SHORT ORDER PAIRINGS
Toasting wines from the world’s most celebrated wine region
Nothing is beyond being paired with wines. Even fast food.
Unlike its New World counterparts, Bordeaux wines can be quite the enigma for the novice wine drinker. For starters, there are no indications of varietals; a problem for those used to the straightforward convenience of toasting Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons. Bordeaux’s numerous appellations and crus can also be confusing and intimidating, especially when you can’t pronounce the names. Last but not least, practically everything on the label is in French, which is surely not helpful in this part of the world.
But good things come to those who try. Bordeaux wines, like all good wines, require a little patience and understanding.
WINE FOR ALL
While most people may know it for its celebrated châteaux such as Lafite Rothschild and Latour, Bordeaux is much more than these iconic names. For starters, Bordeaux is the largest wine-producing region in France with about 111,150 hectares under vine. It also has 65 appellations, the largest number in France, and possibly Europe.
Known as the Appellation d’ Origine Controlle or AOC, the appellation system was first created by the French government to recognise areas for their geographical uniqueness, or terroir, showcased in their produce. To qualify for the appellations, the chateau must adhere to strict rules—from growing only designated varieties of grapes and allowing for a prescribed maximum yield during harvest to making the wines in specific ways. Above all, the vineyards must fall within stated geographical boundaries. Typically, wines bearing an appellation feature grapes grown within the said appellation, and they are also produced within the area. The aim is simply to protect and highlight the unique character and identity that terroir bestows on the product, in this case, the wine.
The sheer size of area under vine in Bordeaux means diverse microclimates and soils, which give the varied characters of wines produced in its 65 appellations. In general, wines from an appellation will manifest somewhat similar styles and characteristics. For example, Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur wines are made from mostly Merlot grapes, and they are meant to be easy-drinking everyday wines. Medoc wines are typically big and bold, and go well with strong meaty flavours. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, which makes drinking wine all the more exciting.
IT’S A BLEND
While its appellations may give an insight into the character of the wine, for the novice wine lover, it is far more useful to know the different types of wines produced in Bordeaux.
There’s a reason why Bordeaux wines are not conveniently categorised by varietals. Unlike wines from other regions, especially the New World, Bordeaux wines are a blend of several grape varieties. In broad terms, Bordeaux wines fall into the following categories: red, Clairet (made like a red, but much lighter in colour; think of it as a heavyweight rosé), rosé, dry white, sweet white and sparkling.
Bordeaux red wines are typically a blend of Merlot—the most widely planted variety in Bordeaux—Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Occasionally, other varieties such as Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère find their way into the mix.
Bordeaux whites, meanwhile, are broadly categorised into dry and sweet. Most whites are traditionally blends of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, with secondary varieties such as Merlot Blanc and Ugni Blac for dry whites. Sauvignon Blanc tends to be the dominant variety in dry whites while in semi-sweet and sweet whites, Semillion take centrestage.
Each of the varieties have different characteristics that, together, contribute to the overall taste profile of the wine. Merlot, for instance, gives smooth wines scented with red fruit, while Cabernet Sauvignon gives tannins and structure in a wine. Semillon boasts honeyed aromas and bestows richness on a wine; Sauvignon Blanc provides acidity and freshness, especially in the dry white wines.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT
Bordeaux have a formidable reputation— read: they are expensive. Or are they? While top Bordeaux wines and vintages can go for hundreds or thousands of dollars per bottle, there are more affordable options for every day drinking as well.
Says Stéphanie Rigourd, sommelier and accredited Bordeaux wine educator, "It’s an understandable but wrong impression. Well-known wines of Bordeaux in Singapore are only the 'Grands Crus Classees' for which prices are out of this world most of the time. But we have to bear in mind that the 'Grands Crus Classees' of Bordeaux represent less than three per cent of the entire Bordeaux wine production. Bordeaux has so much more than the Grands Crus to offer.
"In fact, the average price of a bottle of Bordeaux wine is 6.50€ (about S$10.50)... so Bordeaux wines are not expensive," she adds. "The secret is to see further than the tip of the nose and to understand that Bordeaux offers large varieties of wines from its various and rich terroir, 65 different appellations to explore and discover, and many wines that come at reasonable prices."
But where does one start? Rigourd says that the same rules apply when it comes to hunting down your next favourite bottle, in Bordeaux as in every other wine region in the world. "The most important thing is to look at who made the wine—i.e. the wine producer," Rigourd advises. "Look for wines that are not necessary classified and think out of the box. Stop drinking label, appellation or grapes; drink the wine for its wine producer. It’s his history and philosophy that he is offering you, and the only way to know about it is to open up the bottle." Some good-value Bordeaux wines that she recommends include Château Le Puy Emilien, Francs Côtes de Bordeaux; Moulin de Citrans, Haut-Médoc; and La Rose Bellevue, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux.
Indeed, our axiom to drink by: Price is by no means an indicator of quality; the only way to judge the quality of a wine is to drink it.