Blue chip Bordeaux

Col-head-ZalkinAs the weather turns and the holidays approach, we start to turn our attention from the light wines of summer toward more sophisticated, serious offerings. These are wines that stand out as gifts and at dinner parties, and can hold their own alongside the richest holiday meals.

The French region of Bordeaux produces many refreshing white wines, as well as famous sweet nectars of Sauturnes, but its reputation was built on spectacular, long-aging reds. The very name conjures up images of stately luxury — with expertly balanced, velvety tannins and long, smooth finish, Bordeaux wines are among the most lauded in history. They have been popular with English nobility as far back as the 12th Century and are frequently among most expensive wines in the world.

Bordeaux reds are made from a blend of several grapes. This may seem unusual to new world consumers, who often associate blends with inexpensive table wines, but in the case of Bordeaux, the blending is not to correct a lackluster product but to perfect already excellent wines. Great Bordeaux is a shining example of how all the various techniques that go into making wine can be used to fine-tune the final product.

The blending process can take place anytime between pressing and bottling. The two grapes that dominate Bordeaux are cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with smaller quantities of cabernet franc, petit verdot, and occasionally malbec entering the mix. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot both stem from the cabernet franc variety, which may explain why they complement each other so well. Merlot tends to be less complex than cabernet sauvignon, while cabernet grapes can be overly tannic.

Wine blending requires a delicate balance of skills; the vintner is part chemist and part chef, testing for acidity and tasting for flavor nuances. It is both a science and an art, and each chateau has a different approach and a different ideal. Master winemakers are attuned to even the tiniest differences, sometimes even selecting grapes based on which parcel of land they were grown on. The wine is usually aged for a time in stainless steel, then in oak barrels, then in bottles. The time the wine spends in each stage varies from vineyard to vineyard, and year to year.

Bordeaux works well with rich foods and red meats, particularly beef tenderloin. Pair it with savory sauces and truffles, which pick up on earthy notes in the wine. Common flavors include lush, dark fruits, like plum and black currant, balanced by earthy tobacco and smoke. Tannins should be velvety and lush. Younger Bordeaux tends to go well with stronger flavors, but the oldest Bordeaux are best savored with simple fare, letting the wine shine all on its own!

Here are a few featured Bordeaux wines for your enjoyment:

• Chateau Lynch Bages 2005: A name that speaks for itself. A venerable winery staffed by experts with decades of experience, this wine features impossibly velvety fruit, and round, well-structured tannins. A big, beautiful wine that manages never to be domineering, this wine will age exquisitely.

• Chateau Haut Bailly 2010: Flavors of hickory smoke, crème de cassis and pomegranate, with an underlying earthiness. Beautiful tension and balance, superb structure. A wine to cellar, it has marvelous aging potential and will be at its best seven to 10 years from now.

• Chateau Clinet 2004: A classic vintage that has improved much with aging. Classic dark garnet in color, this wine features flavors of espresso, plum and truffle. Medium-bodied with light, delicate tannins. Will age well for another 10 to 15 years.

• Chateau Gloria  2009: 2009 was a much-lauded year for Bordeaux. Expect notes of crushed blackberries, black currant, peppercorns, and cedar. A hint of herbs lends a fresh, vegetal character. Full-bodied with a delightfully lingering finish.

• Chateau Cantemerle 2009: Jewel-like color, with lively and refined fruitiness. Notes of vanilla, tobacco and velvety mulled fruit. An excellent vintage that drinks well young.

You can find all of these delightful Bordeaux wines for purchase at our store, Old Greenwich Fine Wines, located at 195 Sound Beach Avenue, Old Greenwich, or visit our website, When you stop in, we invite you to taste a number of our favorite wines while we help you find the right bottle for your palate.


Robert Zalkin is the owner of Old Greenwich Fine Wines at 195 Sound Beach Avenue. His column will be available weekly at

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