Behind the Cork™ - 2016 Écluse Ensemble

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2016 Écluse Ensemble ($48)

This Bordeaux red blend from Écluse in Paso Robles is truly an ensemble of varietals. It’s produced from 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cab Franc, 15% Petit Verdot, 14% Merlot, 14% Malbec and 7% Carignane. A little bit of everything!

And the result is quite tasty. It has bright red fruit flavors such as cherry but also has hints of pepper, licorice and other spices.

Écluse has masterfully blended this wine to be big in flavor and smooth on the finish.

If you’re passing through Paso Robles on Highway 101, Écluse is just a couple of minutes away and well worth the stop. And, you’re likely to find the warm and friendly owner Steve Lock (Lock is Écluse in French) in the serving room.

This is a really good one! Cheers!

How Well Do Wines Hold Up with Time?

Wine Enthusiast Magazine, February 2018

Wine Enthusiast Magazine, February 2018

Last time we looked at the factors that make a wine more capable of bottle aging. And, somewhat surprisingly, there are very few wines that actually hold up well in the bottle, even with proper storage.  So then, what wines do hold up?

The results reported in Wine Enthusiast's 2018 Vintage chart (February 2018) are very revealing. As you might expect, wines from the Bordeaux region of France can hold up very well. And, most of the wines from Bordeaux are still currently at their peak dating back to 1998.  Twenty years!  But beyond that, the vintage guide suggests that wines before 1998 are likely in decline and may be undrinkable.

Then there are the California wines.  Again, as you might expect, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon's are holding up well back to 1994. But, the real surprises come with other wines that just aren't as age-able.  For instance, the Napa and Sonoma Zinfandel's are only showing good back to 2007. Russian River Pinot Noir is showing good back to 2007, while a Syrah from the Central Coast of California is only holding up back to 2010.

So, the key point to remember is that only select wines are really age-worth while most others have a relatively short time that they remain drinkable. This is a lesson that a lot of us learn the hard way. We hold on to really nice wines and wait and wait for that special occasion to open them.  But, as I recently learned, I held some too long. And I'll share that story next time. Until then, Cheers!

Do You Like Red Wine Blends? Have You Considered a Bordeaux?

Image - Decanter.com

Image - Decanter.com

Red wine blends have become very popular. There are several very popular and inexpensive red blends with catchy names on the grocery store shelves and on menus at restaurants. If you enjoy these red blends, let me introduce you to some that are even better. Much better.

Bordeaux, in France, is one of the greatest wine producing regions in the world. Its 60 appellations include two widely known regions referred to as the "Right Bank" and "Left Bank" depending on which side of the Dordogne River it is located. 

Different dominant grapes used in each of its wines also define the two banks.  In Bordeaux, the name of the game is red blends not varietals. So, it's the combination of the grapes, soil, and climate (terroir) that defines the wines. 

In Bordeaux, wines do not identify the grapes used in their production on the label. Rather, it lists the appellation where the grapes are grown.

Each of the two banks of Bordeaux focuses on different grapes as their primary component. On the Right Bank, the dominant grape used in their red blends is Merlot, but they will also include Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. On the Left Bank, the dominant grape is Cabernet Sauvignon but their blends also include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenère.

The white blends of Bordeaux much rarer, but are predominately based on Sauvignon Blanc blended with smaller percentages of Semillion and sometimes Muscadelle or Sauvignon Gris.

So, if you've found yourself tiring of some of the popular cheap American red blends, step up your game and give a Bordeaux a try. They aren't all expensive. You can actually find some great values from Bordeaux.

Next time we'll look at another famous region in France known for its blends - The Rhone Valley. Until then, Cheers!

Bordeaux - The Left Bank

Last time we explored the Right Bank of Bordeaux with its Merlot-based red blends, primarily from the appellations of Saint Émilion, Pomerol and Fronsac. Next, its over to the Left Bank.

Located west of the Gironde and Garonne Rivers, the Left Bank is also known for its red blends. The two primary appellations for red blends on the Left Bank are Médoc and Graves.  These appellations are further broken down as follows:

  • Médoc
    • Pauillac
    • Margaux
    • St-Estéphe
    • St-Julien
    • Haut- Médoc (this 'fifth' region is a receptacle for less expensive wines from Médoc that are grown outside the other four regions)
  • Graves
    • Pessac- Léognan
    • Sauternes

The Left Bank blends are based on Cabernet Sauvignon.  And, like the Right Bank, these blends may include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec. But typically, the Left Bank blends are comprised of 70% or more Cabernet Sauvignon with small fractions of the other, usually to soften the final product.

While the Left Bank is typically thought to have the "better" wines, they certainly have the more expensive wines.  And wines that are well suited to aging.

But sometimes these Cabernet Sauvignon blends are described as a bit bitter when young.  This is largely due to the high tannin levels in the Cabernet Sauvignon. And these wines tannins 'soften' as they age.  Some might ask "Why pay a premium for a Bordeaux that's bitter initially and then have to age it for it to be really good?"  And I suppose that's a question that can only be answered by actually experiencing an aged Bordeaux.

The Left Bank of Bordeaux is the only bank to produce white wines. And these are based on Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle.  But the most famous white wine-producing region is Sauternes, a sub-region within Graves. These are tropical fruit flavored sweet wines made from botrytized grapes. And before you say "I don't like sweet wines" you really should give the Sauternes wines a chance. If you can afford to purchase one, that is.  These wines can easily go for $100 to $1000 for a bottle.

The sweet wines of Sauternes are extremely expensive to make, for several reasons. First, there is a lot of risk involved in leaving ripe grapes on the vines for an extended period of time to achieve botrytized grapes. Second, grape pickers must be paid to make the multiple passes through the vineyards, searching for grape bunches affected by botrytis. Third, Sauternes wines are usually aged in expensive oak barrels for 18 and 36 months. And on top of all this, there is no guarantee that botrytis will develop in the vineyards at all, since it is entirely dependent on specific climatic conditions. So, in some years, almost no Sauternes wine is produced at all.

So there's a quick look at the Left Bank of Bordeaux. And while Bordeaux is a famous wine-producing region of France, no discussion of French wines would be complete without addressing other important regions such as Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhône Valley, the Loire Valley and Chateaunuf de Pape.  And I'll get to those in future blogs.  Cheers!


Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Chateau Bellegrave Bordeaux Médoc ($15)

This red blend is from Médoc which is an appellation on the Left Bank of Bordeaux in France.  Being from the Left Bank, it is a blend, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an affordable Left Bank Bordeaux that is big and bold without being overly tannic. Great with a steak!

Bordeaux - The Right Bank

Bordeaux is one of the greatest wine producing regions in the world. It is divided into two distinct regions referred to as the "Right Bank" and "Left Bank" depending on which side of the Dordogne River it is located.  Different dominant grapes used in each of its wines also define the two banks.  In Bordeaux, the name of the game is red blends not varietal superstars. So it's the combination of the grapes, soil, and climate (terroir) that defines the wines. 

In Bordeaux, wines do not identify the grapes used in their production on the label. Rather, the appellation where the grapes are grown will be listed. This can be quite confusing at first when trying to decide on purchasing a Bordeaux.  But let me try to make it a bit simpler. 

First, there are several appellations on the Right Bank or 'The Libournais' as the French call it.  The three primary appellations are Saint Émilion, Pomerol and Fronsac. If you can remember these three you can almost always determine if a Bordeaux is from the Right Bank versus the Left Bank.  But that's only half the equation. 

The other thing you need to know is about the grapes of Bordeaux. Each of the two banks of Bordeaux focuses on different grapes as their primary component. On the Right Bank, the dominant grape used in their blends is Merlot. On the Left Bank, the dominant grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. Other grapes are typically blended with these grapes and, by local regulations, may include Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. 

So now armed with these two pieces of information, to first-order, you should be able to figure out that a red wine from Saint Émilion, Pomerol or Fronsac will be a Merlot-based blend. All the other red blends from Bordeaux will use Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary grape.

And, by the way, there are no white wines produced on the Right Bank. In Bordeaux, the whites come from the Left Bank, which we'll explore next time.

So, if you are like me, you'll want to have these simple clues with you when you are shopping for wines from Bordeaux.  And I'd suggest trying a sampling of wines from the Right Bank to really get a sense of how the Merlot grape is used in their wines.

Next time we'll take a look at the Left Bank. But for now, pull the cork on a Bordeaux from one of the Right Bank appellations (remember Saint Émilion, Pomerol and Fronsac) and begin to develop an understanding of the wines of this region. Cheers!


Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Tertre du Moulin Bordeaux ($15)

This red blend is from Saint Émilion which is an appellation on the Right Bank of Bordeaux in France.  Being from Saint Émilion, it is predominately a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. A great value for a wine with a soft, smooth mouthfeel. Goes great with meats and cheeses.