by Maggie Walters
There are many ways to host a tasting party – whether it be featuring a particular part of the world, a singular grape variety, or even a blind tasting – there is no right or wrong when the goal is to learn more and delve a little deeper into the vast world of wine! Here’s a guide you can use in your next tasting featuring wines from different parts of Bordeaux, France. The goal here is to feature four wines from various parts of this historically renowned region.
Represented in the lineup is a wine from Margaux on the Left Bank; a wine from St. Emilion on the Right Bank; a white wine from the region of Graves, located further south and to the west of the River Garonne; and a dessert wine from the famous region of Sauternes. (Fun fact: Sauternes actually was the start of popularity for this region!)
- 2014 Chateau Mongravey Margaux Cru Bourgeois
- 2014 Chateau Coutet St. Emilion Grand Cru
- 2016 Chateau Granville-Lacoste Graves
- 2014 Chateau Roumieu Lacoste Sauternes
Pour wines in the order listed above and place them to their corresponding spots on a tasting mat.
SUPPLIES FOR EACH MAT:
- spit cups or spittoons
Sample the wines slowly and methodically. Take notes on color, aromas, texture, flavor profile, finish and overall assessment of style. Compare notes and discuss!
The five red grapes of Bordeaux:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Merlot (most dominant grape of the region)
- Cabernet Franc
- Petite Verdot
Three White Grapes of Bordeaux:
- Sauvignon Blanc
Know the Climate
Being located on the banks of an estuary near the Atlantic Ocean, it’s no surprise that Bordeaux is a cool wine region, and not just in a popular way! The technical term for Bordeaux’s climate is moderate Mediterranean, meaning the conditions the grapes are grown in are significantly cooler and wetter than their new world counterparts. Where warm climates give wines fullness and ripeness, cooler climates express higher acidity, lighter body, and an overall more elegant style.
The Map: Bordeaux, France
What to know about Left Bank Bordeaux / Chateau Montgravey
- Cabernet Sauvignon is king, and it’s often the star of the show with some support from other grapes. The Chateau Montgravey is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc.
- The Left Bank is a more ideal growing region for Cabernet Sauvignon. The main reason is that the soil is very gravelly. Gravel provides a well-drained soil, which is a huge benefit in this wet and humid region (the temperamental Cabernet Sauvignon hates to have wet roots!) Gravel also helps to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon by reflecting sunlight, soaking up warmth from the sun and allowing for more ripening even as the sun goes down.
Fun fact: almost all of the super high end, first growth Bordeaux wines can be found on the Left Bank. These vineyard sites date back to a classification system created in 1855. There were no Right Bank wineries for inclusion in the classification at the time.
What to know about Right Bank Bordeaux: Chateau Coutet St. Emilion Grand Cru
- Merlot is the king of the Right Bank and is responsible for the majority of the plantings in the Bordeaux region. It’s less temperamental than Cabernet Sauvignon in this wet and cool environment, so this grape flourishes.
- The main soil type on the Right Bank is clay. Clay retains more water than its gravel counterpart on the Left Bank, but Merlot doesn’t mind.
- Blending grapes are also taken advantage of on the right side of the estuary. The Chateau Coutet is comprised of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc.
Before we all groan about Merlot in remembrance of the Merlot slamming movie Sideways, just know that the bottle Miles secretly drinks under the fast food table at the very end is, in fact, a right bank, Merlot dominant wine! Even in his hatred, he still loved the good stuff.
Left Bank vs. Right Bank
Here are a couple of points to keep in mind when tasting these two wines side by side. Take notes while tasting them together and see the similarities and differences between the two.
- Left Bank wines tend to be more tannic. This is no surprise, with the main grape variety being Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Right Bank wines tend to be more elegant with softer fruit profile and well-rounded tannins.
West of the River Garrone: the Region of Graves
- This is white wine country! Graves is located farther south of the Left Bank of Bordeaux just west of the Garonne. Most people immediately think red wine when Bordeaux is mentioned, but the whites are some of the most versatile and food friendly wines on the market.
- White Bordeaux wines are blends too! Just like the reds of this region, the wines are a blend of multiple grapes. The three white grapes to know are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle. Semillon is the most prestigious grape of the blend. Semillon offers fullness and richness to the blend, while Sauvignon Blanc adds acidity and freshness. Muscadelle is typically included in the blend as a very small percent (we’re talking 3-5%) but adds beautiful aromatics, like orange blossom.
The Sweet Stuff: Sauternes
Last, but certainly not least, Chateau Roumieu Lacoste Sauternes. Sauternes, the wine, named after its region, put Bordeaux on the map centuries ago and was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson! This is a sweet dessert wine that is luscious, rich and full of honeyed notes. The secret to the sweetness is a mold called botrytis or noble rot; yes, this world-renowned wine is in fact a moldy wine! This method of wine making takes full advantage of the wet and humid conditions of the region which encourage the production of mold. The sweet white wines of Bordeaux are made up of the same three grapes as their dry white wine neighbors.
Pro Tip: Have fun! Don’t take the tasting too seriously. The goal is to gain an understanding of regional wine styles from various parts of Bordeaux and-most importantly-to enjoy! Cheers!