Tag Archives: Cabernet Franc

Bordeaux For Beginners

A STARTER GUIDE TO THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS WINE REGION
Appellations
Appellations d’Origine Controlée, to give them their full title, operate at 4 levels:
Generic regional AC – Bordeaux, covers red, white, rosé and sparklers from the region.
Slightly posher is Bordeaux Superior – to achieve this a grower has to squeeze out an extra half per cent alcohol.
Specific regional AC cover large areas Entre-deux-Mers, Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux, Haut Médoc for exmple.
Village ACs – Within a few of the regions a few of the notable villages have their own AC, e.g. St-Estèphe, Margaux, Sauternes.
Assemblage
Blending of Bordeaux wines from their consituent varieties.
Barrique (Bordelaise)
The famous 225l Bordeaux barrel that had replaced the unwieldy 900l Tonneau by the end of the 18th century. Today the word is in use world-wide.
Bordeaux
Impressive city on the Garonne river on France’s West Coast. Total area under vines around 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) with around 12,500 producers. Centre of a huge wine trade, rising to pre-eminence in 1152 when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet, later King of England as Henry II.
Blaye
Northernmost area of Bordeaux where wine is part of the mixed agrarian economy. Drink Bertinerie and Haut-Bertinerie, leave the rest alone.
Courtier
Charming name for the broker who interfaces between the grower and the négotiant for a small commission. Another profit centre in the chain.
Château
Don’t look for any castles (the literal translation). Châteaux are sometimes palatial mansions like Margaux, Lafite, Bécheville, Cos d’Estournel. More often they are simple farmhouses. Some wine estates bearing the prefix ‘Château…’ have no house at all.
Côtes de Bourg
Area of some potential on the right bank of the Dordogne where it flows into the Gironde. Good earthy wines but Bourg growers need to modernise and invest if they are to rise above the mundane.
1855 Classification
The earliest attempt to introduce a pecking order (based on market price) and subsequently revised. Important to remember it was limited to the Médoc.
Entre-deux-Mers Beguiling white and red wine area between the Dordogne and the Garonne. Gorgeous landscape but much of the wine is only of average quality and marketed under the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur labels
Garagiste
Neologism for smart, small-scale producers making fruit-forward wines for early-drinking or good ones for a niche market. Some have been elevated to cult status. Many started in St-Emilion where land was relatively cheap.
Grape varieties All Bordeaux wines are blends. Principally Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc for reds and Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillion for whites. Others such as Malbec, Petit Verdot, Muscadelle and Columbard crop up in small quantities to do a specific job.
Graves & Pessac-Leognan
In the north, a bank of gravel now encroached upon by the suburbs of Bordeaux, disintegrating in the South into sand and clay amid pine forests, meadows and orchards. Produces both red (including legendary Haut-Brion) and white wines. Classified in 1953 and 1959.
Médoc
A monotonously flat, undistinguished-looking strip of land adjacent to the left bank of the Garonne, that hosts many of the greatest red wines of the world. To view the Médoc is to wonder why. The answer: soil, climate, tradition, all play a part. Incorporates the villages and communes of Margaux, Moulis and Listrac, St-Julien, Pauillac, St-Estèphe, Haut-Médoc and Médoc.
Negotiant (négoce)
There are 400 of them. French term for a merchant, many of whom in Bordeaux own châteaux. According to the CIVB brochure these guys have “a role of regulators with power to smooth the fluctuation prices that can be so harmful to the market” – hmm… we wonder! Some offer a technical service to poorer growers and are frequently abused by the same for bumping up prices. Not so all-powerful as in Burgundy but nevertheless an integral element in the Bordeaux wine trade that inhibits buying direct.
Noble Rot
An amazing process. The grapes shrivel after botrytis spores latch onto and weaken the skin. Farewell water content, hello high sugar, glycerol and acidity. The grapes eventually reach a ‘roasted’, totally shrivelled stage at which point they are carefully harvested and used, in Sauternes, to make dessert wines of explosive concentration.
Other Classifications
Graves had to wait until 1953 for reds and 1959 for whites. St.Emilion’s is revised every ten years. Pomerol has none.The Crus Bourgeois of the Médoc had a revision in 2003 and some are still whingeing.
Pomerol
Tiny, 7.5 sq mile, area NE of Libourne where Merlot is King. Rich, soft-centred wine exemplified by Ch. Pétrus, greatest and most expensive red wine in the world.
St-Emilion
Tourist gem town SE of Bordeaux with many vineyards that restore your faith in picturesque sites. Here Cabernet Franc, called locally Bouchet, thrives on the limestone slopes. Best wines are Chx.Ausonne and Cheval Blanc.
Sauternes and Barsac
Another area classified in 1855, for its luscious sweet wines of which d’Yquem is foremost. Until recently when they have staged something of a comeback Sauternes were ludicrously underpriced. Sémillon is the main grape employed.

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South African Saga

My wife and I have only ever argued about two matters, I think. One is my legendary untidiness. The other is South Africa. You see the ravine between our views is cut very deep. She has fond memories of working in Cape Town in her twenties. Me, I’m a veteran anti-apartheid hard-liner who considered such actions ‘propping up an illegal regime’.
Matters came to a head some years ago when I found myself sat at a dinner party next to an Afrikaner lady. As conversation opener she proclaimed “I think South African wines are better than French wines”. “Oh really,” I snarled and immediately went on the attack impugning both her reason and her (assumed) political views. Eventually she left the table in tears sobbing “Why does everybody hate us?”, my wife suddenly remembered an urgent appointment elsewhere and the host, a friend, didn’t speak to me for three years. The morning after, I woke up with fierce pains in my leg. I looked down to find it black and blue from being kicked under the table! Richly deserved, you may say, but I am largely unrepentant. Still, all things change and I’m glad to say that South Africa and I have since (Christmas just past) supped at the same table. And had the lady made the same remark today, while not agreeing entirely, I’d probably find some common ground .
After tasting in excess of two hundred wines in what was undoubtedly a real ‘bus man’s holiday’, I am of the belief that South Africa, since it shed itself of the trappings of the ancient regime and came out to play in the real world, is making magnificent wine and, what’s more, getting better at it year by year. Okay they’ve had a long way to come in a short time since the days of Pinotage and Steen overload; and yes I’ve heard about the recent ‘scandal’ of fruit juice infusions in budget Sauvignon Blanc which they are stamping out as I write. But compared to the lodestone of complacency that runs through Bordeaux and Burgundy and compared to the Aussies’ laid-back confidence that ‘marketing will win the day’ there’s an impressive missionary zeal about latterday South African winemaking; coupled with a willingness to try new methods and revert to the old as circumstances dictate.
Not everything in the garden is rosy. There are some very ordinary wines to be sure, and finding your way around is a bit of a minefield. There’s a book to help you – the Platter pocket guide. However while it’s a marvellous aide in introducing you to who makes what and where, when it comes to judging quality, Platter dishes out stars like a kindergarten teacher at an end-of-term party, so it’s not a deal of use.
But we did find some immense winemakers, sometimes through dipping into Platter, sometimes by word of mouth and sometimes through sheer serendipity.
On the crest of a slope at the Helderberg Mountain end of Stellenbosch there’s a guy called Chris Keet who, in the middle of masterminding a massive replanting programme, finds time to make a wine called Crescendo. Chris is an unassuming guy who clearly prefers his wine to speak for him and in this Crescendo lives up to its name, hollering “class act” at the top of its voice. It’s a Bordeaux blend, largely constructed from Cabernet Franc and while comparisons with Ausonne and, (whisper, whisper) Cheval Blanc might be a trifle fanciful there’s no doubt that Chris is also wringing the maximum potential from what is, in my opinion, an under-considered grape variety.
I’ve sung the praises of Springfield Estate ‘Life from Stone’ before; let’s just say it loud and clear one more time – this is world-class Sauvignon Blanc, as is the same vineyard’s ‘Special Cuvée’. The two wines, whose individual plots are separated only by a road wide enough to get a 4WD down, are distinctively different in character. ‘Special Cuvée’ is a Cloudy Bay competitor (for much less money) – grassy, gooseberry, lush mouthfeel. ‘Life from Stone’ is altogether leaner, but in no way meaner. It’s flinty, delicate and a tribute to Abrie and Jeanette Brewer’s hard work. – how many other vineyards have been realigned through 90 degrees?
Meanwhile, over in unfashionable Bots River Niels Verberg is making superstellar Shiraz. The label is Luddite, a telling name for a wine that would justify the description ‘hand-made’. I believe that one day this wine may become “South Africa’s Grange.”
Good news is Vaughan Johnson’s branches in Dublin stock all three.

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