Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bordeaux Step 2: Familiar Grapes, Old World Style

As I said in my earlier post on Bordeaux, if you are going to devote a chunk of your budget and storage space to Bordeaux wines, you have to know if you like them. Because the taste of Bordeaux wine changes from vintage to vintage and appellation to appellation, you also need to know that in general you like the grape varietals that go into making most Bordeaux wines.

Bordeaux wines are blended wines that are made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc (if red), and sauvignon blanc and semillon (if white). But there is often a huge difference between California and other New World expressions of these varietals, and those from the Old World. Though the varietals are familiar to us, they behave very differently when they are planted in different soils--distinctions that are known as terroir. When I was starting out I found Andrea Immer's (now Andrea Immer Robinson's) Great Wine Made Simple absolutely indispensable when trying to understand how these and other grapes behaved in different regions. Much of the information below is drawn from her "flavor maps." If you don't have this book on your wine reference shelf, you really should! And you can also check out Gary Vaynerchuk's discussion of this topic over at Wine Library TV.

After years of reading and tasting, I now think of these Old World/New World varietal flavor differences like a Venn-diagram, with a core of common flavors, flanked by expressions that come from terroir. Here's one of mine, with very low production values (I never could color in the lines). But you get the point. Below is a slightly more polished chart of Old World and New World characteristics for the varietals used in Bordeaux wines, with the common characteristics for each made bold.


Cabernet Sauvignon

Sauvignon Blanc


Old World

Plum, vanilla- oak, roasted coffee, wet gravel, cocoa powder, pen ink

Blackcurrant, cassis, wet leaves, wet gravel, spice, vanilla, mocha, pencil lead

Grassy, herbaceous, vanilla

Honey, fig

New World

Jammy plum, blackberry, blueberry; prominent oak

Jammy blackberry, blackcurrant, cassis; sweet and spicy oak; mint or eucalyptus

Citrus, melon, peach, vanilla


So think hard about whether you would like the Old World expressions of these varietal flavors BEFORE you start madly buying Bordeaux. And, be sure that you eat the kind of hearty fare that will support the red wines, and enjoy sipping dessert wines, too.

Next week I'll be posting about the most challenging aspect of Bordeaux for most of us: storage. Stay tuned for shots of my closet, and some advice gathered from the experts.


Joe said...

Thanks for this comment - this will be useful for my next formal tasting. My group is meeting for a Merlot tasting tomorrow, and we will compare one St-Emilion, one Pommerol, two Italians and two Californians. Cheers!

Dr. Debs said...

Let me know how the tasting goes. Sounds like a good one, with lots of interesting contrasts.

Joe said...

I post all of my tastings, so you will certainly hear about it! How did you do the table - trying to figure that one out for a few months.

Dr. Debs said...

Hey, Joe. Good to know the tasting results will be over at your site. I put it in the sidebar so folks could get there easily. The table: I did it in Word and cut and pasted it in over here. Works pretty well, although it looks like I lost the outer edge and should have shrunk it just a bit.

Joe said...

wines were SPECTACULAR tonight - more to follow...

Dr. Debs said...

Fantastic! Can't wait to read more.

Joe said...

Results here. Looking at my notes, I wasn't quite able to match the scents in your table for old world/new world - the Alluvium was very old world, with the Lamaione exhibiting more new world. Anyway, I think we needed a bigger sample of wines (excuse for a re-taste!) to truly capture more general characteristics. Cheers!

David said...

interesting. I won't buy too much Bordeaux then as I prefer blackberry over pencil lead!

Dr. Debs said...

Joe, thanks for the interesting posting about the wines you tasted--more and more wines are being made in the Old World in a New World style, but I didn't know the reverse was also true. And David, don't forget the core of fruit flavors is the same, it's the added flavors that are different. And, as Joe found out, not always then!