Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week

Alexander Valley Vineyards Merlot ($15)

The Alexander Valley in Sonoma County turns out some terrific wines, including this Merlot from the winery named for the originator of the valley. 

The Wetzel family who own and run Alexander Valley Vineyards, purchased a large portion of a homestead built by Cyrus Alexander, the valley’s nineteenth century namesake. Today, the Wetzel Family Estate grows fourteen grape varieties, on diverse sites stretching from the banks of the Russian River up onto the hillsides.

This Merlot is a fine example of a medium body red with soft tannin and good black fruit flavors of black cherry, blackberry and plum with a touch of oak to add a subtle vanilla flavor. The finish is long and lasting. This medium bodied Merlot is great for food pairings due to its moderate acidity and tannin. It works well with beef, pork, cured meats and even a flavorful chicken dish. 

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.