Jan 29 2009

Back to the Bordeaux Basics

I recently attended a 2006 Vintage Tasting of Bordeaux Wines at the Palmer House. Many stand-out producers were in attendance and, as always, it’s a rare and welcome opportunity in my world to get to taste a large number of wines – in a row – from the same appellations. This led me to brush up a bit on the Bordeaux basics, which I thought I’d share with you now.

As someone who has interviewed over the years with various companies for a range of positions in the wine industry, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Which grapes make up the world-famous Bordeaux blends?” What they’re really saying, though, when they ask this question is, “If she doesn’t know this, she doesn’t know jack!”

So, to spare you from this potentially embarrassing blunder, I have listed those grapes below along with a brief description of what each adds, in general, to the wine. Know it and learn it, people. (Note: the first 5 comprise red blends and the last 3 make up white blends.)

• Cabernet Sauvignon: produces moderate yields of quality tannic wines with a characteristic blackcurrant aroma when fully ripe
• Cabernet Franc: gives bigger yields than Cabernet Sauvignon, but has less body and overall finesse
• Merlot: produces a medium yield of moderately tannic wine; adds softness, richness and body to the blend
• Malbec: mainly used in softer, more approachable red blends that don’t require aging
• Petit Verdot: plays a minor role in a blend; mainly used to add tannin, color and spicy notes
• Sémillon: most widely planted white grape variety; it gives wines with golden color and lots of body
• Sauvignon Blanc: produces wines with distinct vegetal, grass and elderflower aromas and high acidity; unlike other grapes, 100% Sauvignon Blanc wines are produced in Bordeaux
• Muscadelle: distinctive grapey flavor; plays a minor role in sweet wines

Hopefully that was useful information. It will at least get you to Question #2 in your interview, but then you’re on your own.

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