currants and dark cherry. The taste is complex and round with medium+ acidity, high tannin, and a lot of minerals, I even taste the saltiness in the wine it shows in the mineral and soil influence on the wines.
You need full-bodied food to pair with the full-body intense aroma like the Bordeaux blend but you don't want to miss the excellent wines themselves to be lost in the food. Carefully choose the dressing, and sauces in your protein just to ensure you got the best pairing with it. A simple salt pepper with good quality meat with the right amount of juices will be perfect with the wines.
WSET Certified Educator / Head of Hatten Education Center