Tag Archives: bordeaux varieties

Grape of the Week: Petit Verdot

Pressing

Petit who? Yeah, this one doesn’t get to be the star of the show very often. Many winemakers feel that Petit Verdot is kind of a bull in a china shop as a varietal wine. But when the winemaker wants to pump up the volume of a Bordeaux blend (Meritage wine), single digit quantities of PV can work its magic. A winemaker friend refers to PV as a “blending goddess” in that regard.

We’ve been focusing on Bordeaux varieties to kick off the grape of the week theme, and this’ll be the last of the reds, even though there are a few very obscure varieties that are included in the group.

Roots
Historians believe that it was recognized in Bordeaux before Cabernet Sauvignon, which means its been around since at least the late 1700s, and it has played its part as a minor component in the blend since then. As it gains popularity in the new world, less and less of it is grown in Bordeaux because it’s a late ripener, which is a tricky business in a cool climate. The best houses continue to take the risk because they like the way it ramps up the pigment, alcohol and adds volume to the mouthfeel. It can also boost longevity.

What to expect
If you like a lot of intensity and tannin in your red wine, do a search and you’ll find varietal Petit Verdot made here in Napa Valley and some other –  mostly new-world – wine regions. Continue reading

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Grape of the Week: Malbec

Malbec_ucdavis

We’re almost finished with Bordeaux varieties! We’ll move on in a couple of weeks.

I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t Malbec from Argentina?” You’d certainly think so, these days, because Argentina grows more Malbec than anywhere else in the world. But, it probably came over from southwestern France in the mid 19th century. We don’t know how far back it goes in France, but it’s been known in southwestern France, including Bordeaux, since at least the 18th century.

Roots
We call it a Bordeaux variety because it’s been a traditional part of their red blends for a few hundred years. As it explodes in Argentina, it’s gradually disappearing in Bordeaux, mainly because of it’s tendency to “shatter” – not pollinate well – there. Here in Napa Valley, it’s still considered a player in putting together a Meritage or Bordeaux-style blend.

The real French home for Malbec, today, is Cahors, in the southwest. This is a very ancient winegrowing region but they’ve never been very good at PR. They’re working hard to turn that around and it won’t be long before you hear more and more about “The Black Wine of Cahors.”

TRIVIA! In Cahors this grape has multiple names: Auxerrois, Cot and – Malbec.

What to expect
It’s so popular, you tell me! You sure get a good bang for you buck, don’t you? It’s a very flavorful grape. The “black” reference is appropriate because it’s thick-skinned, with tons of pigment and a healthy dose of tannin too.

When I think of Malbec I think big aromatics and bigger flavors. And, it’s black and not only in terms of color. The aroma and flavor make me think of black berries, black currant, black plums… Of course, it depends upon where it’s grown. Maybe some licorice or tobacco tossed in there.  Most Argentinian Malbec is made in a “new-world style,” which means generously oaked so you can add vanilla, spice and toasty character to the description. Continue reading

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Grape of the Week: Merlot

Merlot_ucd

Since we started out with the King of Grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, it seems only proper to follow up with Cab’s good buddy, Merlot.

The Biggest Question
One of the most common questions I hear at seminars and classes is “What’s the difference between Cabernet and Merlot?” It’s a good question, too, because even winemakers often mix up the two in blind tastings. Perhaps that’s the reason they blend so well – they’re similar.

The most important difference is that Merlot is thin skinned, compared to Cabernet, and slightly plumper, so it can be lighter in color and body (the grape skins are the source of all the color and most of the flavor, texture and tannin in red wine.) And, it’s less tannic, which translates to early drinking enjoyment, right? Merlot often shows red fruit intermingled with black, where Cab is firmly in black territory. And, it’s a bit more herbaceous and leaves a fleshy impression where Cabernet comes off as more structured (tannic) and austere. I love Jancis Robinson’s characterization of Merlot as “Cabernet without the pain.”

The Impact of Sideways: Many blame this comedy (if you have ever toured wine country this movie is a must – my summary is “Two men behaving badly.”) for transforming Merlot from being the “it” red to a fifth wheel. But, what the lead character, Miles, forgot is that Merlot has been making great wine for centuries! In fact, Chateau Pétrus, a great Bordeaux that is consistently one of the world’s most expensive wines, is – you guessed it – Merlot. It runs around $1000.00/bottle these days.

TRIVIA! The most expensive wine ever sold is a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite – a first growth from the Medoc). It went for $160,000 at a Christie’s auction in 1985. Thomas Jefferson’s initials, etched on the glass, added immeasurably to its value.   Continue reading

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