Bordeaux-Style Wines and How to Pair Them

Let’s turn today to one of my passions: Wine and the pairing of wine with good food.  But please don’t miss the very special “Thank You” I have posted immediately following this article.

Probably THE Classic French Wine is the Bordeaux red (yes, Virginia, there really is a white Bordeaux).  But what is a Bordeaux red?  Can you get a comparable red wine from other than the Bordeaux Region of France?  With what food should you pair a Bordeaux?

The Classic Bordeaux is a blend derived from several different grapes.  Those grapes—in order of importance to this style of wine—are first and foremost Cabernet Sauvignon followed by the blending grapes Cabernet Franc, the latest fad grape Merlot, Petit Vedot, and also-rans Malbec and Carménère.  Those last two grapes are not as common in Bordeaux as they once were, hence the “also ran” comment.  To get the best from this style of wine, a Bordeaux red should really be aged for a minimum of six month either in an oak cask or with oak chips in the wine if a more modern stainless cask is used for the aging.  The oak imparts a hint of vanilla to wines and, along with the aging process, helps to mitigate the tannins, which are the compounds during wine tasting that leave a rough feeling on your teeth and, if too prevalent, a slightly bitter aftertaste.  But tannins are a very important part of this wine, especially in how well Bordeaux pairs with certain protein-rich foods.

Bordeaux Styles come from around the world, but vintners from outside the Bordeaux Region are prohibited from using the term “Bordeaux” because of legal restrictions on the name.  In the United States the trademarked name for a Bordeaux style wine is “Meritage” (rhymes with heritage; do not try pronouncing it as if it were a French word).  Meritage is made to exacting specifications using at least two of the aforementioned grapes, but in addition to the standard Bordeaux grapes, Gros Verdot may also be used.  A Meritage classification is not easy to achieve.  The Meritage Association restricts use of the name to member vineyards, which increasingly includes foreign as well as U.S.-based vineyards.  The Meritage name is limited to a member’s best blend for a particular vintage (the year the grape was harvested) and is generally limited to no more than 25,000 cases of that blend.  By the way, to the French-adverse English, who historically hate using any French words, a Bordeaux-style red is referred to as a “Claret”.  Although English in origin, “Claret” is a term used elsewhere as well.  Indeed, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Napa Valley makes a Coppola Claret—although not, in my opinion, a very good one based upon the last time I tried a bottle.  But whether the bottle says Bordeaux, Meritage, Claret, or even Table Red at the local dive restaurant, this style of wine can be exceptional no matter what the name.

Other Countries Making Exceptional Bordeaux-Style Wines include Chile, Argentina, the United States (particularly California), and Australia (especially the Barossa Valley appellation).  Most vineyards from these countries use Cabernet Sauvignon as the base grape and then blend regional favorites to come up with their own distinctive take on the Bordeaux style.  Chilean blends emphasize Merlot and the closely related Carménère as the secondary grapes.  For Argentina Malbec and Merlot are the main compliments to their Cabernet Sauvignon.  From Australia you can get a rather untraditional blend using peppery Shiraz (or Syrah, as it is frequently referred to elsewhere) as well as the more traditional Cabernet Franc.  And in the U.S. the complimenting grapes run the gambit from the traditional to regional favorites such as Petite Syrah (no relation to Shiraz/Syrah) and even that classic California varietal (and one of my favorites), the ever-tasty and usually very potent Zinfandel, which is closely related to Italy’s Primitivo.

Pairing Food with Bordeaux-Style Reds is pretty straight forward.  The classic pairings for this style of wine are red meats such as lamb and beef.  And, yes, that “beef” pairing means this wine goes exceptionally well with even the lowly hamburger.  That’s because the tannins react with the protein in such meats to compliment the flavor of both wine and meat alike.  This truly is a match made in Heaven.  But don’t stop at just lamb and beef.  Try dark-meat foul such as duck or even goose.  Venison also works very well with Bordeaux, as does bison (American “buffalo”).  Planning a barbeque using red meats?  The peppery flavor imparted by the Shiraz blends of Australia and the hearty and also slightly peppery Zinfandel blends from California may be just the wine you seek.  And then, believe it or not, comes dessert . . . as long as dessert is based upon a rich, dark chocolate.  True Bordeaux reds are known for this pairing, but I prefer a blend using Zinfandel, or even a good, red Zinfandel-only wine for that matter.  Also, because Bordeaux styles go well with dark chocolate, so too will they pair well with certain mole (rhymes with that other Spanish word olé) dishes from Mexico.  That’s because mole sauces—usually served on chicken or over chicken enchiladas—use dark, unsweetened chocolate.

A Very Special Thank You to Elizabeth Trudgeon Brown, of The Frugal eReader, who was so kind as to mention my mystery novel Decisions in her blog:  That simple gesture helped to boost my sales immensely after it was posted yesterday afternoon.  Thank you, Elizabeth.


Filed under Wine & Food