Bordeaux

Grape Types

Ripening earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc acts both as great blender with its special herb infused red berry fragrance, and at the same time as a form of insurance policy.

On the cooler, clay soils of the Right Bank it adds backbone to many of the Merlot-dominated St Emilions and Pomerols. There are a small number of outstanding Cabernet Franc-based blends on the right bank, the most sought after being Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Le Dôme, Angelus and Vieux Château Certan. Outside of Bordeaux it's the major red grape of the Loire valley, where huge strides in quality have been made over the last decade by producers such as Yannick Amirault, Domaine de la Butte, Charles Joguet and Château de Hureau. Here it is mainly produced as a 100% single varietal wine, highly expressive, pungently scented, vital and silky.
Cabernet Sauvignon is responsible for many of the world's greatest wines and is, arguably, the grandest of all red wine varieties. This thick-skinned, late-ripening variety performs best in the warm, gravelly soils of the Médoc in Bordeaux, usually blended with lesser amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon is often packed full of cedar, herb and blackcurrant notes. Leaning towards musk, pencil lead and cigar-box in its home region of Bordeaux. Its deep-colour, assertive tannins and affinity with oak allow the wines to improve in bottle over many years if not decades. It is equally capable of producing affordable, everyday reds in regions like the south of France's Pays d'Oc, and countries like Bulgaria and Chile as it is of producing wines with real finesse and class. The best of which come from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Tuscany and parts of Australia, particularly Margaret River. Latterly, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina are laying claim to some very good blends and varietals made from Cabernet Sauvignon.
Now little used in Bordeaux or the rest of France outside of Cahors, Malbec has found its 'home' in Argentina. Typically riper than Malbec from France, the wines from Argentina have developed a strong commercial appeal being accessible yet with a defined varietal character of black fruit, coffee and chocolate. The best Malbec has good ageing potential and is typically paired with red meats. Obra Prima Reserva from Familia Cassone, is an excellent example of Argentinean Malbec, offering complexity and richness from 100 year old vines, at a price that affirms Argentina's position as delivering excellent value for money in wine.
The supple, alluring plummy characteristics of Merlot have made it hugely popular the world over. It is often blended with the more structured Cabernet Sauvignon, though on its own there are some very serious, long-lived examples in Pomerol and Saint Emilion, where it is planted on both cool clay and hotter gravely soils. It is grown more extensively throughout France and the rest of the world to produce soft, approachable, uncomplicated wines, namely in the Languedoc, Chile, California, Italy and Australia.
One of the five permitted varieties in red Bordeaux, Petit Verdot is late ripening and thick skinned, it is not widely planted but is now being used increasingly, albeit in minute quantities, in Bordeaux and in Bordeaux blends across the 'New World'.
There are various styles of Sauvignon Blanc from the fragrant, fresh Loire Valley style reminiscent of cut-grass, gooseberry, flint and nettles, to the contrasting Bordeaux-style, often blended with Semillon and Muscadelle and barrel-fermented to produce the richer, if less assertive, food friendly dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves. At the same time, it is also a vital component in the sweet, rich and luscious whites of Sauternes and Barsac. As a dry wine it has sprung to particular fame in New Zealand where it is made in a very pungent, expressive style with notes of kiwi passion fruit and mango. While South Africa has also had great success with the variety. Generally considered for youthful consumption, age-worthy examples can be found in Bordeaux, and the Loire from the likes of Didier Dagueneau and François Cotat.
Semillon is generally blended with the aromatic Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux to produce the fine dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves, which are often barrel-fermented. It is at its most illustrious in the humid atmosphere of Sauternes and Barsac, where it is susceptible to Botrytis rot, which helps concentrate the fruit sugars, acids and flavours, producing some of the most luscious and long-lived sweet wines in the world. The most renowned example is Château d'Yquem, although there are a plethora of estates throughout the region whose wines come close in quality. On its own, it is responsible for some of Australia's most individual full-bodied dry whites from the hot Hunter Valley.
The great red grape of the northern Rhône where it reaches its optimum levels in the violet-scented muscular wines of Hermitage and the graceful sappy Côte Rôties, which in the latter case is sometimes blended with Viognier. The wines of Cornas are renowned as producing Syrah-based wines very close in quality to Hermitage, while St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage also represent some good value examples. It is also a component of many southern Rhône reds, namely Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As Shiraz, it is Australia's most important red variety, found in various guises from ripe fruit-forward commercial wines to intense concentrated old vine cuvees such as Grange and those of Clarendon Hills. In the best instances Syrah/Shiraz produces deep, spicy, age-worthy wines.