The Bordeaux Blend

Chateau Mayne Viel

Chateau Mayne Viel - Credit: Archant

If you’ve ever bought a bottle of Claret then this would probably be made from the Bordeaux blend of grape varieties though you may not have realised it.

This is because although French wine laws have stipulated which grapes should be used to produce these wines they rarely name them on their labels. The phrase originated in the 19th Century when it was used by British wine merchants to define the style of wine made.

Wines from the Bordeaux region or appellation are generally a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot grapes.

This is a result of the historical varieties grown there – over time winemaking determined the combination that grew best in each chateau’s vineyard.

Each chateau made the best wine from fruit available in its own style but with vintage differences because of the annual climate variation.

The Bordeaux region is divided by the River Gironde and the region’s wines are usually grouped into right or left bank wines depending on location.

The Medoc forms the left bank and here the wines are more Cabernet-based and very well structured such as those from Pauillac and St Julien whereas wines in Pomerol and St Emilion on the right bank are Merlot-based and softer. Cabernet Sauvignon is full of blackcurrant flavours and powerful grippy tannins and is the second most widely planted variety in the region, whereas Merlot with its softer plummy fruit is the most widely grown.

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Thus the Bordeaux Blend is a combination of the permitted varieties in varying percentages depending on location.

The style of wine the chateau makes is determined by the varieties it grows and the percentages of each grape used, enabling them to make their own signature wine.

All wines from the Bordeaux region seen on wine shop shelves will be made from the stipulated varieties and 99 per cent of them from the Bordeaux Blend. The wines of Bordeaux were ranked in a classification in 1855 which stands mostly unchanged today and the first growth chateaux – Latour, Lafite, Margaux, Mouton and Haut-Brion – are the most expensive, commanding thousands of pounds on the world wine market.

Through the scale from second to fifth growths the prices decrease except in a few exceptions and are available at circa £50 down to circa £20 for the Cru Bourgeois, a level below the classification but including chateaux making very enjoyable Bordeaux blends at more everyday prices.

An alternative in France is produced in the Bergerac Appellation to the south of Bordeaux around the city of the same name. Pascal Cuisset at Chateau des Eyssards is making delicious examples of this style especially using Merlot and Cabernet Franc to their best advantage in his stylish wines.

Although it is an “Old World” wine phrase the term Bordeaux Blend is now used quite widely for wines made from a similar blend of grapes around the world.

In New Zealand there are some very good examples like the Esk Valley Merlot Cabernet Malbec made in Hawkes Bay where these grapes grow very well. It is a delicious New World style of Bordeaux Blend with the blackcurrant fruit and tannin aromas and flavours of Cabernet integrated with plummy Merlot and juicy Malbec, creating a delicious spicy, rich lingering wine.

Australian wineries are making delicious Bordeaux Blends with Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot such as the Bremerton Tamblyn and Wirra Wirra Church Block from McLaren Vale.

Look out too for Cabernet Merlot from Western Australia such as Vasse Felix and Cape Mentelle, or Cabernet Shiraz from Coonawarra such as the Musician or the Scribbler made by the well-known producer Yalumba.

The structured fruity flavours of the Bordeaux Blends mean they are a delicious accompaniment to a roast meat or robustly flavoured casserole. Take time to find the one you prefer… it’s worth it.