Big Bordeaux Wines for Holiday Meals and Gifts!!
They’re here again: the holidays! Time for family gatherings, parties both large and small, celebrations, and gift giving! These are often some of the most important times in our year. We search for ways to make them special and memorable! The cooler weather and heartier fare at our tables call for big bold wines. Some of the best-known wines of this genre are from the great wine growing region of Bordeaux in France.
Let’s explore some of the greatest wines of the region! The best known of these wines are referred to as “First Growth Bordeaux.” They are among the most expensive, exquisite wines in the world and are truly in a class of their own. They have been world renowned since well before the 1855 Classification that created the term, “First Growths.” In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote “There are four vineyards of prime quality…,” and proceeded to list Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion and Château Lafite-Rothschild. These wines continued to be included in the top tier of subsequent rankings by other wine critics in 1800, 1815, 1845 and 1850 until they were cemented in place permanently by the Emperor Napoleon III in the 1855 Classification. The Emperor ordered this classification to take place at the Exposition Universelle de Paris. The purpose was to display the best of French wines and other products for the world to see. All of these wines are from the Left Bank of Bordeaux region, located between the Gironde River and the Atlantic Ocean; three are from the Medoc region. Château Haut-Brion is from an area much farther south, Graves, named for the gravelly soil. The outlier in the group is Château d’Yquem, the only white wine, an exquisite dessert wine from Sauterne, even farther south. The only change to the 1855 Classification came in 1973, when Château Mouton-Rothschild, also from the Medoc, was elevated to First Growth status after a 50 years campaign by the Baron.
With the exception of Château d’Yquem, all of these wines are phenomenal examples of the great category, “Bordeaux blends.” These wines are a blend of the grape varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and to a much lesser degree, Malbec and Petit Verdot. All of these wines, except Château Haut-Brion, are predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, due to the soil composition where they are grown.
The 2010 Château Lafite Rothschild (87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot) is described by Wine Enthusiast as “100 points. Almost black in color, this stunning wine is gorgeous, rich and dense. It’s grand and powerful, with a strong sense of its own importance. The beautiful tannins and the fragrant black currant fruits are palpable. It’s a great wine…”
Not to be outdone, the 2008 Château Latour (94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 0.75% Cabernet Franc, 0.25% Petit Verdot) is described by Vinus as “96 points, with a bold and concentrated bouquet, scents of blackberry, iris, cigar humidor and cold wet stone that all surge from the glass. This is beautifully defined. The palate is medium-bodied with firm tannin, a light marine influence infusing the black fruit, a little spice towards the finish with superb persistency…”
In contrast the 2012 Château Haut-Brion (65% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc) was rated 98 points by Robert Parker, who said, “The 2012 Haut-Brion is certainly one of the candidates for wine of the vintage, with a dense purple color, classic notes of crushed rock, lead pencil shavings, black raspberry, blueberry, and flowers. The wine shows barbecue smoke notes in the background, but is full-bodied, stunningly concentrated and builds incrementally, yet finishes with luxurious, almost extravagant amounts of fruit and intensity. Drink it over the next 30-40 years.”
The Right Bank
In addition to the extraordinary First Growth wines of the Left Bank, the Right Bank has its own classification, which began in 1955. The Right Bank of Bordeaux, located north of the Dordogne River, did not enjoy the notoriety of the Left Bank. The lack of bridges across the rivers prevented these wines from reaching the port of Bordeaux for distribution until the 19th century. Wines have been planted in the Right Bank since Roman times and some are equally exceptional and powerful as the great wines of the Left Bank. These wines are also blends, but are primarily Merlot based due to the clay content in the soil. Unlike the 1855 Classification of the Left Bank wines, the Right Bank classification is revised every ten years. Currently the top level Primeur Cru Classé A wines include Château Ausone, Château Cheval Blanc, Château Angelus and Château Pavie.
The 2010 Château Angelus (55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Franc) was rated 99 points in the Wine Advocate magazine. “This is another magnificent wine. Subtle barbecue smoke, graphite, blackberry liqueur, licorice, and chocolate jump from the glass, and the wine hits the palate with a thunderous cascade of sweet, velvety, full-bodied, concentrated black fruits, nice definition from the tannins and decent acidity. The wine has a majestic, multilayered finish that goes on for a minute. This is still young and somewhat unformed, but every last bit as prestigious at its older sibling, the 2009. However, it has 50 years of longevity in it.”
The style of these great wines, the “Bordeaux blend,” has been used subsequently as a pattern in great wine regions all over the world. Napa, Australia, Chile, South Africa, Lebanon, and especially Italy have all created wines in this great historic style. The incredibly popular “Super Tuscans” from Italy are based on the “Bordeaux Blend.”
While these are exceptional wines, some of the most expensive in the world, their second-tier siblings are dramatically less expensive and also exquisite. In addition, wines from properties in close proximity are also less expensive and of significant quality.
Whatever you decide to pour or give as a gift this season, don’t forget to consider these big Bordeaux blends and enjoy your time with family and friends!
Written by Pat Daniel. Permission to publish by Columbus & the Valley Magazine.