While the French didn’t necessarily invent wine they have often set the standard. A Pin0t Noir and Chardonnay are often referred to as Burgundian varieties because of their roots in France’s famous region for producing those grapes; Burgundy. Wine lingo is very tied up in places of origin, and the properties that those places tend to lend to the grapes, or wine from there. This concept is often referred to as terroir when talking about how a wine communicates that sense of place. Sometimes debates about place get extrapolated to comparisons like “Old World” vs “New World” flavor profiles, or what kinds of grapes typically come from where. One of the most commons references that play out as an example of this, is the concept of a “Bordeaux Blend.”
The traditional red Bordeaux varieties include: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc; and three grapes less often linked to the region Petit Verdot, Malbec or Côt Noir and Carménère. Blends of any of these grapes can be referred to as Bordeaux blends. There are however two main styles of blend, and they are of course named for where they’re from. The Left Bank (of the Gironde River which bisects the Bordeaux region) style is predominantly Merlot followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and less Cabernet Franc. The Right Bank blends are Cabernet Sauvignon dominant, followed by Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
The blending style has gone far beyond France and has become a standard style. To that end, we test drive a few that put a New World spin on an Old World standard.
Done in the “Left Bank” style mentioned above, this Merlot heavy blend includes a few non-Bordeaux grapes like Tempranillo and Syrah. The wine is loaded with structure and layers but balanced and softened by a rounded fruit profile. Aromas of red berry fruit and and spice initiate a wine that offers layers of black fruit flavors. The palate is rich but balanced with a freshness. Flavors of black plum, black currant and white pepper dominate a wine that offers a refined impression far beyond its price point.
2014 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound, South Africa $17
Heavy on the Cabernet Franc this South African blend includes 5 Bordeaux varieties all but Carménère. A blend from a number of different vineyards across South Africa’s Western Cape results in a really well put together wine. 30% of the wine was done in new French oak barrels and so there is ample influence on the wine’s aromatics. Aromas of vanilla and espresso bean mix with rich black fruit. While the fruit is hearty in this blend, the Cabernet Franc really brings in the savory and herbal elements. Flavors of anise, garrique and sage are enveloped in layers of dark fruit.
Urge to Splurge
2013 Leviathan, Napa Valley, California $40
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah from vineyards in and around Napa, an American take on the classic French blend, but with some Syrah thrown in. This is a big shouldered wine with robust aromas and ample personality. Fragrance of blackberry, white pepper and mocha highlight the aromatics. The palate is dense with a core of dark fruit, surrounded by anise, thyme and earthen notes. The structure is substantial but the wine still offers moderate acidity and the finish is long lasting.